Menteith Isle / Port of Parish Church

Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, island from north

Summary description

In the early thirteenth century the parish church was possibly at first on the island in the Lake of Menteith where an Augustinian Priory was to be founded in 1238, and the nave of the priory may have accommodated the parishioners following its construction. However, it is thought that a church was subsequently provided on the mainland, on or near the site of the present parish church, though nothing is now to be seen of any medieval church in that location. 

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

The original parish church seems to have been located on Inchmahome in the Lake of Menteith. In 1238, following the settlement of a dispute between Bishop Clement of Dunblane and Walter Comyn, earl of Menteith, over various churches in Menteith, part of which allowed the earl to found an Augustinian priory on the island, the church formed part of the founding endowment given to the canons.(1) Both the parsonage and vicarage were annexed to the priory, the cure thereafter being served by a chaplain.(2) It is not known when the parish church was moved to the mainland, but this had clearly occurred before the mid-fifteenth century, when it was described as the church of ‘Port’, referring to its location at the mainland end of the ferry route to the island.(3) The church of Port of Menteith remained annexed to the priory at the Reformation.(4) In March 1563/4, the kirk of Port was the venue for the meeting of a court of the lordship of Inchmahome.(5)

With both parsonage and vicarage revenues appropriated to the priory, the canons could assign elements of the fruits to support individual clerics. In 1445, the vicarage perpetual of Port was assigned to Patrick de Cardross, former prior of Inchmahome, as part of his pension following his resignation of the prioracy.(6) This arrangement was not, however, permanent and the fruits of the vicarage reverted to the convent on his death or resignation.

Notes

1. Fraser, Menteith, ii, 326.

2. Cowan, Parishes, 166.

3. CSSR, v, no 1158.

4. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 544, 548.

5. NAS GD124/1/981.

6. CSSR, v, no 1158.

Architectural description

The predecessor of the present parish church, which is at Port of Menteith on the north-eastern shore of the loch, is said to have been built in 1771, though there are seventeenth-century memorials in its churchyard, suggesting this was the established site of the parish church by then. The church now in use for worship was built in 1876-8 to the designs of the architect John Honeyman.

The Augustinian priory church on the island of Inchmahome was presumably initially intended both to absorb the exisiting function of the cure of souls and to accommodate the newly founded community of canons. The church consisted of an aisle-less chancel, a nave with a single north aisle and a north-west tower. The chancel was of three irregularly spaced bays, and had a sacristy off the central bay on the north side, which appears on the evidence of roof corbels and excavated footings later to have been extended westwards to meet up with the east end of the north nave aisle. Running along the western part of the south flank of the chancel was a lean-to corridor that is thought to have linked up with a night stair on the north side of the chapter house leading down from the canons’ dormitory. The nave was of four bays, defined by the arcade opening into the aisle along its north side, a tower rises over the west bay of the aisle. The most fully surviving parts of this church are the chancel, which is complete to the wall head for much of its length, the north wall of the nave which adjoined the cloister, the two west bays of the north nave arcade, the east, north and west walls of the tower below the belfry stage, and the lower level of the west front.

The church presents a number of puzzling anomalies. The first of these is that the nave is significantly wider at its west end than at its east end, with the consequence that its south wall is out of parallel with the north arcade and north aisle outer wall, though there are traces on the inside of the west wall that suggest it had been at first intended that it should run parallel with the north arcade. A second anomaly is that the buttresses of the north nave aisle do not correspond with the arcade piers. A third anomaly is that the tower has a somewhat unresolved relationship with the bay of the arcade into which it is set, since it is narrower from east to west than the bay, while the arcade simply continues across the tower’s south side with no recognition of its presence. An additional point that should be taken into account is that there is a difference between the base course of the chancel and that below the north and west walls of the nave: the former has a broad chamfer below a keeled roll string course, while the latter has two orders of chamfer below a roll moulding. Taking account of all this evidence, it may be suspected that, at the time of the foundation of the priory in 1238, the chancel was added to an existing church in order to provide a home for the services of the canons, and that the earlier church was soon afterwards itself progressively remodelled on a slightly more ambitious scale than had been initially intended. There can be no certainty about this, however.

The most prominent feature of the chancel is the series of windows that run along three of its walls, and that rest on string courses both externally and internally. In the east wall there is a splendid echelon grouping of five lancets, which are without hood mouldings externally, and are embraced within a single rounded rear arch internally, with the additional embellishment of small corbels at the light-head springings. Piercing the flanks of the presbytery area on each side is a pair of lancets at the east end and a single lancet further west. Most of these presbytery flank windows rise from the same height as the east window, the exception being the single lancet on the north side, which had a higher sill to accommodate the lean-to roof of the sacristy. Internally the paired lancets are embraced by rounded rear arches. It seems that the lower parts of some of the presbytery windows were later blocked, and in the case of the lancets in the east wall this was presumably to allow for the installation of a retable to the high altar. When that blocking was mistakenly removed after the priory had been taken into state care, it was found that fragments of medieval stained glass had been embodied within the blocking.

In the south wall of the presbytery area are a number of liturgical fixtures. From east to west these are: a square aumbry recess; a trifoliate-headed recess that was presumably intended for a piscina basin; and sedilia of three seats with moulded trifoliate arches carried on piers with a triplet of engaged shafts. These latter must be amongst the earliest sedilia to survive in Scotland. Marking the division between presbytery and choir there is a door on each side: that on the north having opened into the sacristy, while that on the south is thought to have been for access to the church from the night stair corridor. The choir to the west of the presbytery was lit by paired lancets within rounded rear arches on each side, and these rise from a string course that runs at a higher level from that in the presbytery, presumably to accommodate the canons’ stalls.

The outer wall of the north nave aisle is reduced to its lowest courses, except in the west bay, where the tower is located. From the roof crease against the east wall of the tower it can be seen that the aisle was unvaulted, and that its outer wall rose barely higher than the arcade piers. From the junction of the surviving bays of the arcade wall with the west front it is evident that there was a squat clearstorey. The four-bay arcade was carried on piers with heavy filleted rolls to the cardinal directions of the basically cruciform core, and with smaller shafts to the diagonal directions. The bases were of water-holding form above sub-bases with a concave flare. In the form of both the piers and the bases there are anaologies with the minor piers in the crypt at Glasgow Cathedral, which were presumably amongst the earliest works to have been in progress there in the campaign that was instigated in the years around 1242, suggesting that construction (or reconstruction) of the nave at Inchmahome cannot have been long delayed after completion of the choir. The east respond of the arcade has a piscina cut into it to serve the altar in the chapel at the east end of the aisle. In the south nave wall the most significant features are the two equilateral-arched doorways to the cloister, which have two orders of cavetto mouldings.

The great show piece of the priory church was its west front, which has a finely moulded doorway of four orders at its centre and a pair of blind arches to each side with trefoils or quatrefoils in their spandrels. Above this was a traceried window that appears to have been of three lights.

The church at Port of Menteith remains in use for parochial worship. The priory and its church were placed in the care of the state in 1926, and are now cared for by Historic Scotland.

Bibliography

Blanc, H., 1915, ‘Priory of Inchmahome’, Transactions of the Scottish Ecclesiological Society, vol. 4 (1912- 15), 170-1.

Brydall, R., 1895, ‘Monumental Effigies of Scotland from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 29 (1894-5), pp 329-410, at 350-3.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1447-71, 1997, ed. J. Kirk, R.J. Tanner and A.I. Dunlop, Edinburgh, no 1158.

Cockburn, J.H., 1961, ‘Parochial clergy of the medieval diocese of Dunblane’, pt 2, Society of Friends of Dunblane Cathdral, viii, 146-53.

Cockburn, J.H., 1961, ‘Parochial clergy of the medieval diocese of Dunblane’, pt 4, Society of Friends of Dunblane Cathdral, ix, 70-75.

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 166.

Cowan, I.B. and Easson, D.E., 1976. Medieval Religious Houses, Scotland, London, 91.

Cunninghame-Graham, R.B., 1895. Notes on the district of Mentieth, London.

Fawcett, R, 1986, Inchmahome Priory, Edinburgh.

Fraser, W., 1880, The Red Book of Menteith, Edinburgh, ii, 326.

Furgol, E.M., 1987, ‘The Scottish itinerary of Mary Queen of Scots, 1542-8 and 1561-8’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, cxvii, 219-31.

Geddes, A., 1950, ‘A unique mediaeval tomb at Inchmahome: a cultural link’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, lxxxiv, 223-226.

Gifford, J. and Walker, F.A., 2002, The Buildings of Scotland, Stirling and Central Scotland, New Haven and London, 537-40, 636-7.

Hutchison, A.F., 1899, The Lake of Menteith, its islands and vicinity, Stirling.

Kirk, J, (ed), 1995, The Books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford, 544, 548.

MacGibbon, D. and Ross T, 1896-7, Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland, Edinburgh, ii (1896), 112.

McGregor-Stirling, W., 1815, Notes, historical and descriptive on the Priory of Inchmahome, Edinburgh.

National Archives of Scotland, Ministry of Works official file, 1920-29, MW.1.681. Guardianship - minute of agreement (Sc 23365/3a).

National Archives of Scotland, Ministry of Works official file, 1921-36, MW.1.678. Works of preservation including excavation (Sc 23365/2a).

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, Edinburgh and London, x, 1102-4.

Richardson, J.S., 1974,  Inchmahome Priory, Edinburgh.

Steer, K.A. and Bannerman, J.W.M., 1977, Late Medieval Monumental Sculpture in the West Highlands, Edinburgh, 40, 42, 160-1.

Stewart, J.K., 1933, Inchmahome and the Lake of Mentieth, Edinburgh.

New Statistical Account, 1845, x, Edinburgh and London, 1094, 1102-3,1104-6.

Watt, D.E.R. and Shead, N.F., 2001. Heads of Religious Houses in Scotland from the twelfth to the sixteenth centuries, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 108-111.

Map

Images

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

  • 1. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, island from north

  • 2. Port of Menteith Churchyard, monument

  • 3. Port of Menteith Church, exterior 2

  • 4. Port of Menteith Church, exterior 1

  • 5. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, plan (Historic Scotland)

  • 6. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, chapter house, interior, effigy

  • 7. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, chapter house, interior, double effigy

  • 8. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory,interior, nave north arcade

  • 9. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, interior, nave arcade, east respond

  • 10. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, interior, from west

  • 11. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, interior, choir, from west

  • 12. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, interior, presbytery, from south west

  • 13. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, exterior, west front, door, south jamb

  • 14. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, exterior, west front, door

  • 15. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, exterior, west front from west

  • 16. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, exterior, tower and nave, from south west

  • 17. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, exterior, nave, south west corner

  • 18. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, exterior, choir, from south east

  • 19. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, exterior, choir, from north

  • 20. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, exterior, choir from south east

  • 21. Menteith, Inchmahome Priory, exerior east wall