Dull / Dow Parish Church

Dull Church, exterior, from south east

Historical outline

Dedication: St Adomnan

There is a strong, well-established tradition that Dull was the location of a Celtic monastery. Historical corroboration for that tradition is wanting but there is strong circumstantial evidence in the form of the location of the church in the centre of an area styled abthain, the Gaelic term for lands attached to the abbacy of a monastery, represented in the modern form of the name for the district extending along the north bank of the River Tay from its confluence with the River Lyon eastwards to Weem. This area, the Appin of Dull, had a distinct political identity as a unit of secular lordship in the later Middle Ages.(1) While it should certainly be regarded as representing a secularised monastic estate, that in itself does not prove the existence of a monastery at Dull, simply that the land formed part of the estate of a monastery. The reservation in the thirteenth century of the revenues of the large western extension of the parish in Glenlyon to the chapter of Dunkeld might reflect a former identity as a portion of the lands of the pre-twelfth-century abbacy of Dunkeld. There is, however, further circumstantial evidence which could indicate a former independent monastic identity in the form of the detatched portions of the medieval parish and the outlying chapels associated with it from an early date. The district around Pitcairm and Grandtully, the location of a dependent chapel certainly in the later medieval period (see below), further to the east on the south side of Strathtay, was a pendicle of Dull separated from the main part of the parish by the intervening parish of Weem. It is not known which of the various chapels in Glenlyon was the chapel of ‘Branboth’ (see entry on Fortingall), but the glen, too, was largely cut off from the rest of the parish by the parishes of Fortingall and Inchaiden to north and south of the River Lyon. Although physically attached to Dull parish, the chapel of Foss in Strathtummel (see below) is a third significant outlier. All of these chapels may have originated at the principal settlement centres of portions of a monastic estate. It must be stressed, however, that this is simply conjecture.

Nothing, too, is known of the history of the parish church of Dull before it was granted by Malcolm, earl of Atholl, probably in the 1170s, to the canons of St Andrews priory.(2) The grant of the church with its dependent chapels and all other possessions was confirmed by Richard, bishop of Dunkeld, c.1170-8 and by King William between 1189 and 1195.(3) Although the intention seems to have been for corporal possession of the church to have been given to the priory, it seems that only the patronage was secured. Down to the 1230s it seems that the rector of the church paid a pension to the canons of St Andrews out of the fruits of his parish, and in 1234 he set the revenues to them in in feuferme.(4) This situation had continued despite another attempt to annexe the revenues of the parish to the priory in proprios usus by Bishop Hugh (1214-29).(5) Hugh’s grant was of the church and its dependent chapel of Foss, but excepting its second dependent chapel of ‘Branboth’ in Glenlyon. He stipulated that the canons were to establish a vicarage pensionary, supported on a reservation of 10 merks from the fruits of the parish, with a further 20s annually being reserved for the bishop from the abthain lands of Dull. It was, however, only in 1245 that the canons were able to secure possession of the church, when the then rector, William Comyn, resigned his rights into their hands.(6) The record of the resignation narrates how possession was granted to the canons by virtue of the pension of three merks which they had been accustomed to receive from Comyn. Bishop Geoffrey’s confirmation repeated the earlier grant in proprios usus, excepting the chapel of Branboth, and reserving the 10 merks originally stipulated for the vicar’s pension but also a further 5 merks for the chaplain who would serve at Foss. Despite this vicarage settlement, Dull was still listed in Bagimond’s Roll as if it were a free parsonage.(7)

It appears that, after securing possession in 1245, the priory served the cure invariably with one of their own canons, as is recorded for example in 1409 when the incumbent was John Bulloc, canon of St Andrews.(8) In letters relating to Bulloc in 1409 and 1417, the cure was described as a vicarage perpetual,(9) but this appears to be an error for in 1418 the then incumbent, John Legiert, canon of St Andrews, was described as holding a vicarage pensionary.(10) An indenture of October 1488 between Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy and Neil Stewart of Fortingall over their respective property interests in the district between Loch Tay and Loch Rannoch noted that Stewart possessed the kirk of Dull.(11) This probably refers to a feuferme arrangement by which the canons had set the revenues of the church to a local secular lord. This kind of arrangement was still in evidence at the Reformation when possession of the church still lay with the priory but its revenues had been set in assedation to three local landholders.(12) The cure was still served by a vicar but the revenues attached to the benefice suggest that it was again more than a simple vicarage pensionary.(13)

Which of the various chapels in Glenlyon west of Fortingall was the medieval chapel of Branboth is unknown. First recorded in the early thirteenth century,(14) it and its pertinents was reserved by Bishop Hugh from the first formal attempt to annexe the parish of Dull to St Andrews priory. No reason is given for this reservation, but its revenues were to be enjoyed by the chapter of Dunkeld. The statement in Myln that the fruits of Branboth were reserved by Bishop Geoffrey (1236-49), along with the fruits of the parishes of Auchterhouse and Saline, for the common funds of the canons of Dunkeld, probably reflects the finally successful activation of the annexation of the parish church to St Andrews priory first attempted by Bishop Hugh but only completed under Geoffrey.(15) Also apparently known as Killinlynar, the chapel retained its independent identity at the Reformation, but by that date it seems to have become a pendicle of Fortingall rather than Dull.(16)

Foss remained a dependency of Dull throughout the pre-Reformation period and was, along with its mother church, annexed to the priory of St Andrews from the time of Malcolm earl of Atholl’s grant in the later twelfth century.(17) It was evidently an establishment of some significance and was provided with a permanently resident chaplain to serve it from at least the time of Bishop Geoffrey’s settlement of the vicarage arrangements for Dull following the resignation of William Comyn in 1245.(18) In the sixteenth century, ‘the choir’ of Foss is recorded regularly as the burial place of members of the Macgregor family.(19)

The third of the dependent chapels of Dull lay at Pitcairn, adjacent to the castle at Grandtully. It is recorded for the first time only in June 1533 when Alexander Stewart of Grandtully endowed a chaplainry in ‘the chapel of St Mary of Grandtully’. Entirely encompassed within the parish of Auchtergaven was the church and lands of Obney (see the separate entry on Obney), which may have possessed parochial status at some stages in the medieval period. The church, however, if it had ever possessed it, had clearly lost independent parochial status before 1274, when at least some of the revenues from the lands of Obney formed the income of the prebendary of Obney in Dunkeld cathedral.(1) By the early fifteenth century, that prebend was held by the sub-dean of Dunkeld.(2) Ian Cowan suggested that the church may have pertained to the episcopal mensa along with Auchtergaven and that it was only the vicarage teinds which perhaps were annexed to the prebend of Obney, but more probably that these latter were, along with those of Auchtergaven, assigned to the prebend of Inchmagranachan.(3) It seems likely, therefore, that the prebend of Obney was, in common with other prebends in the church of Dunkeld, supported on rents drawn from assigned lands rather than from teinds of a specifc parish or parishes and the identification of Obney as a former parish church must be labelled as doubtful.(20)  This act, however, reflects only the establishment of the chaplainry, not that of the chapel itself, which is of unknown antiquity. It seems that the chapel had been established to serve the parishioners of Dull in this remote eastern pendicle of the parish. Stewart’s endowment in 1533 represented the creation effectively of a chantry for the lords of Grandtully in a chapel adjacent to their principal residence.


1. RRS, vi, no 64; RMS, i, no 355, app. ii, no 1273; RMS, ii, no 170.

2. St Andrews Liber,.245-6.

3. St Andrews Liber, 294-5; RRS, ii, no 333.

4. St Andrews Liber, 294-5. 297.

5. St Andrews Liber, 295-6.

6. St Andrews Liber, 307-8.

7. SHS Misc, vi, 47, 73.

8. CPL, Benedict XIII, 198.

9. CPL, Benedict XIII, 198, 355.

10. CPL, Benedict XIII, 370.

11. NAS GD112/1/24.

12. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 16.

13. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 86-7.

14. St Andrews Liber, 295-6.

15. Myln, Vitae, 10.

16. HMC seventh Report, 710, no 76.

17. St Andrews Liber, 245-6.

18. St Andrews Liber, 307-8.

19. Black Book of Taymouth, 131

20. Fraser, Red Book of Grandtully, no 43.

Summary decription

The church, which is now in domestic occupation, is largely of post-Reformation construction in its present form, though its elongated two-compartment plan makes it very likely that its overall form follows that of its medieval predecessor.

Architectural analysis

It has been suggested that the early monastic community thought to have been at Dull was in the valley to the south of the church. However, since a number of early stones have been located within or in the vicinity of the church, this could suggest that any such community was on or near the site of the later church rather than elsewhere. One of those stones, which was found in the churchyard and is now in the National Museums of Scotland, is decorated with a scene of hunting or warfare. In the course of excavations within the church in 2003 an extremely important inscribed cross slab was found that has been dated to the early eighth century, and during the same investigations, a simple cross-incised cross slab was found. There are also two cross-incised slabs attached to the south wall of the church. Evidence for earlier structures of uncertain date, in the form of a clay-bonded stone wall, was found below the floor in 2002.

The existing church is built of grey and brown rubble, and is covered by a slated roof that runs uniformly over the main body, oversailing the two gable walls and sweeping down without break over an offshoot that projects from near the middle of the north wall. There are records of works in 1614, 1717, 1819, 1840 and 1879, with much of what is now seen externally dating from the last two of those operations. The most obviously earlier surviving feature is the birdcage bellcote over the west gable, which is probably initially of late seventeenth- or early eighteenth-century date, albeit rebuilt in 1819.

Despite its superficially post-Reformation appearance, however, it is very likely that the building was extensively conditioned by medieval predecessors on the site. The chief indicator of the church as now seen having a medieval basis is its plan and relatively precise orientation. Despite the lack of differentiation in the nineteenth-century roof, the main body of the building is composed of two distinct elements: a western part of 18.35 metres from west to east and 8.08 metres from north to south, and an eastern part of 6.8 by 6.9 metres. Such a two-compartment plan would be very unusual in a church of post-medieval origin, and the most likely explanation for it is that it has a basis in a medieval plan of separate nave and chancel. It is therefore particularly unfortunate that the inaccessibility of the internal evidence means that it is no longer possible to determine if a cross wall and chancel arch have been removed as part of the process of creating a more spatially unified interior since the Reformation.

The church is built on ground that slopes down relatively steeply from north to south, and it may be noted that its south wall appears to have been subject to considerable instability and movement. Lengths of the lower south wall of both the western and eastern compartment lean outwards, with the wall above those parts having had to be rebuilt to restore verticality. These structural difficulties were presumably also the reason for two sections of the south wall of the eastern compartment having to be completely rebuilt when the present window and doorway were inserted in this wall.

Against the south wall of the western compartment is a large and roughly formed basin that is unlikely to have served as a font. Within the churchyard are a number of eighteenth-century memorials. The church has now been adapted for domestic occupation.


Allen, J.R. and Anderson, J., 1903, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, Edinburgh, pt 3, 315.

Bowie, W., 1855, The black book of Taymouth, ed. C. Innes, Edinburgh, 131.

Calendar of Papal letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon, 1976, ed. F. McGurk, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh, 198, 355, 370. 

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 49-50.

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 47, 73.

Fraser, W., 1868, The red book of Grandtully, Edinburgh, no 43.

Gifford, J., 2007, The Buildings of Scotland, Perth and Kinross, New Haven and London, 326-7.

Glasgow University Archaeology Research Division, 2003, Excavations at Dull Parish Church, June 2003, data structure report, Glasgow.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford, 16, 86-7.

Liber cartarum prioratus Sancti Andree in Scotia, 1841, ed. T. Thomson, (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh, 245-6, 294-7, 307-9.

Macdonald, A.D.S. and Laing, L.R., 1973, ‘Early ecclesiastical sites in Scotland, a field survey, pt II’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries ofScotland, cii, 131-2.

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, Edinburgh and London, x, 777.

Regesta Regum Scottorum, Acts of Malcolm IV (1153-65), 1960, Edinburgh, no  64.

Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, 1882, Edinburgh, i (1306-1424), no 355 app. ii no 1273.

Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, 1882, Edinburgh, ii (1424-1513), no 170.

Reports on the state of certain parishes in Scotland, 1835, ed. A. Macdonald, (Maitland Club), Edinburgh, 164.

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

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. Dull Church, exterior, from south east

  • 2. Dull Church, basin

  • 3. Dull Church, cross slab 2

  • 4. Dull Church, cross slab 1

  • 5. Dull Church, exterior, south wall, evidence for structural difficulties

  • 6. Dull Church, exterior, south wall, chancel and nave, junction

  • 7. Dull Church, exterior, from north