Reflections on the Founder’s memorial

Written by on December 4, 2020

In normal times, I would often take a lunchtime walk through the city to Glasgow Cathedral from the College building on St Vincent Street. Walking up High Street towards the Cathedral, you begin to get a sense of the city that is difficult to find elsewhere. I would stop off at the Cathedral grounds, turning right into the old graveyard, tentatively walking over the grass towards the tomb of the surgeon Peter Lowe.

Peter Lowe’s grave, Glasgow Cathedral (taken during a lunchtime walk in 2019)

The memorial to the College’s founder is prominent here among the other ancient stones. It has been maintained by the College, cleaned and restored so that visitors can read and understand the inscriptions. Peter Lowe died in 1610, eleven years after founding the College alongside physician Robert Hamilton and apothecary William Spang. They received a Royal Charter on 29th November 1599 from King James VI of Scotland, which set the College on its way, with a purpose and intent it retains today.

As the College’s Heritage lead, visiting Peter Lowe’s grave holds a lot of significance, for obvious reasons. It is a rare physical remnant of the College’s very beginnings, centuries ago. It also connects us to the city of Glasgow in a special, timeless way. Connectedness and belonging are fundamental to my approach to heritage in its widest sense. For me, these words define what heritage is.

Lithograph illustration of the tombs in the churchyard of Glasgow Cathedral, by Thomas Fairbairn (1820 – 1885) RCPSG ref. 288

Walking to the auld kirkyard and absorbing the presence there, of Peter Lowe, and of hundreds of years of the city’s history, is a personal experience as well as a professional one. Standing by the old tomb can feel like bridging the gap of 400 years of history, of lives lived and passed. The sensation of connectness to something so distant can be a combination of many things – of the atmosphere of the place, of the romance of hauntedness, and of an unrefined spirituality.

This weekend is the date of our Founder’s Service, usually held in the Cathedral, with a procession afterwards to lay a wreath at the grave. During the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the College president Professor Jackie Taylor visited Peter Lowe’s grave to lay a wreath on her own, taking time from her day job as consultant physician at nearby Glasgow Royal Infirmary. During such trying times, with the intense pressures on our clinicians, this was a poignant act of making that connection to the past meaningful.

A short video of this year’s Founder’s Service will be broadcast on Sunday 6th December at 10am – https://youtu.be/-mMTdxgHNzQ. When watching the service I’ll be thinking ahead to being back in the College, and back on lunchtime walks to the Cathedral to visit Peter Lowe’s grave in person.

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The College’s heritage collections – including thousands of medical and surgical instruments, rare books, archives, and pictures – span over 6 centuries and are an excellent resource for exploring the history of medicine and the history of the city of Glasgow. Many items from the collections have been digitised and are available to view here. Our digitisation work is ongoing, and we add new items to the site regularly, so keep checking back to discover more.

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