Forgandenny / Forgrund Parish Church

Forgandenny Church, exterior, from south

Summary description

The church, which remains in use for parochial worship, is substantially medieval, albeit extensively remodelled. The main body is of rectangular plan; there have been two post-Reformation laird’s aisles on the south side of the church, only one of which remains, while foundations of another lateral projection have been found on the north, to the east of the area now occupied by the vestry.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

When the church of Forgandenny, or Forground as it was originally known, first emerges in surviving historical record in 1247 it was already annexed to the episcopal mensa. The document, an agreement reached between Geoffrey, bishop of Dunkeld, and the abbot and convent of Cambuskenneth over the teinds due from the abbey’s property at Deuglie in the parish, recorded that the bishops of Dunkeld were to receive 100s annually from Cambuskenneth in perpetuity.(1) The church appears as a vicarage in Bagimond’s Roll in 1275, but it was noted that the bishop of Dunkeld would respond for the taxation due.(2) This note suggests that both parsonage and vicarage had been annexed to the episcopal mensa and that the cure was normally served by a vicar pensionar.

It seems that one of the mid-fourteenth-century bishops erected the vicarage of Forgandenny into a prebend of his cathedral. In a papal letter of 1381, the bishop in question is named as John, probably John Luce, who died in 1359. The letter stated that ‘Bishop John’ had created a new canonry in his cathedral and had annexed the perpetual vicarage to it as a prebend. The official of Brechin diocese was mandated to ascertain the facts of the case and, if true, to confirm the possession of one John Scalpi as canon.(3) The union of the vicarage with the prebend was evidently confirmed satisfactorily. In October 1432, the prebend was the subject of a supplication to Rome by one William of Collessie, who claimed that Alexander Fyffe, ‘alleged vicar’ of the parish church of Forgandenny, was ‘branded with irregularity’ for celebrating divine office having made ‘simoniacal ingress’ to the vicarage, and that the benefice was thus void.(4) At the Reformation, the parsonage remained annexed to the episcopal mensa and the vicarage to the prebend of Forgundenny, with the cure served by a vicar pensionar who was paid out of the revenues of the prebendary.(5)

Some time before 17 November 1378, an endowed chaplainry had been established in the church of Forgandenny. On that date, Simon of Creich, rector of Collace in St Andrews diocese, was provided by Pope Clement VII to a canonry of Dunkeld with expectation of a prebend, provided he resigned his parish and notwithstanding his possession of the perpetual chaplainry of Forgandenny.(6) The ‘chapel of Forground, commonly called Obyriny’ was held in May 1425 by Henry Ogilvy.(7) In a second letter of June 1425, Ogilvy’s charge was described as ‘the chapel in the cemetery of Forgandenny’.(8) This chapel appears to be the same as ‘the chapel of St Mary of Forgandenny’ described as normally ruled by secular clerks, which the pope in March 1430 had granted permission to James Cameron, canon of Holyrood and prior of St Mary’s Isle in Galloway, to hold in commend.(9) Cameron clearly had doubts about the validity of his possession of both the priory and the chapel, to which he claimed he had received presentation from the un-named secular patron, and as late as July 1439 was seeking regularisation of his possession.(10) It is was probably this chapel which was the subject of a royal charter of August 1542 granting its patronage to William Lord Ruthven.(11) The chapel had formerly been in the gift of Lord Glamis but had fallen to the crown on his forfeiture. The grant carried the proviso that Lord Ruthven was to erect the chaplainry into a college, with a daily mass to be sung for the king and queen and their successors. The chaplainry was noted at the Reformation as being in the hands of Alexander Ruthven.(12)

In 1494 a second endowed chaplainry was established in the church by the then prebendary, John Myretoun, with royal confirmation being secured in 1501. He granted the rents of various lands locally which he had acquired from Humphrey Cunninghame of Glengarnock to support a perpetual chaplainry at the altar of St Catherine in the parish church, with his personal chaplain, Laurence Oliphant, as chaplain.(13) The chaplainry of St Catherine’s altar in the parish church of Forgandenny, valued at £4, was held by sir Robert Ostlare, who had been presented in 1552, but set in feu to Alexander Ruthven at the Reformation.(14) In April 1565, Patrick, lord Ruthven, was confirmed in possession of the advowson and gift of the chaplainry.(15) The two chaplainries still existed in 1627, lying in the gift of Lord Dirleton, St Mary’s paying the minister £8 15s 9¾ and St Catherines’s paying 40s.(16)


1. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no 74.

2. SHS Misc, vi, 72.

3. CPL, Clement VII, 71.

4. CSSR, iii, 262.

5. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 302-3, 309-10, 325, 342, 343, 346, 347.

6. CPL, Clement VII, 7

7. CSSR, ii, 81.

8. CSSR, ii, 96-7.

9. CSSR, iii, 84-5

10. CSSR, iv, nos 494, 577

11. RMS, iii, no 2747.

12. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 325.

13. RMS, ii, no 2569.

14. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 329; RSS, iv, no 1580.

15. RSS, v, no 2020.

16. Report on Certain Parishes, 167.

Architectural description

The main body of the church is of rectangular plan, with external dimensions of 23.5 metres from east to west and 8.2 metres from north to south. Despite the likelihood that the overall form of the main body followed that of its medieval predecessor, virtually the only medieval masonry now identifiable and in place is at the east end; this consists of a chamfered plinth course around the foot of the walls at the east end, above which are some courses of cubical masonry, and there is a chamfered intake at the base of the east gable. In addition, there is a section of arched hood moulding with saw-tooth chevron decoration in the south wall of the church, to the west of the surviving laird’s aisle, but this has clearly been reset.

The chevron decorated hood moulding is evidently of early twelfth-century date. It is possible that it came from a round-headed doorway that had been set into the south face of the lower storey of a demolished laird’s aisle, to the west of that which survives. Early views of the church show that by the later nineteenth century the main entrance to the church passed through the lower storey of that aisle, though the details on surviving photographs and engravings are insufficiently clear for it to be possible to identify the hood moulding with complete certainty. The date of the east gable is less easy to assess since it has been extensively remodelled on more than one occasion. The plan given by MacGibbon and Ross shows it as having been pierced by a pair of narrow windows with widely splayed rear-arches, though the windows had in fact been blocked by the later nineteenth century, with only the pier between them remaining identifiable. Assuming that MacGibbon and Ross were correct in their interpretation of this part of their plan, windows of this type within the east wall of a church of rectangular plan, combined with a chamfered base course, would perhaps be most consistent with a date around the later twelfth or earlier thirteenth century, suggesting that there had already been significant rebuilding of the church by then. The chamfered intake at the base of the gable is perhaps more likely to be an indication that the upper part of the east wall had been remodelled in the later middle ages.

The medieval church was extensively remodelled on a number of occasions after the Reformation to adapt it for changed liturgical requirements. The structural augmentations of the rectangular core appear to have consisted chiefly of a birdcage bellcote at the apex of the west gable, and the pair of laird’s aisles against the south flank to which passing reference has already been made. One of those was for the family of Oliphant of Condie, and the other, to its east, for the family of Ruthven of Freeland; it is the latter which now survives. In both aisles, as was common, the area occupied during worship was elevated to first floor level above a burial vault, though, as has been said, there was also the main entrance to the church through the lower level of the Oliphant of Condie Aisle. In each aisle the entrance to the principal level was by way of an external forestair against the south wall and through a doorway flanked symmetrically by windows; in the case of the Ruthven Aisle this triple arrangement of door and windows was at one stage in the form of a Serliana. Both aisles appear likely to have been initially of seventeenth-century construction, albeit with extensive late eighteenth-century embellishments to the Ruthven Aisle.

Rather confusingly, the plan provided by MacGibbon and Ross shows the porch and Oliphant Aisle as being some distance to the west of the Ruthven Aisle, though nineteenth-century views of the church leave little doubt that the two aisles were closely adjacent, if not contiguous. MacGibbon and Ross state that the foundations of a lateral projection had been found on the north side of the church, directly opposite the Ruthven Aisle, this discovery presumably being made when the vestry on that side was first added. It is not clear if those foundations would have represented a medieval sacristy or chapel, or if at some stage after the Reformation there had been an attempt to create a cruciform arrangement of symmetrically disposed laird’s aisles, as appears to have been the case at one stage at Dalgety for example.

Internally, nineteenth-century photographs show the pulpit against the mid-point of the north wall, with a long communion table enclosure running along much of the central east-west axis in front of it. The rest of the space was occupied by closely-packed pews of various kinds and there were lofts with panelled fronts and supported by timber posts at the east and west ends. The interior was covered by a plaster ceiling of polygonal profile which must have followed the line of the roof rafters and collars. Lighting was through windows of a variety of kinds. On the south side, facing across to the pulpit, were two large openings into laird’s aisles. In none of this do any medieval features appear to be identifiable, with the possible exception of a doorway to the east of the Ruthven Aisle, which might have originated as a priest’s entrance.

Much of the present appearance of the church is the consequence of a major restoration carried out in 1902-3 by the architect T.S. Robertson, this resulted in a building of superficially more medieval appearance than before, albeit an appearance that can bear no more than minimal resemblance to that of its medieval predecessor. It was presumably as part of this work that the Oliphant Aisle was demolished; to replace the entrance through its lower level a new porch was built against the west wall, within which is reset the memorial of a Covenanter who was shot in 1678. Externally the most obvious representatives of this phase of work are the red sandstone rectangular one- or two-light windows in most parts, together with the four-light panel-traceried east window. Internally the church was re-ordered on ecclesiological principles, with the communion table on the presumed site of the medieval altar at the east end. It appears that it was as part of this work that the internal floor level was raised to the same level as the graveyard, with only the vestry and vault of the Ruthven Aisle retaining the original floor level, while the roof and plaster ceiling were replaced by an arch-braced open-timber roof. All of this resulted in the type of long and low space that was so greatly favoured by many architects with Arts and Crafts leanings.


Calendar of Papal letters to Scotland of Clement VII of Avignon, 1976, ed. C. Burns, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh, 7, 71.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1423-28, 1956, ed. A.I. Dunlop, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh, 81, 96-7.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1428-32, 1970, ed. A.I. Dunlop; and I.B. Cowan, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh, 84-5.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1433-47, 1983, ed. A.I. Dunlop and D MacLauchlan, Glasgow, nos 494, 577.

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 68.

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 72.

Gifford, J., 2007, The Buildings of Scotland, Perth and Kinross, New Haven and London, 369-70.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford, 302-3, 309-10, 325, 329, 343, 346, 347.

MacGibbon, D. and Ross, T., 1896-7, The ecclesiastical architecture of Scotland, Edinburgh, iii (1897), 500-2.

Reports on the state of certain parishes in Scotland, 1835, ed. A. Macdonald, (Maitland Club), Edinburgh, 167.

Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, 1882, Edinburgh, ii (1424-1513), no 2569. 

Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, 1883, Edinburgh, iii (1513-46), no 2747.

Registrum monasterii S. Marie de Cambuskenneth, 1872, ed. W. Fraser, (Grampian Club), Edinburgh, no 74.

Registrum Secreti Sigilli Regum Scotorum, 1908-82, ed. J.M. Thomson et al., Edinburgh, iv, no 1590.

Registrum Secreti Sigilli Regum Scotorum, 1908-82, ed. J.M. Thomson et al., Edinburgh, v, no 2020.

Rentale Dunkeldense, 1915, ed. R.K. Hannay, (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh, 231.

Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, ed. J. Sinclair, Edinburgh, iii (1792), 305.

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



Click on any thumbnail to open the image gallery and slideshow.

  • 1. Forgandenny Church, exterior, from south

  • 2. Forgandenny Churchyard monument

  • 3. Forgandenny Church, interior, Covenanter's memorial

  • 4. Forgandenny Church, plan (MacGibbon and Ross)

  • 5. Forgandenny Church, interior, before restoration 4

  • 6. Forgandenny Church, interior, before restoration 3

  • 7. Forgandenny Church, interior, before restoration 2

  • 8. Forgandenny Church, interior, before restoration 1

  • 9. Forgandenny Church, interior, laird's loft

  • 10. Forgandenny Church, interior, looking east

  • 11. Forgandenny Church, exterior, before restoration 2

  • 12. Forgandenny Church, exterior, before restoration 1

  • 13. Forgandenny Church, exterior, laird's loft

  • 14. Forgandenny Church, exterior, east wall, from south east

  • 15. Forgandenny Church, exterior, south wall, chevron fragment

  • 16. Forgandenny Church, exterior, nave and laird's loft

  • 17. Forgandenny Church, exterior, from north west

  • 18. Forgandenny Church, exterior, from south east