Abernyte Parish Church

Abernyte Church, exterior, from south west

Summary description

The church is a cruciform structure and, although no medieval features survive, it appears likely that the medieval building partly conditioned the plan of what is now seen.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

The church first appears as a free parsonage in Bagimond’s Rolls in 1274-5.(1) In 1413, the parsonage was held by Richard of Creich, canon of Dunkeld and holder of the prebend of Obney in the cathedral.(2) He was to demit possession following his provision to the precentorship of Moray, and on 30 January 1413 Pope Benedict XIII gave provision to the church of Master Thomas of Buittle, the archdeacon of Whithorn.(3) In July 1415, however, Richard de Creich was still in possession due to litigation over his promotion to the precentorship but was to demit when provided to the parish church of Kinkell in Aberdeen diocese.(4) The same day, the pope provided Alexander Barber, archdeacon of Caithness, who already possessed the church of Muckersie in Dunkeld diocese, to Abernyte, with the proviso that he demit Muckersie when possession of Abernyte was gained.(5)  Barber, who had been required to demit possession of Muckersie, gained possession of Abernyte but, since the priest who was provided to Muckersie in his place failed to get letters of provision on time, ended up drawing the revenues of both until July 1417.(6)

In May 1430, Barber supplicated Pope Martin V for a fresh provision to the church, which had originally been granted to him by the schismatic, Benedict XIII, with the value given as £20 annually.(7) By August 1419, Barber was reported as dead, opening a round of litigation over possession of the parsonage.(8) By March 1424, the rectory was in the hands of Adam de Gren, who supplicated the pope for a fresh provision for greater security of possession, as it was alleged that he had obtained possession whilst still in possession also of the church of Muckersie.(9) In his supplication, the parsonage was valued at 20 merks as opposed to the £20 of earlier records. When the church is next recorded in 1437, its last possessor had been one James Bruce, on whose death Henry Rhynd, treasurer of Aberdeen, petitioned for provision, with the value stated as £28.(10) There appear to have been plans to annexe the church to the collegiate church of Fowlis Easter, but the eventual annexation took the revenues in a different direction.(11) According to Alexander Myln in his Vitae Dunkeldensis Ecclesiae Episcoporum, Bishop James Bruce annexed the fruits of the church of Abernyte to his cathedral for the support of four choral vicars.(12) In February 1448, the process had started at Rome for the annexation of the parsonage revenues for the support of four vicars choral in the cathedral of Dunkeld, and annexation was effected by August 1448.(13) Sir John Hude, vicar of Abernyte, who witnesses a charter of Alan Kinnaird of that Ilk at Kinnaird, near Abernyte, on 8 July 1449, and who still held the benefice in May 1465, appears to have been a vicar pensionary.(14)

At the Reformation, it was noted in the Book of Assumptions that the parish revenues, both parsonage and vicarage, were appropriated and divided equally between four chaplains, ‘choristis of Dunkeld’, namely William Stewart, Thomas Muirhead, Alexander Moncreiff and James Sandeson.(15)


1. SHS Misc, vi, 47, 72.

2. CPL Benedict XIII, 265.

3. CPL Benedict XIII, 269.

4. CPL, Benedict XIII, 319-320.

5. CPL Benedict XIII, 321.

6. CPL Benedict XIII, 337, 340-1, 357.

7. CSSR, i, 60.

8. CSSR, i 104-106.

9. CSSR, ii, 54.

10. CSSR, iv, no  329.

11. Cowan, Parishes, 4.

12. Myln, Vitae, 19.

13.CSSR, v, nos 134, 193; Myln, Vitae, 19.

14. RMS, ii, nos 352, 835, 964.

15. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 310.

Architectural analysis

The church is a cruciform structure which took on its present form in a complex sequence of operations that have left no clearly identifiable features from the medieval building. Works are known to have been carried out in 1672 (the date on the west gable), 1736 (when David Smart was responsible for the masonry), 1810, around 1836-7, and 1870 (when T.S. Robertson of the architects Edward and Robertson was in charge). The work of 1736 was to have involved the demolition of the existing building and the constrction of a new one with dimensions of 40 feet (12.19 metres) by 20 feet (6.1 metres) according to a contract in the Heritors’ Records. These were probably regarded as ideal proportions for a rural parish church at this time. However, this was evidently not acted upon. The operations of 1870 involved a major remodelling that included a new roof and bellcote, and a chancel that met the newly emerging ecclesiological principles of that time.

The principal axis now runs from north-east-north to south-west-south, with the entrance through a low porch facing the road to the north, and culminating internally in the chancel of 1870. However, it is a noteworthy and unusual feature that the transeptal projections, towards the south end, are of almost the same scale as the main body, the former having overall dimensions of 15.19 by 6.28 metres, and the latter of 18.12 by 6.4 metres. Taking account of the fact that the date 1672, which presumably records the first major post-Reformation works on the church, is on the gable of the western lateral aisle, it should be regarded as likely that what are now transeptal projections were the two ends of the main body of the church at that time.

Assuming that to have been the case, what is now the ‘nave’ must initially have been an addition to the existing church in the form of a lateral north aisle, resulting in a T-plan arrangement. The ‘chancel’ of 1870 at the south end, which projects by no more than 2.14 metres, would have been a final augmentation of the plan at a time when changed liturgical views meant it was increasingly frequently felt appropriate to have a distinct chancel area for the communion table. If this interpretation is correct, while we must assume that the ‘transepts’ are substantially of 1672, their overall dimensions of 15.19 by 6.28 metres suggests that an underlying basis of this part could have been an approximately oriented medieval church. Such a wholesale realignment of a church was by no means unique; at Lilliesleaf, in the Borders, for example, an eighteenth-century rectangular church was first augmented by a lateral aisle, and then had a chancel thrown out on the opposite side of the main body from the lateral aisle.

The graveyard contains a number of eighteenth-century monuments, and at least one of the seventeenth century.


Calendar of Papal letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon, 1976, ed. F. McGurk, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh, 265, 269, 319-20, 321, 337, 340-1, 357.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1418-22, 1934, ed. E.R. Lindsay and A.I. Cameron, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh, 60, 104-06.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1423-28, 1956, ed. A.I. Dunlop, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh, 54.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1433-47, 1983, ed. A.I. Dunlop and D MacLauchlan, Glasgow, no 329.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1447-71, 1997, ed. J. Kirk, R.J. Tanner and A.I. Dunlop, Edinburgh, nos 134, 193.

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 4.

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, 72.

Gifford, J., 2007, The Buildings of Scotland, Perth and Kinross, New Haven and London, 145-6.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford, 310.

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, Edinburgh and London, vol. 10, 224.

Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scottorum, 1882, Edinburgh, ii (1414-1513), nos 352, 835, 964.

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, 162.

Vitae Dunkeldensis Ecclesiae Episcoporum...Ad Annum Mdxv, 1823, ed. T. Thomson, (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh, 19.



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

  • 1. Abernyte Church, exterior, from south west

  • 2. Abernyte Churchyard, monument 1

  • 3. Abernyte Churchyard, monument 3

  • 4. Abernyte Churchyard monument 2

  • 5. Abernyte Church, interior

  • 6. Abernyte Church, exterior, west gable

  • 7. Abernyte Church, exterior, from north east