Fowlis Wester Parish Church

Fowlis Wester Church, exterior, from south west, 1

Summary description

The church is a T-plan structure, the rectangular main body being the much remodelled medieval church, from the north side of which projects a modified laird’s aisle. Much of the present medieval appearance of the church is the result of a restoration of 1927.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Bean

Although the monastery of Inchaffray was located within the lands of Fowlis, the church and parish of Fowlis were not amongst the early grants made to the community by the earls of Strathearn. In c.1210, Gillebrigte, earl of Strathearn, granted the church and all things pertaining to it to the canons so that they could use the revenues for their own needs.(1) The grant was confirmed by King William, probably in 1211, and again by Earl Gillebrigte and King Alexander II in 1219 and 1220.(2) Despite the earl’s intention that the canons should have full use of the parish revenues, a settlement concerning the second teinds of Aberuthven and Tullidene between Bishop Clement of Dunblane and the canons of Inchaffray in 1234 states that the canons did not yet enjoy full corporal possession of the church of Fowlis.(3) That possession was settled in February 1239, when the dean and chapter of Dunblane agreed with the canons a vicarage settlement in respect of ten parish churches in the diocese held by Inchaffray.(4) This settlement awarded the whole fruits of the parishes to the abbey, reserving only the vicar’s portions and other specified vicarage revenues. While the intention may have been for the vicarage to be portionary, it seems at the Reformation to have been a vicarage perpetual. The vicarage seems at times to have been held by secular priests,(5) but at the Reformation it was served by one of the canons of Inchaffray.(6)


1. Inchaffray Charters, no XXVII.

2. RRS, ii, no 504; Inchaffray Charters, nos XXXIX, XL.

3. Inchaffray Charters, no LXI.

4. Inchaffray Charters, no  LXVII.

5. See, for example, NAS GD112/2/147/1, where Master Thomas Murray, vicar of Fowlis, witnessed a charter of John, earl of Atholl, in Perth in May 1472.

6. Cowan, Parishes, 71; Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 341.

Architectural description

The long history of Christian worship in this area is affirmed by the survival of two fine Early Christian cross slabs, together with fragments of others. The largest of those cross slabs was for many years at the centre of the village, though its original location was unknown; it was moved into the church for its protection in 1991. The other cross slab and fragments were found built into the walls of the church in the course of the restoration of the church in 1927.

The church, which is built of pink rubble masonry with ashlar dressings, is a rectangular structure of 31.75 metres from east to west and 8.2 metres from north to south; the shell appears to be essentially medieval, though so few diagnostic features have survived the various operations carried out on it that its dates of construction could not be safely assessed. Internally, the only clearly medieval feature is an aumbry towards the north end of the east wall, which is rebated for a door frame and whose lintel has the monograms of Jesus and Mary. It is likely that it functioned as a Sacrament House. Towards the east end of the south wall is an opening that has been restored as a ‘low-side window’, but which may have originated as nothing more than a post-Reformation window below an eastern gallery until it was creatively adjusted by an ecclesiologically-minded architect. Further west on the south wall are internal traces of two segmental rear-arches, one of which relates to the external traces of a rectangular two-light window that is presumably of seventeenth-century date.

A laterally projecting laird’s aisle was added on the north side of the church, and this may be as early as 1641 on the evidence of a relocated date stone on its west face. As now seen, however, it appears to be largely a mid-nineteenth-century rebuilding for William Moray-Stirling of Abercairny, with yet further modifications dating from 1927. The birdcage bellcote on the west gable of the main body of the church is presumably of the eighteenth century. The author of the entry in the Statistical Account published in 1795 complained about the lighting of the church and the ruinous state of the seats and galleries, though he conceded that the walls and roof were in reasonably sound repair. According to the author of the New Statistical Account repairs must have been carried out shortly afterwards, and works are known to have been undertaken in 1802, with more said to have been in progress in 1865. Early photographs suggest that the works of 1802 had left the church thoroughly Georgianised, the south front having a succession of round-arched windows fitted with sash windows, and with a slightly salient crow-step-gabled porch as the main access.

Such churches were not viewed with favour by later generations with an interest in medieval architecture, and in 1927, at the behest of Capt. Drummond Moray of Abercairny, a major restoration was carried out to the designs of J. Jeffrey Waddell with the intention of reinstating something of the church’s medieval appearance. There was, however, little detailed evidence on which to base this restoration. The walls were stripped of their external render and internal plaster, a chancel was formed by throwing an arch across the church towards its east end, two buttresses were built against the south wall, and a sightly dispiriting uniform sequence of Y-traceried windows was constructed along much of the south flank and parts of the north flank. Within the area of a blocked window in the south wall, close to the west jamb of the second arched window from the west, was re-set a heraldic stone charged with a chevron and at least two mullets. On the north side a small organ chamber was thrown out from the chancel, while the Abercairny Aisle was adapted as a short transeptal space entered through a round arch, with a vestry above the section of the burial vault that was retained. It appears there were already hopes that the cross slab in the village square would be relocated to this transeptal space, though this was only eventually carried out in 1991.

Within the churchyard, to the east of the church, is a decayed medieval coped grave stone that has a sword carved on its upper surface, and there may also have been an incised axe. Local traditions suggest that the stone did not originate here, though this is uncertain.


Allen, J.R. and Anderson, J., 1903, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, Edinburgh, pt 3, 289-90, 342.

Charters, Bulls and other Documents relating to the Abbey of Inchaffray, 1908, (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh, nos, XXVII, XXXIX, XL, LXI, LXVIII.

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 71.

Gifford, J., 2007, The Buildings of Scotland, Perth and Kinross, New Haven and London, 376-7.

Hay, G., 1957, The architecture of Scottish post-Reformation churches, Oxford, 22, 52, 53, 56, 230.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford, 341.

Lewis, J., 1991, ‘Fowlis Wester cross slab’, Discovery and excavation Scotland, 73.

Lindsay, I.G. 1950, ‘The kirks of the diocese of Dunblane’, Society of Friends of Dunblane Cathedral, vi, 11.

Mackinlay, J.M., 1914, Ancient church dedications in Scotland, non-scriptural dedications, Edinburgh, 139.

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, Edinburgh and London, x, 260.

Regesta Regum Scottorum, Acts of William I (1165-1214), 1971, Edinburgh, no 504.

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

Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, ed. J. Sinclair, Edinburgh, xv (1795), 608.

Strachan, R., 1997, ‘Fowlis Wester Church excavation’, Discovery and excavation Scotland, 63.

Waddell, J.J., 1932, ‘Cross-slabs recently discovered at Fowlis Wester and Millport’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, lxvi, 409-12.



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

  • 1. Fowlis Wester Church, exterior, from south west, 1

  • 2. Fowlis Wester Church, interior, west wall, re-set gablet

  • 3. Fowlis Wester Churchyard, coped gravestone

  • 4. Fowlis Wester Church, early stones, cross slab 3

  • 5. Fowlis Wester Church, early stones, cross slab 2b

  • 6. Fowlis Wester Church, early stones, cross slab 2a

  • 7. Fowlis Wester Church, early stones, cross slab 1b

  • 8. Fowlis Wester Church, early stones, cross slab 1a

  • 9. Fowlis Wester Church, interior, before restoration

  • 10. Fowlis Wester Church, exterior, before restoration

  • 11. Fowlis Wester Church, exterior, 19th C drawing before restoration

  • 12. Fowlis Wester Church, interior, south wall, evidence for earlier openings, 4

  • 13. Fowlis Wester Church, interior, south wall, evidence for earlier openings, 3

  • 14. Fowlis Wester Church, interior, south wall, evidence for earlier openings, 2

  • 15. Fowlis Wester Church, interior, south wall, evidence for earlier openings, 1

  • 16. Fowlis Wester Church, interior, chancel, south wall, low-side window rear arch

  • 17. Fowlis Wester Church, interior, east wall, Sacrament House

  • 18. Fowlis Wester Church, interior, north wall, entrance to north aisle

  • 19. Fowlis Wester Church, interior, from west

  • 20. Fowlis Wester Church, extrior, west door, restoration date stone

  • 21. Fowlis Wester Church, exterior, south wall, re-set heraldic stone

  • 22. Fowlis Wester Church, exterior, north aisle, from north

  • 23. Fowlis Wester Church, exterior, from west

  • 24. Fowlis Wester Church,exterior, from north east

  • 25. Fowlis Wester Church, exterior, east wall

  • 26. Fowlis Wester Church, exterior, chancel south wall, windows

  • 27. Fowlis Wester Church, exterior, chancel, from south

  • 28. Fowlis Wester Church, west part south flank

  • 29. Fowlis Wester Church, exterior, from south west, 2 2