Meigle Parish Church

Meigle Church, exterior, from south west

Summary description

The present appearance of the parish church dates largely to reconstruction necessitated by a major fire in 1869; but it appears likely that the plan of the medieval church was a significant conditioning factor on the plan and alignment of the post-1869 structure.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

The substantial collection of very high quality Pictish stone sculptures found at and around the parish church in Meigle indicates that this was the location of an important ecclesiastical centre from probably the seventh century. This community, however, has left no historical record despite its apparent wealth and influence as represented by the sculptures. Its early origins, however, may account for the existence of more than one religious building at the site when the church first appears in surviving record early in the last quarter of the twelfth century. The church of Meigle, together with the chapel adjacent to the church, was granted to the Augustinian priory of St Andrews by the secular lord of the parish, Simon of Meigle and confirmed in the canons’ possession by King William in 1178 x 1185.(1) Despite papal confirmation of the grant, in 1207 possession of the patronage of the church was in dispute between the bishop of Dunkeld and the priory. Judgement in the dispute was passed in favour of the bishop, who may have annexed the parsonage revenues quickly thereafter to the common fund of his cathedral’s canons.(2) A second dispute arose between the bishop and Fulk, lord of Meigle, later in the thirteenth century, Myln recording in his Vitae Dunkeldensis Ecclesiae Episcoporum that Bishop Geoffrey (1236-49) finally reconciled the question of the kirklands pertaining to the church.(3) There is some confusion in the manner in which the church was presented in Bagimond’s Roll, where it was given as a parsonage in the first year of the taxation but separate entries for the church and the vicarage were given in the second year.(4) The perpetual vicarage of Meigle is otherwise first recorded in 1424, when it was the subject of supplications and litigation over provision following the death of the incumbent, John Ramsay.(5) At the Reformation, the parsonage remained annexed to the common fund of Dunkeld while the cure continued to be served by a vicarage perpetual.(6)

The chapel adjacent to the church mentioned in the late twelfth century does not appear subsequently in the surviving records. A separate endowed chaplainry was established in the church in the fifteenth century. In April 1474, David, earl of Crawford, endowed a perpetual chaplainry with rents of 12 merks annually from land in his barony of Inverarity, the chaplain to celebrate masses perpetually for the souls of King James III, Queen Margaret, and the earl’s grandmother, Countess Marjory.(7) In 1504, Walter Tyrie of Lownie granted a charter in the name of his late uncle, Mr Gilbert Tyrie, former vicar of Cargill, granting an annual rent from his lands to the altar of St Paul the Apostle in the parish church of Meigle, and to sir Gilbert Wardroper, chaplain at that altar, and his successors.(8) The chaplainry does not appear to be recorded subsequently.

Notes

1. St Andrews Liber, 59; RRS, ii, no 201.

2. Cowan, Parishes, 145.

3. Myln, Vitae, 10.

4. SHS Misc, vi, 48, 72.

5. CSSR, ii, 1423-1428, 74; CSSR, iii, 1428-1432, 12-13, 75.

6. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 301, 337; Donaldson, Thirds of Benefices, 112.

7. RMS, ii, no 1169

8. RMS, ii, no 2797.

Architectural analysis

There are references to a scribe named as Thana, son of Dudabrach, working at Migdele (Meigle) in the time of King Pherath, who held power between about 839 and 842. The most tangible evidence of the long history of Christian worship here is the outstanding collection of Early Christian stones associated with the site and now displayed in the adjacent museum that was set up by Sir George Kinloch in the late nineteenth century. That collection has been cared for by Historic Scotland and its predecessors since 1936. Many of these stones were found either within the churchyard or built into the walls of the parish church, where their great size made them an invaluable building material. It has been argued that at least one of the stones could be from the church assumed to have been here from the seventh century. That stone, which is decorated in high relief with a human figure entwined within interlace and flanked by animals, appears to have been the lintel from an opening of some kind.

There was presumably a parish church here by the time it was granted to St Andrews Cathedral Priory around the 1180s; nothing visible survives of that, though the strict orientation of the present church may indicate that its successors continued to occupy the same site. The only tangible relic of the medieval church is an outstandingly important octagonal font basin within the porch, which has relief depictions of the instruments of the Passion set within crocketed ogee arches, alternating with scenes of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. That font had been taken to the nearby Episcopal church after many years of being put to debased uses, but was brought back to the parish church when the Episcopal church was demolished in 1959.

According to the author of the entry in the Statistical Account of 1791, the church had recently been rebuilt, and this would accord with the statement in the New Statistical Account of 1845 that the church had been rebuilt about fifty-four years ago. It was said in the latter source, however, that two aisles of the old building remained; other accounts appear to indicate that those two aisles were in fact the east and west parts of a T-shaped building, and thus possibly perpetuated the rectangular core of the medieval church. In an account published in 1876 that core was said to be less than 80 feet (24.38 metres) long. There were further, probably relatively minor works on this church in 1850 and again in 1867. However, in 1869 it was gutted by fire, following which it was immediately rebuilt to the designs of John Carver, and it was again ready for worship in the following year.

The length of the main body of the present church, which it was pointed out above is accurately oriented, is 20.9 metres, and it has a width of 7.74 metres. This length is significanty close to the that given for its predecessor in 1876, and probably indicates that the present church respects the footprint of its predecessor to a considerable extent, albeit with the addition of a tower and porch in the south-east re-entrant angle between main body and lateral aisle. The likelihood that parts of the earlier church were retained derives further support from the incorporation of wall memorials within the fabric of its external walls. These include a monument of 1661 for the Rev’d George Symmer and his wife, against the east wall of the aisle, and a monument of 1827 to members of the Scott family, against the south face of the western part of the main body of the building.

On this basis a good case can be made that a rectangular medieval church had conditioned, and may even have at least partly survived, within the main body of the church that was extensively rebuilt in 1791, and that was remodelled to varying extents in 1857 and 1867. Nothing of that medieval church could now be identified within the present fabric with any confidence. Nevertheless, a combination of the dimensions of the present building, of the fact that it could be rebuilt so quickly in 1869, and of the way in which earlier memorials were retained within its walls, suggests that the plan of the medieval building has continued to be a governing fctor in the layout of all of its successors.

Within the churchyard are large numbers of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century memorials, many of which are in an unstable condition, while others have been discarded and lie in disarray against the church wall.

The parish of Meigle was united with those of Ardler and Kettins in 1981.

Bibliography

Allen, J.R. and Anderson, J., 1903, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, Edinburgh, pt 3, 296-305, 328-40.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1423-28, 1956, ed. A.I. Dunlop, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh, 74.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1428-32, 1970, ed. A.I. Dunlop; and I.B. Cowan, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh, 12-13, 75. 

Donaldson, G. 1949, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh, 112.

Dunlop, A.I., 1939, ‘Bagimond’s Roll, statement of the tenths of the kingdom of Scotland’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi, 1-77, at 48, 72.

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 145.

Gifford, J., 2007, The Buildings of Scotland, Perth and Kinross, New Haven and London, 516-8.

Henderson, G. and Henderson, I, 2004, The art of the Picts, London, 208-9, 218-9, 98.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford, 301, 337.

Liber cartarum prioratus Sancti Andree in Scotia, 1841, ed. T. Thomson, (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh, 59

Meigle Church, milestones in its history, Blargowrie, 1970.

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, Edinburgh and London, x, 512.

Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, 1882, ii (1424-1513), Edinburgh, no 1169, 2797.

Ritchie, A., Meigle Museum (Official guidebook), Edinburgh, 1997.

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Canmore database.

Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, ed. J. Sinclair, Edinburgh, i (1791), 512.

Vitae Dunkeldensis Ecclesiae Episcoporum...Ad Annum Mdxv, 1823, ed. T. Thomson, (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh, 10. 

Walker, J.R., 1887, ‘Scottish baptismal fonts’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, xxi, 440-1.

Map

Images

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  • 1. Meigle Church, exterior, from south west

  • 2. Meigle Museum, early stones 4

  • 3. Meigle Museum, early stones 3

  • 4. Meigle Museum, early stones, 2

  • 5. Meigle Museum, early stones, frieze

  • 6. Meigle Churchyard, discarded monuments

  • 7. Meigle Churchyard monument

  • 8. Meigle Church, exterior, memorial dated 1661 on east side of north aisle

  • 9. Meigle Church, interior, 2

  • 10. Meigle Church, interior, 1

  • 11. Meigle Church, interior, font Walker)

  • 12. Meigle Church, interior, font e

  • 13. Meigle Church, interior, font d

  • 14. Meigle Church, interior, font c

  • 15. Meigle Church, interior, font b

  • 16. Meigle Church, interior, font a

  • 17. Meigle Church, exterior, date stone

  • 18. Meigle Church, exterior, from north east