The Martyrs Monument

A prominent feature of the Old Town Cemetery, The Martyrs Monument is a sad tale from Wigtonshire

The three figures represent an angel keeping watch over two young girls, one of whom is reading the Bible to the other. The reader is Margaret Wilson, the listener is her younger sister Agnes. Such is the logic of legend that they are known locally as the ‘Mary Martyrs’.

The two girls belonged to Wigtonshire, the daughters of Gilbert Wilson, a committed Episcopalian. Despite this, the sisters were followers of the Covenanters, an extreme Presbyterian group strongly opposed to the Anglican reforms of Charles II. Margaret and Agnes, aged 18 and 13 respectively, were arrested for their beliefs and along with Margaret McLauchlan, an elderly neighbour, tried for and found guilty of high treason. All three were sentenced to death by drowning. Agnes’s father was able to buy her freedom but despite a temporary reprieve the others were led to a point below high water mark on the treacherous Solway Firth, tied to stakes, and left to drown in the incoming tide. Margaret McLauchlan, by then in her late 60s, had no resistance to the powerful current and soon succumbed to its force. Margaret Wilson was offered her freedom, but refused to relinquish her convictions and died for her faith on May 11th 1685.

The marble group was commissioned from Handyside Ritchie (the sculptor of all the statues in the graveyard and of ‘Wee Wallace’ on the canopy of the Athenaeum in King Street) by William Drummond, a brother of Peter Drummond. It was erected in 1859, without its protective cupola. The cupola was designed by John Rochhead, famous for his design of the National Wallace Monument on Abbey Craig, and it was cast at the Sun Foundry in Glasgow. It was put in place in 1867, necessitating the removal of a symbolic marble lamb, which lay at the girls’ feet. Several other examples of William Drummond’s munificence are to be found in the graveyard, each with its own story. The story behind this one has no connection whatsoever with Stirling, but is an eloquent indicator of Drummond’s obsession with religion.

Restoration of the Martyrs Monument

One of Stirling Old Town cemetery’s most iconic features, the Virgin Martyrs Monument was erected in 1859 to commemorate two young girls of Stirling. They were arrested in the 16th century for their beliefs and sentenced to death by drowning.

Working from old photographs, the marble figures of the young girls and baby lamb, plus their guardian angel were painstakingly restored, as was the iron housing.