Clunie Parish Church

Clunie Churchyard, building incorporating medieval fragments

Summary description

Fragments of the medieval church have been rebuilt in a small structure that probably served as a watch house to the south of the present church, while some other fragments are to be found elsewhere within the churchyard.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

Alexander Myln in his Vitae Dunkeldensis Ecclesiae Episcoporum, stated that the churches of Clunie and Inchaiden had been annexed by Bishop Geoffrey de Liberatione (1236-49) to the prebend of the dean of Dunkeld.(1) There seems no reason to doubt this assertion, as the church was noted as so annexed in Bagimond’s Roll.(2) Nothing more is recorded concerning the church until the fifteenth century.

In 1425, Robert Finlay, vicar of Clunie, supplicated the pope for provision to the perpetual vicarage of Tibbermore.(3) It is unclear whether the vicarage at Clunie was perpetual or pensionary. At the Reformation, the parsonage still pertained to the deanery of Dunkeld while the vicarage, valued at £12 13s 4d, was held by Mr William Salmond.(4)

In the late fifteenth century, the family of Hering of Tullibole held the lands of Cardney in Clunie parish. In December 1490, James Hering granted those lands to his son, Andrew, together with the advowson of the chaplainry which was supported on an annual rental of 11 merks from the same properties, founded at the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the parish church.(5) A second chapel and chaplainry was founded in the parish in early sixteenth century. In March 1529, a Great Seal mortmain confirmation was given to a charter of Mr John Scrimgeour, precentor of Brechin and lord of the lands of Fardle in the parish of Clunie, dated 27 October 1528.(6) John’s charter narrated how his late brother, David Scrimgeour, had established a chaplainry in the chapel of the Holy Spirit on his manor of Little Gourdie, which he had also built. The chaplain was to say daily masses at Little Gourdie and one mass weekly at Clunie, where David was buried. A third chapel with two associated chaplaincies was built and endowed by Bishop George Brown at the episcopal castle of Clunie on the island in the Loch of Clunie. This was dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria.(7)


1. Myln, Vitae, 10.

2. SHS Misc, vi, 73.

3. CSSR, ii, 81.

4. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 301, 344.

5. RMS, ii, no 1996.

6. RMS, iii, no 759.

7. Myln, Vitae, 41

Architectural analysis

According to the author of the entry in the Statistical Account, published in 1793, the church which then existed had ‘neither comeliness nor proportion’. He considered that it had probably been built ‘about the time of the Reformation’, but he said that it had been frequently patched, the last occasion being in 1788. It was his view that ‘all the old crazy kirks…[should be]…razed to the foundations and new ones built’. His wish was eventually fulfilled in 1839-40 when the present church was built to the designs of W.M. Mackenzie at the northern edge of the churchyard.

A number of fragments survive that must be assumed to have derived from the medieval church, and that make clear that it must have been a building with some finely detailed elements. Most of these are concentrated in a small rectangular structure to the south of the church, which has dimensions of 3.58 metres from east to west and 3.9 metres from north to south. It has been suggested that this structure could have been the sacristy of the medieval church, with the chancel perhaps standing on the ground now occupied by the Kinloch of Gourdie burial layer. But the location of the access doorway in its north wall indicates that this small building would have been on the south side of any church to which it was attached, and that would be most unusual for a sacristy. An alternative interpretation might be that it had been a laterally projecting chapel, though it would be very small for such a purpose. On balance it is perhaps more likely that the building was erected to serve some other purpose, such as a watch house, at a relatively recent period, with use simply being made of some of the medieval fragments to give it a certain architectural cachet.

In the south gable of the building a niche has been formed from fragments of uncertain use. But the finest feature is a segmental-arched doorway in the north wall. This has waterleaf nookshaft caps on each side, the abaci of which extend laterally outwards before ending in leaf terminals. The inner order of the arch has a band of dogtooth decoration to the arch itself, and there is a broad chamfer to the supporting jambs. The outer order of the arch has a filleted roll flanked by hollows, and there is a further band of dogtooth to the hoodmoulding. While it is not impossible that this is a doorway that was relocated wholesale from elsewhere, the segmental form of the arch suggests that it is not likely to be in its original form. Indeed, it is by no means certain that all of the items originally belonged to a single feature since, while a late twelfth-century date might be deemed most acceptable for the nookshaft capitals, the arch mouldings would perhaps be best placed in the earlier years of the following century. Nevertheless, what is clear is that these fragments must have originated in a building of significantly high quality. Other fragments within the churchyard include the jamb of a window.


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

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 32.

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 73.

Gifford, J., 2007, The Buildings of Scotland, Perth and Kinross, New Haven and London, 271-2.

Hay, G., 1957, The architecture of Scottish post-Reformation churches, Oxford, 268.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford, 302, 326, 301, 344.

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, Edinburgh and London, x, 1026.

Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scottorum, 1882, ii (1424-1513), Edinburgh, ii (1424-1513), no 1996.

Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, 1883, iii (1513-46), Edinburgh, no 759.

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, 130, 132, 162.

Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, ed. J. Sinclair, Edinburgh, ix (1793), 253. 

Vitae Dunkeldensis Ecclesiae Episcoporum…Ad Annum Mdxv, 1823, ed. T. Thomson, (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh, 10, 41.



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

  • 1. Clunie Churchyard, building incorporating medieval fragments

  • 2. Clunie Churchyard, monument

  • 3. Clunie Church, exterior

  • 4. Clunie Churchyard, medieval fragments, window jamb

  • 5. Clunie Churchyard, building incorporating medieval fragments, niche

  • 6. Clunie Churchyard, building incorporating medieval fragments, door, cap 2

  • 7. Clunie Churchyard, building incorporating medieval fragments, door, cap 1

  • 8. Clunie Churchyard, building incorporating medieval fragments, door

  • 9. Clunie Churchyard, building incorporating medieval fragments, and burial enclosure