Muthill Parish Church

Muthill Old Church, exterior, from south east

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

The origins of the religious community at Muthill are completely unknown but it is evident that it was the location of an early monastic establishment that continued to have a corporate existence into the thirteenth century. Before c.1198, one Cormac Malpole was described as prior of the Céli Dé and parson of Muthill, but before 1210 the offices were held by two individuals, Malgegill the prior and Gillemichael the parson.(1) It seems also to have been the location of a still functioning monastic school at around this time, for between c.1214 and c.1223, Maeldomhnaigh, ruler of the schools of Muthill, and the scholastics of the same place, quitclaimed to the monks of Lindores their rights to receive conveth from the vill of Exmagirdle.(2) The description of Cormac Malpole as both prior of the Céli Dé and parson of Muthill indicates that the parish church had a separate existence within the community. Mael Iosa, son of Ferteth, earl of Strathearn, appears to have possessed the patronage of the parish church and in 1195x1199 he granted it with all of its possessions to the abbey of Lindores.(3) In 1199, Pope Innocent III confirmed the church in the possession of the abbey.(4) The grant, however, triggered a dispute with Bishop Abraham of Dunblane, who claimed that the church pertained to his episcopal mensa.(5)

The dispute between Bishop Abraham and Lindores was settled in 1210 x 1214 by a composition negotiated by William, bishop of St Andrews, which was more favourable to Abraham.(6) In return for the abbey quitclaiming its rights in Muthill to the bishop, the monks were to receive an annual payment of 10 merks plus various concessions in respect of their other properties. The bishops of Dunblane, by this agreement, gained the parsonage teinds. In 1234, however, Bishop Clement challenged the justice of the settlement, claiming that it had been injurious to his church.(7) Although the judges-delegate found that the original settlement had been just they did determine that the assessment of annual compensation at 10 merks had been excessive and instead judged that Lindores should pay the bishops of Dunblane 5 merks annually.

Possibly by virtue of a papal bull of 1237 which granted Bishop Clement the right to one quarter of the teinds of churches within his diocese,(8) one quarter of the vicarage revenues were also annexed to the episcopal mensa. They remained annexed to the episcopal mensa at the Reformation.(9) Despite these annexations, Muthill was still listed as an apparently free parsonage in Bagimond’s Roll.(10) The cure, however, was served only by a vicarage perpetual supported on the remaining three-quarters of the vicarage revenues, a position which continued into the mid-fifteenth century, when in 1445 James Ouchtre, or Ochiltree, was described as having been a possessor of the position.(11) By June 1468, however, the residue of the vicarage had been annexed to the sub-deanery of Dunblane.(12) It is unclear how the cure was served after that date. Mr William Blackadder held the vicarage of Muthill in January 1533/4.(13) In 1538 the same man was recorded as rector in a group of four charters, but this is presumably an error as the parsonage still pertained to the episcopal mensa at that date.(14) Blackadder may have been a vicar pensioner, but his apparent prominence as represented in the charters which he witnesses suggests that he may have held the vicarage perpetual, which raises questions over the permanence of the annexation of the vicarage to the sub-deanery.

There appears to have been one additional altar in the parish church by the fifteenth century. In July 1446, a local property transaction was settled by payment of cash ‘on the Lady Altar of the parish kirk of Muthill’.(15) The altar appears to have had an endowed chaplainry associated with it, or was at least maintained through income from lands attached to it. In 1535, the lands of the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary are named in a charter of Bishop William to the tenants of the lands in the village which pertained to him by virtue of his possession of the parsonage.(16) As part of his tenancy of these lands, John Drummond was obliged to receive the bishop and up to twelve members of his household in the lodging built on the land, and provide them with board and lodging for up to eight days.


1. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no 122 (the attribution of this charter to W[illiam], bishop of Dunblane, identified by Fraser as William de Boscho, is clearly a scribal error carried down from the preceding charter by the sixteenth-century copyist. It appears to be more properly a charter of Bishop Jonathan or, possibly, Abraham); ibid., no 217.

2. Lindores Charters, no XLVII.

3. Lindores Charters, no CXXVII.

4. Lindores Charters, no XCIV.

5. Lindores Charters, no XLII; Ferguson, Medieval Papal Representatives, 219-220.

6. Ferguson, Medieval Papal Representatives, 219.

7. Lindores Charters, no L; Ferguson, Medieval Papal Representatives, 220.

8. Theiner, Vetera Monumenta, no XCI.

9. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 294, 295, 348.

10. SHS Misc, vi, 54,71.

11. CSSR, v, no 1172.

12. CSSR, v, no 1286.

13. RMS, iii, nos 1339, 1342.

14. RMS, iii, nos 1851-1854.

15. NAS GD279/1.

16. NAS GD112/2/133/1 no 1.

Summary description 

In its final state the church had an elongated rectangular chancel, which may have had a sacristy on its north side, a nave with an aisle along each flank, and a western tower absorbed into the western bay of the nave’s central vessel. The most prominent features in its present ruined state are the west tower, which stands to full height, the two nave arcades, the south aisle outer wall, and the lower walls of the chancel

Architectural description

The earliest part of the building is the tower, which can be dated on stylistic grounds to around the second quarter of the twelfth century. It appears to have been initially free-standing, but was later enveloped on three sides at the west end of the nave’s central vessel. The tower rises through four stages, the lowest stage marked by a string course with diamond decoration, and the uppers stages by slight intakes. The top stage was the level of the belfry, the north and west faces of which have round headed openings within which mid-wall shafts with cushion caps support sub-arches. It must be thought likely that the east and west faces of the belfry also originally had openings of this kind, though they have been replaced by rectangular openings, that on the south being the larger of the two and subdivided into two lights. Those changes were perhaps made when a double-pitched roof within crow-stepped gables was constructed at the wall head, similar to that added at Dunning Church. The only access to the tower is a rectangular doorway in its east wall that in its present form is of uncertain but clearly late date; there are traces of a blocked doorway in the west wall, which also appears to be late work. Unlike at Dunblane Cathedral and Dunning, there is no evidence of provision for a stone stair within the tower.

The ruined state of the rest of the church means that there is some uncertainty over the relationship between its parts, though the information provided by the remains is usefully supplemented by a view drawn by John Claude Nattes in the last years of the eighteenth century. The chancel was an extended aisle-less rectangle of 14.52 by 6.13 metres, the great length of which might suggest that it has been extended eastwards at some period. The chief remains of the chancel are the rubble-built lower south, east and north walls, which retain the ground at the level of the medieval internal floor where the graveyard slopes downwards towards the east. There is a narrow chamfered base course around the lower walls on three sides where they have been left exposed by the slope of the ground, with a second lower and more broadly chamfered base course along the east wall. By the time of Nattes’ view the church was clearly in a much modified and patched-up state, though it seems there was a triplet of lancets in the east gable wall and one or more lancets in the south wall, together with a three-light window on the south side of the altar that was apparently of the same type as those in the nave aisles. On the evidence of the lancet windows it may be thought likely that the chancel was essentially of thirteenth-century construction, but that it was subsequently modified at the time the nave aisles were built. Internally MacGibbon and Ross record traces of sedilia on the south side of the presbytery area, though these have been lost; the Statistical Account says there had been three steps up to the altar.

The nave was eventually flanked by a pair of aisles, with a two-bay arcade on the north side and a three-bay arcade on the south side, resulting in overall dimensions for this part of 19.65 by 15.32 metres. However, the idiosyncratic manner in which the north arcade is attached to the north-east corner of the tower by an L-shaped section of wall raises the possibility that this wall represents the north-east corner of an aisle-less structure that was retained when the greater part of its length was replaced by the north arcade. Supporting this possibility is what appears to be a line of three quoin stones in the east wall of the south nave aisle, to the north of the window arch there; since these are aligned with the south side of the south nave arcade wall the most obvious interpretation would be that they survive from the south-east angle of an aisle-less nave. That nave would have had a width of 7.93 metres.

Writing in the early eighteenth century, Bishop Robert Keith attributed the reconstruction of Muthill’s nave to Michael Ochiltree, in the time that he was dean of Dunblane (1420-29), and before he became bishop (1429-47). Since Muthill was appropriated to the episcopal mensa of Dunblane by that stage, it is not clear either why a dean should have become involved in one of the bishop’s churches, or why it should have been the nave rather than the chancel that was the beneficiary. However, the fact that James Ochiltree is known to have been vicarin 1445 may suggest that there was a family interest in this church. Whatever the case, there would certainly be no difficulty in accepting the rebuilt nave as a work of the second quarter of the fifteenth century.

The two nave arcades were evidently built as part of a single operation. The piers are of octagonal section, with two orders of chamfered arches emerging from them without any form of impost or capital. If there were any bases they are now below ground level. The chancel arch is of related form, except that the inner chamfered order continues through responds and arch without break. Nattes showed that the roof swept continuously over the nave and aisles, with no clearstorey above the arcade walls, and this is confirmed by the evidence of the wall at the west end of the south aisle. However, the nave roof rose considerably higher than that of the chancel, and Nattes showed that a pair of circular windows was provided in the east wall of the nave, above the two sides of the chancel roof, and traces of these are still to be seen over the roof moulding, while later views show that there was a third circular window close to the apex of the nave east gable.

The surviving low outer wall of the south nave aisle has a simple rectangular doorway in the central bay, and three-light windows in the other bays and at the aisle ends. These windows are unusual in having a central pointed light flanked by lights that have a single asymmetrical ramping arc at their head, the three lights being grouped beneath a depressed two-centred arch. The closest analogies for such windows are to be found in the north choir clearstorey of Dunblane Cathedral, suggesting that, if the later work is indeed attributable to Dean Ochiltree, Dunblane was regarded as a continuing source of architectural inspiration. As already said, Nattes’ view suggests that a similar window was installed in the south chancel wall, presumably to throw more light on the altar, and possibly suggesting that the sanctuary area had been refurnished at that time.

Now preserved within the tower, but previously displayed in the chancel, is an eroded double effigy traditionally said to commemorate Sir Maurice Drummond (who died in about 1362) and his wife Ada. There is also a cross-incised slab likely to be of twelfth- or thirteenth-century date. A series of timber spandrels decorated in relief with flamboyant tracery from the church are in the collections of the National Museums of Scotland. They had clearly been put to secondary use, possibly associated with the heritors’ seating, and new woodwork within the arcs bears the date 1720.

The church remained in use until 1825, when it was replaced by a new building on a site some distance to its east, which was erected to the designs of James Gillespie Graham in 1825-8. The old church was taken into state care in 1953 and is now maintained by Historic Scotland.


Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1447-71, 1997, ed. J. Kirk, R.J. Tanner and A.I. Dunlop, Edinburgh, nos 1172, 1286.

Caraher-Manning, D., 1983, New proposals to the buildings and history of Muthill Old Church and Tower

Chartulary of the abbey of Lindores, 1903, ed. J. Dowden, (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh, nos XLVII, L, XCIV, CXXVII.

Cockburn, J.H., 1963, ‘Parochial clergy of the medieval diocese of Dunblane Part 4’, Society of Friends of Dunblane Cathedral, ix, 70-75.

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 154

Cowan, I.B., 1974, ‘The post-Columban Church’, Records of the Scottish Church History Society, xviii, 245-260.

Cowan, I.B. and Easson, D.E., 1976, Medieval Religious Houses, Scotland, London, 51.

Donaldson, G., 1974, ‘Scotland’s earliest church buildings’, Records of the Scottish Church History Society, xviii, 1-9.

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 84, 71.

Ferguson, P.C., 1997, Medieval papal representatives in Scotland, (Stair Society) Edinburgh, 219-20.

Gifford, J., 1997, The Buildings of Scotland, Perth and Kinross, New Haven and London, 553-555.

Historical Account of the Scottish Bishops down to the year 1688 by the Right Rev. Robert Keith, 1824, ed. M. Russel, Edinburgh and London.

Kirk, J, (ed), 1995, The Books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford, 294, 295, 348.

Lindsay, I.G., 1950, ‘The kirks of the diocese of Dunblane’, Society of Friends of Dunblane Cathedral, vi, 8-17.

MacGibbon, D. and Ross, T, 1896-7. The ecclesiastical architecture of Scotland, vol. 3 (1897), 196.

Mackinnon, D., 1939, ‘The Culdees of Scotland’, Society of Friends of Dunblane Cathedral, iii, 58-67.

Maxwell, J.S., 1939, ‘Church towers in Scotland’, Transactions of the Scottish Ecclesiological Society, xii,  94-106.

Muir, T S, 1848, Descriptive notices of…parochial and collegiate churches of Scotland, London, 139-141.

National Archives of Scotland, Ministry of Works official file 1947-53, Dd.27.620, Acceptance of Guardianship (23416/3/A).

National Archives of Scotland, Ministry of Works official file, 1959, Dd.27.2150, Arrangements for return of carved wooden panel (23416/11/A).

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, Edinburgh and London, x, 329.

Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, 1883, iii (1513-46), Edinburgh, nos 1339, 1342, 1851-4.

Registrum monasterii S. Marie de Cambuskenneth, 1872, ed. W. Fraser, (Grampian Club), Edinburgh nos 122, 217.

Ross, T., 1915, ‘Muthill Old Church’, Transactions of the Scottish Ecclesiological Society, iv, 164-166.

Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, ed. J. Sinclair, Edinburgh, viii (1793), 491.

Vetera Monumenta Hibernorum et Scotorum Illustrantia, 1864, ed. A. Theiner, Rome, no xci.

Watt, D.E.R. and Murray, A.L., 2003, Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae Medii Aevi Ad Annum 1638, rev. ed. Edinburgh (Scottish Record Society), 75, 78-79, 88, 91.



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

  • 1. Muthill Old Church, exterior, from south east

  • 2. Muthill New Church from south

  • 3. Muthill Old Churchyard, monument

  • 4. Muthill Old Church, exterior, from south east (Nattes, redrawn by MacGibbon and Ross)

  • 5. Muthill Old Church, plan (MacGibbon and Ross)

  • 6. Muthill Old Church, plan (Historic Scotland)

  • 7. Muthill Old Church, interior, tower from east

  • 8. Muthill Old Church, interior, north arcade and tower

  • 9. Muthill Old Church,, interior, nave arcade pier

  • 10. Muthill Old Church, interior, chancel arch and north arcade

  • 11. Muthill Old Church, interior, south aisle looking west

  • 12. Muthill Old Church, interior, nave arcades from north

  • 13. Muthill Old Church, interior, south arcade

  • 14. Muthill Old Church, exterior, nave, east wall, fragmentary oculus over chancel roof

  • 15. Muthill Old Church, exterior, fragmentary oculi over chancel roof

  • 16. Muthill Old Church, exterior, evidence for south east corner of aisle-less nave

  • 17. Muthill Old Church, exterior, south aisle window

  • 18. Muthill Old Church, exterior, chancel from north east

  • 19. Muthill Old Church, tower, west wall, lower part

  • 20. Muthill Old Church, exterior, tower strong course

  • 21. Muthill Old Church, exterior, towe, belfry window

  • 22. Muthill Old Church, exterior, tower from west

  • 23. Muthill Old Church, exterior, tower from north west, 2

  • 24. Muthill Old Church, exterior, tower from north west, 1

  • 25. Muthill Old Church, exterior, tower, from south

  • 26. Muthill Old Church, exterior, nave from south