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Coupar Angus Abbey and Parish Church

Coupar Angus Church, exterior, from south

Summary description

There are no upstanding remains of the medieval monastic and parochial church, though it is thought likely that the modern church perpetuates its approximate location.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

It is unclear what the origins were of rights which the bishop of St Andrews may have had in the church of Coupar, but he had surrendered them to the monks of Coupar Angus at the foundation of the abbey by King Malcolm IV in 1160x1162.(1) It appears that the church was fully appropriated to the abbey from the time of its foundation and had no independent existence, parochial services perhaps being served from an altar in the abbey church. The parish remained annexed to the abbey at the Reformation and was not accounted with any independent identity in the abbey rental as set out in the Book of Assumptions of Thirds of Benefices.(2) It is possible that the parochial cure of Coupar, if not held by a priest celebrating at an altar in the abbey church, was incorporated into the parish of Bendochy from an early date. Certainly, from the Reformation until 1618 when a separate parish of Coupar Angus was instituted, Coupar was viewed as lying within that parish.(3)


1. RRS, i, no 226.

2. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 352-364.

3. RMS, vii, no 1956.

Architectural analysis

The existing church was built to the designs of John Carver in 1859-60. It replaced a church that the New Statistical Account said had been built in 1681, largely rebuilt in 1780, and extended in 1831. In it final form, before demolition in 1859, that church was a cruciform structure, with extended aisles projecting laterally from near the east end of the rectangular main body, each of the aisles having a roof with its apex well below the roof ridge of the main body. On the basis of what is known to have happened in other cases of continued parochial use of monastic complexes, it may be deemed likely that, on grounds of economy if for no other reason, the church of 1681 would have utilised some part of the medieval abbey, and most likely the church. This supposition may gain support from the little that can be deduced of the topography of the monastic precinct on the evidence of the surviving gatehouse and boundary lines. Within the precinct the modern church appears to occupy a roughly central position, and is aligned on an axis running from east-north-east to west-south-west.

Surviving views of the church that was replaced in 1859 suggest that few, if any, medieval features had survived externally. Nevertheless, in 1796 the author of the Statistical Account said that more than a dozen stone coffins and several effigies had been found during recent works at the west end of the church. These effigies had presumably originally been located within the abbey church, and one of them, an armoured effigy, is now displayed inside the present building, while the shattered fragments of another of smaller scale are laid out on the north side of the church. Amongst other survivors of the sepulchral monuments the abbey church once contained, and that are now housed within the modern church, are two sections of an unusually fine tomb chest front of around the second quarter of the fifteenth century, which has a series of figures in armour or secular dress set within crocketed arches. Mention should also be made of the incised slab commemorating Abbot John Schanwell (1480-1507). Several architectural fragments that could have come from the abbey church are also to be seen within and around the church and graveyard, though they could hardly be said to greatly advance our understanding of the medieval building.


Cardonel, A. de, 1788, Picturesque antiquities of Scotland, London.

Charters of the abbey of Coupar Angus, 1947, ed. D.E. Easson, (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh.

Cochrane, W., The abbey church of Coupar Angus, Coupar Angus, 1964.

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 36.

Cowan, I.B. and Easson, D.E., 1976, Medieval Religious Houses, Scotland, London, 72-4.

Gifford, J., 2007, The Buildings of Scotland, Perth and Kinross, New Haven and London, 282-4.

Greenhill, F.A., 1944, ‘Notes on Scottish Incised Slabs (I)’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, lxxviii, 81-5. 

Hutcheson, A., 1888, ‘Notes on the recent discovery of pavement and flooring tiles at the abbey of Coupar Angus and the cathedral of St Andrews’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, xxii, 146-8.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford, 302, 326, 352-64.

MacGibbon, D. and Ross, T., 1896-7, The ecclesiastical architecture of Scotland, Edinburgh, iii (1897), 491-7.

Miscallany of the Spalding Club, 1842, ed. J. Stuart, Aberdeen, 1842, ii, 347.

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, Edinburgh and London, x, 1147.

O’Sullivan, J., et al., 1995, ‘Abbey, market, cemetery: topographical notes on Coupar Angus…’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, cxxv 1045-68.

Regesta Regum Scottorum, Acts of Malcolm IV (1153-65), 1960, Edinburgh, no  226.

Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, 1894, vii (1609-20), Edinburgh, no 1956.

Rental book of the Cistercian abbey of Cupar-Angus, 1879, ed. C. Rogers, (Grampian Club), London.

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

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1994, South-East Perth, an archaeological landscape, Edinburgh, 104, 106, 127-30, 162.

Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, ed. J. Sinclair, Edinburgh, xvii (1796), 8.



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

  • 1. Coupar Angus Church, exterior, from south

  • 2. Coupar Angus Abbey, tomb chest c

  • 3. Coupar Angus Abbey, tomb chest b

  • 4. Coupar Angus Abbey, tomb chest a

  • 5. Coupar Angus Abbey, slab of Abbot John Schanwell (Greenwell)

  • 6. Coupar Angus Abbey, knight's effigy 2

  • 7. Coupar Angus Abbey, knight's effigy 1b

  • 8. Coupar Angus Abbey, knight's effigy 1a

  • 9. Coupar Angus Abbey, ex situ vault rib

  • 10. Coupar Angus Abbey, ex situ pier fragment

  • 11. Coupar Angus Abbey, ex situ capital

  • 12. Coupar Angus Abbey, gatehouse, from south

  • 13. Coupar Angus Abbey, gatehouse, from north

  • 14. Coupar Angus Church before restoration