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Dunblane Cathedral

Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, from south east

Summary description

The cathedral consists of a six-bay aisle-less chancel with a five-bay two-storeyed sacristy and chapter house range on its north side, and an eight-bay aisled nave incorporating an earlier tower in the third and fourth bays from the east of the south aisle. Parochial worship is assumed to have been initially accommodated within the nave. After the Reformation the nave was abandoned and the choir adapted for the uses of both the parish and the bishop and chapter (the latter use ending with the abolition of episcopacy in the Scottish Church in 1689). The whole church was restored and brought back into use in 1889-93.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Blane

It is believed that the appropriation of the parsonage of the parish of Dunblane to the episcopal mensa, and of the vicarage to the prebend of the dean of Dunblane, were made at an early date.(1) One Malise, parson of Dunblane, however, witnessed a charter, probably of Bishop Jonathan, between c.1195 and 1210.(2) An annexation may have occurred in the early thirteenth century, as it is stated in 1239 in letters of William, bishop of Glasgow, and Geoffrey, bishop of Dunkeld, who had been commissioned by the pope to investigate the financial position of the bishopric of Dunblane, that Bishop Clement on his appointment to the see had found the church roofless and with divine service being performed by only ‘a rural chaplain’.(3) The parsonage appears to have pertained from at least the early 1200s to the episcopal mensa and remained so annexed at the Reformation, while the vicarage was apparently annexed to and supplied the bulk of the revenues of the deanery.(4) The cure itself was served by a vicar pensionar,(5) who presumably performed divine service at a parish altar in the nave of the cathedral.

In addition to the various canons who held prebends in the cathedral, whose numbers increased as the bishops developed the chapter and diocesan administrative establishment, there were a number of endowed chaplainries founded at altars in the nave of the church as distinct to the nine chaplains of the choir who until 1522 were paid from the common funds of the cathedral and from that date were supported on specific endowments.(6) New chaplainries continued to be established into the sixteenth century. In 1509, Walter Drummond, dean of Dunblane, who had repaired the south aisle of the nave between the south door and the choir, founded and endowed a chapel and chaplainry of St Nicholas in that part of the aisle.(7) The advowson of the chaplainry was held after Walter’s death by his kinsmen, the Lords Drummond.(8) One of the last chaplainries established was the Trinity altar, founded in the 1530s by Mr Henry White, a canon of Moray.(9) The chaplainries of St Blaise, St Michael, St Nicholas and Our Lady were recorded in the cathedral in 1561/2.(10) That of St Michael was at this time held conjointly with the vicarage of Callander in what appears to have been a personal union.(11)


1. Cowan, Parishes, 51.

2. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no 122.

3. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no 125.

4. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 294, 315.

5. Cowan, Parishes, 51.

6. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 343; Fraser, Stirling of Keir, 317-18; Cockburn, Bishops of Dunblane, 190.

7. RMS, ii, no 3398.

8. RMS, iii, no 1560.

9. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no 183.

10. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 314, 327, 335.

11. Donaldson (ed.), Thirds of Benefices, 15.

Architectural description

(This entry draws largely on Richard Fawcett’s account of the cathedral in The Buildings of Scotland, Stirling and Central Scotland.)

It is uncertain how long Christian worship has been associated with this site. Despite the medieval belief that St Blane was active here in the late sixth century, there can be no certainty of this, though it cannot be ruled out that relics were brought here in the ninth century from the presumed main centre of Blane’s mission at Kingarth on Bute, following Norse raids. The practice of Christian worship at Dunblane by around the eighth and ninth centuries, however, is attested by two cross slabs which were found in 1873 below the north chancel range during restoration works, and which are now displayed at the west end of the nave. The larger slab has a cross on the main side that is undecorated apart from volutes at its top and bottom corners, and that has spirals to the ring that connects the arms, as well as serpent heads to the framing moulding at the base. The reverse has five tiers of decoration of various kinds, including a confronted pair of beasts at the top, a horseman at the middle and a recumbent man holding a staff at the base. The chief decoration on the smaller slab, apart from faint traces of an incised cross shaft on the main face, is along one edge, and consists of interlace, key pattern and zoomorphic interlace.

The plan of the cathedral is composed of four principal elements dating from two main building operations, one element being of the second quarter of the twelfth century, and the others of the second, third and fourth quarters of the thirteenth century. At the east end is an unaisled rectangular chancel of six narrow bays. Running along the north side of all but the east bay of this chancel is a two-storeyed range which presumably housed the sacristy and chapter house at the lower level, with a treasury and chapel above. This north range was initially entered either from a doorway that is the only architectural indication of the demarcation between the areas of the presbytery and the canons’ choir, or through a small vestibule opening off the chapel at the east end of the north nave aisle; also within this vestibule is a spiral stair to the first floor of the north range. Since 1893 there has been a third doorway into the range from the churchyard, through the middle bay of the north wall.

The nave has aisles along both flanks, and the eight bays into which it is divided are marked externally in most cases by buttresses; the two east bays, where there are chapels at the aisle ends, are narrower than the others. Straddling the south aisle wall, and projecting irregularly into the third and fourth bays from the west, is the bell tower, the only part of the twelfth-century building to have been retained in place. Within the tower is a spacious spiral stair at its south-west angle. The processional entrance to the nave was at the centre of the west front. The principal lay entrance was, rather unusually, in the third bay from the east of the south aisle, where it was evidently originally covered by a porch in the re-entrant angle between the aisle and tower. Other doorways were provided in the second bay from the west of the south aisle and the third bay from the west of the north aisle. There is a spiral stair to the clearstorey and west front passages in the massive buttressing at the west end of the north nave arcade. In the corresponding position on the south side is a small vaulted chamber; it has been suggested, but with no firm evidence, that this chamber may have been an anchorite’s cell.

The basic plan of extended aisle-less chancel and aisled nave was reflected in a number of other thirteenth century cathedrals, the most precise parallel being with Dunkeld, while the closest analogy for the elongated north range for the chapter house and sacristy is at Fortrose. But the most extraordinary feature of the plan is the incorporation of an earlier tower at a seemingly arbitrary point in the south nave aisle, and for this there are no exact parallels. Asymmetrically placed bell towers were certainly a common feature of major Scottish churches, though they were more usually placed at the north-west corner of the nave, as at Glasgow (before the addition of a second west tower), Dunkeld, Fortrose and Brechin Cathedrals, or at the abbeys of Lindores or Cambuskenneth. At Dunblane the situation was presumably complicated by the wish to retain an earlier free-standing tower, presumably for reasons of piety that can no longer be known, on a site that was limited in size and where the ground may have been unstable in some areas. A partly comparable approach was adopted at the Augustinian priory of Restenneth, where an early tower was retained to one side at the junction of the chancel and nave as rebuilt in the thirteenth century. There the tower would certainly have appeared externally lop-sided, though internally its position would probably have been masked by the screens separating chancel from nave, and it is also likely that at Dunblane the odd position of the tower would have been less evident internally than externally when all liturgical furnishings were in place. Perhaps all that can be said is that there might have to be a willingness to adopt extraordinary solutions if the wish to retain earlier features was to be fulfilled.

Analysis of the architecture will start with a brief account of the chronology of contruction. There is little documentary evidence for the building sequence of the cathedral, and reliance has to be placed on a combination of stylistic indications and of the physical relationship between the constituent parts. The earliest part is clearly the four lower stages of the tower, which appears to have been initially a free-standing structure with a slightly elevated entrance through its north face, and with belfry openings to all faces of its fourth stage. On stylistic grounds this tower should probably be placed in the second quarter of the twelfth century, shortly before the first recorded reference to Bishop Laurence in 1155. Nothing is known of the church associated with this tower in the twelfth century, though a number of chevron-decorated voussoirs now displayed at the west end of the north nave aisle show that at least part of that church was of a similar date as the tower, and that it was work of some quality.

On the evidence of the continuity of the base course around the walls of the rest of the cathedral, which, although heavily restored in places, appears to be essentially authentic, the whole of the cathedral apart from the tower was laid out in a single operation. There can be little doubt that this could have been done only once the settlement of the diocese’s finances following the papal mandate of 1237 had been achieved. The architectural evidence suggests that the order of construction after the base course had been laid out was: first the north chancel range; then the nave; and finally the chancel. This points to the likelihood either that an earlier chancel was retained in use for some years, or that a chancel as first built after 1237 was eventually deemed inadequate and remodelled to the same plan but to a greater height.

The north chancel range, the administrative hub of the cathedral, was presumably built relatively quickly; it has quadripartite vaulting over its lower storey, and windows in the form of simple groupings of lancets within containing arches. Construction of the nave was probably more protracted, and involved a number of changes of design. As first planned it was probably to have had less lofty arcades than those that were eventually built, and stone vaults over the aisles; but it seems that, after the outer aisle walls had been built, it was decided to heighten the arcades and abandon vaulting over the aisles. Later still, after the clearstorey had been started, windows were introduced with a hybrid form of plate and bar tracery in preference to the single lights of the earlier bays of the clearstorey or the grouped lights of the nave aisles. Bar tracery appears to have reached Scotland around the turn of the third and fourth quarters of the thirteenth century, at Elgin and Glasgow Cathedrals and at Sweetheart Abbey, suggesting that completion of Dunblane’s nave may have been around the 1260s or ‘70s.

Our understanding of the date of the chancel is hampered by the loss of its original window tracery. From the start its plan, as indicated by the buttressing laid out with the base course, was for seven bays that were narrower than those in the nave, and presumably nothing more ambitious was first intended for the south windows than grouped lights like those in the earlier parts of the building. When it was eventually built, however, the chancel was given the much larger windows that would be expected by the later thirteenth century (as seen, for example, in the large window arches at Dunkeld Cathedral) and, though the spacing of the buttresses meant that these windows were inevitably narrower than might by then have been preferred, the expedient was adopted of affording them greater size by increasing their height. It should be said here that there can be little doubt that these window openings are of the later thirteenth century, since their mouldings relate to those of the nave arcades. However, it seems equally clear that the chancel was raised to a greater height than originally intended. The main evidence for this is the way in which two openings above the chancel arch were apparently first designed to be window openings from the nave to the east, over the chancel roof, though they now open into the upper part of the chancel. On these grounds the chancel in its definitive form must post-date the nave, and it evidently rises to a greater height than first intended.

With the end of work on the chancel, the cathedral was substantially structurally complete, and there is evidence for only relatively minor subsequent medieval alterations, all of which can be ascribed to one or other of the three bishops of the Chisholm family who ruled the diocese between 1487 and 1569. It was probably James (1487-1526) who heightened the tower by two storeys, and whose arms are on the new parapet. Those same arms are on the south chancel parapet, which, with its pinnacles, must have been reconstructed around the same time. Royal gifts of drinksilver to masons in 1501 and 1502 show that work was in progress in those years, and the provision of sumptuous new chancel stalls by Bishop James was presumably the culmination of a major campaign of repairs and remodelling. One other likely Chisholm contribution was the reconstruction of the chapel of St Blaise and the Holy Blood at the west end of the north nave aisle, the position of which is indicated by two enlarged windows. This was probably the work of Bishop William Chisholm I (1526-64), who was its patron. It would be hard to claim that, by comparison with the thirteenth century work, the architecture of the Chisholm campaigns is of the highest interest, though it is possible that their main concern was the liturgical furnishings and fixtures within a building that by then met most of their needs.

Having considered the plan and the evidence for the building chronology, there will now be a description of the parts of the building in broadly chronological sequence. The tower, whose lower storeys are largely of the twelfth century, is built of red  - almost purple - sandstone rubble, and it initially rose through four storeys marked by string courses. The lowest storey is externally blind, and there are only simple arched or lintelled openings to the two intermediate storeys; the belfry stage has slightly larger arched openings, each subdivided by a shaft with a cushion cap carrying a pair of sub-arches. This tower was altogether unequal to the scale of the rebuilt thirteenth century cathedral, its wall-head being well below the roof apex of the adjacent nave, and it was heightened by two storeys of mainly buff coloured ashlar, a crenellated parapet of red ashlar with angle rounds, and a low spire. The faces of each of the two added storeys have Y-traceried windows. Changes in the masonry suggest these additions were not of a single operation, but the arms of one of the Chisholm bishops on the parapet indicate a completion date of around 1500. The slated splay-foot spire was extensively renewed in 1866-8.

The tower is entered from the south nave aisle by a doorway elevated about 1 metre above floor level. This round-arched opening was framed by nook shafts, which are now lost, and which carried cushion caps; it has a plain tympanum of coursed masonry above the lintel. The lowest storey of the tower is covered by an inserted pointed barrel vault with heavy chamfered parallel ribs. In the east wall is an arched altar recess; the lozenge decoration of its hood moulding is similar to the decoration on a string course at the smaller twelfth-century tower of Muthill Parish Church, a reminder of their possible shared significance as diocesan centres. A broad spiral stair in the south-west corner, with the steps carried on the extrados of a helical vault, rises up to the original belfry stage. Within the later belfry stage is a late medieval bell frame.

The north chancel range, like much of the rest of the thirteenth-century building, is of buff-coloured ashlar. It is divided into five bays by buttresses of relatively slight projection, with lateral intakes above the string course at ground floor window sill height, and with sharply weathered-back tops. The ground floor windows, many of which are heavily renewed (that in the east wall, in particular, is of 1873 and replaces a post-Reformation doorway) are groupings of three lancets within two-centred arches of either steeply pointed or depressed form, the hood moulds extending into a string course that is cut by the buttresses. Since 1889-93 there has been a small doorway within a gabled salient in the central bay, and a determinedly Gothic boiler house chimney further west. The upper storey has a staggered grouping of three lancets to the east wall and small paired lancets to the first, second and fourth bays from the east.

The range is entered from the chancel by an arched and shafted doorway with a trifoliate-headed inner arch. The five bays of the ground-floor level of the range are covered by quadripartite ribbed vaulting with foliate bosses. For reasons that are no longer clear, the prominent engaged responds that carry the vault are different on the two sides, those on the north being more slender and having both caps and full bases, while those on the south have chamfer stops rather than bases.

The nave is perhaps best first observed from the north side, where its full length can be observed without the intrusion of the tower. On this side the aisle wall is articulated by buttresses with two stages of intakes. In four of its eight bays are windows with groupings of four lancets within slightly pointed containing arches. The four-light traceried window in the east bay of the aisle, together with the gable rising over that bay, is of 1889-93. In the two west bays of the aisle the three-light segmental-headed windows, with mullions reaching up to the arch, date from the early sixteenth century remodelling of this area as a chapel of St Blaise and the Holy Blood. In the third bay from the west is a doorway of three orders, two with detached shafts that are now lost; evidence for a gabled salient around the doorway remains. At clearstorey level, the bays are divided by slender gabletted pilasters. The four east bays of the clearstorey have pairs of wide lancets, but further west an early form of bar tracery is introduced for all but the west half of the western bay, in which a quatrefoil is set between two light heads in a way that represents a cross between plate and bar tracery. On this presumably less visible side of the building the spandrels between the window arches are of rubble rather than ashlar.

The west front is generally regarded as the cathedral’s finest external feature. Separating the blank aisle ends from the central part are tall buttresses of differing forms which accommodate a stair on the north side and a small vaulted mural chamber on the south. The north buttress has a pyramidal cap while its south counterpart is gabletted. The processional doorway, on the central axis of the front, is deeply recessed, its lavishly moulded - but very weathered - arch having been carried on multiple shafts. Flanking the doorway are decorative blind arches, a similar arrangement as at Paisley Abbey. Above this doorway, and rising up to the base of the gable, is a triplet of three elongated two-light windows, the central one being slightly wider than the others. At the head of these windows are heavily renewed quatrefoils and a cinquefoil which, like the quatrefoils of the later nave clearstorey windows, can be understood as a hybrid of plate and bar tracery. Within the gable is a vesica with a dogtooth-decorated reveal, a window that moved Ruskin to eulogise its creator.

The south flank of the nave is broadly comparable with that on the north, except that it is partly eclipsed by the tower in the third and fourth bays from the east. To the east of the tower is the carefully detailed principal lay entrance to the cathedral, which was designed to be covered by a vaulted porch, the wall rib and north-east springing of which are still in place. A second, smaller doorway opens through the second bay from the west, the string course below the windows being deflected around its head as a hood moulding. Above the latter doorway is a small two-light window. In the clearstorey on this side of the nave the hybrid tracery starts in the second bay from the east, though it is frugally omitted behind the tower, where it would not be visible.

Internally the nave is one of the most satisfying architectural spaces to have come down to us from the Scottish middle ages. Perversely, although it was the part that was most fully restored in 1889-93, its thirteenth-century forms have been less interfered with than those in the choir, simply because it had been neglected for about three centuries. The design is relatively simple, with a more or less regular rhythm of arcade arches on each side, albeit with the two east bays being narrower than the rest. Over this arcade runs a clearstorey with a delicately detailed inner arcade corresponding to the windows on the outer face of the wall; two arches in the clearstorey correspond to each of those of the main arcade. In many respects this design is a sophisticated development on ideas that had been developed in northern England for two-storeyed elevations, as at Hedon in Yorkshire or Lanercost in Cumberland, for example. But behind the calm composure of the nave there is evidence of questioning thought processes, and of at least two changes of mind, and in fact this part of the building must be seen as representing an especially important stage in the development of the fully coordinated two-storey elevation in Scotland.

A first pointer to the debate that lay behind the final design is the way in which the arcades are so very much taller than the outer walls of the aisles. Also significant is the fact that, while the north chancel range was stone-vaulted, and vaults were constructed over peripheral parts of the nave itself, including the south porch, the vestibule at the base of the north-west stair, and the small south-west chapel, the nave aisles themselves were not vaulted. It is true that aisle vaults were not an altogether essential element in major churches, and the slightly earlier nave aisles at Elgin Cathedral, for example, seem not to have had them at first. But at Dunblane, where vaults were placed over other spaces, it seems inconsistent that they were omitted over the nave aisles.

In fact, however, there is evidence that vaults were originally intended when the outer walls of the nave aisles were built, but that it was then decided to have much higher arcades and, rather than raise the aisle walls to support them, it was determined instead to dispense with vaults. The evidence for this is at the east end of the south aisle, where around the east window head there are traces of what must be interpreted as a cut-back wall rib and vault springings, together with the seating for the webbing of the vault itself. It should also be noted that, from the level of the intended vault springing upwards, the east arcade respond is augmented by a corbelled-out additional shaft on the side towards the central vessel, evidently a first stage in constructing the arcade to a more substantial form than had been first intended. Whether the original design had been for an elevation of three storeys, as in the choir of Glasgow Cathedral, or of two storeys, as in the nave of Elgin Cathedral, we cannot know; but the end result of the modified design is a building of the highest elegance that is the more endearing for its slight inconsistencies. As noted externally, there was to be a further change of design in the introduction of tracery into the later windows of the clearstorey and of the west front. This tracery was also introduced into the inner clearstorey arcade, from the fifth bay from the east westwards.

The nave arcade piers have the water-holding bases and moulded capitals that are to be expected in the mid-thirteenth century. The piers themselves are a variant on a type possibly first employed earlier in the century at Holyrood Abbey, with engaged shafts on the faces and in the angles of a core of stepped profile. At Dunblane there are slight variations between the two sides of the nave, with the south piers, and also the chancel arch, having the angles of the stepped-profile core cut back in a broad chamfer. The arches of the two arcades are more richly moulded towards the central space than towards the aisles, the outermost element being a broad chamfer ending in quarter rolls, an element that was soon afterwards to be taken up in the enlarged choir windows. At clearstorey level a mural passage runs around all four sides of the nave, stepping down to the sills of the west windows and up to the openings over the chancel arch. As in the clearstorey, the west windows have an inner traceried arcade and, on this enlarged scale, the interplay between inner and outer planes is particularly delightful. On the east side of the passage over the chancel arch the openings were evidently intended to be glazed, while towards the nave they are framed by moulded arches. It is an attractive possibility that the great rood was set between the two openings, and it is a further possibility that a series of angled slots in the masonry below them supported a cantilevered rood loft.

Little evidence of the original fixtures and furnishings within the nave has survived, other than a mural aumbry and piscina in the south wall of the south-east nave chapel, the latter having been converted into a second aumbry. In the north nave aisle there is a thirteenth century double effigy; the male effigy is dressed in mail armour and a coif, and carries a long heater-shaped shield, while the female effigy wears a loosely draped belted gown and mantle. These effigies are traditionally – and probably correctly - identified with one of the earls of Strathearn and his countess. In the south wall of the south-east nave chapel, within a triangular-headed mural tomb recess, is the eroded effigy of a thirteenth-century bishop wearing mitre and mass vestments, which has evidently been truncated to fit into the recess and was therefore presumably not made for this position. The only other medieval memorials in the nave are fragments of two grave slabs with incised foliate-headed crosses which are mounted on the north aisle wall.

The most clearly modern feature of the nave is the pointed and ribbed timber barrel ceiling, which was designed by Rowand Anderson as part of the 1889-93 restoration. While this ceiling certainly enhances the sense of space, however, it cannot represent the form of the medieval nave covering, since its construction involved blocking the lower part of the vesica in the west gable.

The chancel is initially best first observed externally from the south, since the other side is largely hidden by the north range. The south flank is divided into six bays by buttresses which rise sheer between intakes at string course level and their rebuilt upper parts. The two windows to the end bays to east and west are narrower than the others, and now have two broad lights rather than the four narrow lights of the others. The external reveals have broad chamfers terminating in quarter rolls, which relate to one of the nave arcade mouldings, and which thus demonstrate that the openings are of the thirteenth century, albeit probably of the later thirteenth century. The tracery is all of appropriate types for such a date, but is entirely of 1889-93, and any remaining evidence for the medieval tracery is thought to have been lost when James Gillespie Graham inserted mildly rectilinear tracery in the windows in 1816-19. The parapet, and the upper parts of the buttresses with their rather starved pinnacles, are of the early sixteenth century; the arms of one of the three Chisholm bishops are displayed in the third bay from the east.

The east front is framed by clasping buttresses, those projecting eastwards are gabletted, while those projecting laterally have partly restored pencil pinnacles. Below the centre of the window is a small gabletted buttress. The window itself is attractively treated as a central four-light opening closely flanked by a lower lancet on each side, though the tracery is of 1889-93.

Internally the chancel is a fine space, though its long history of use for changing forms of worship means that much of what is now seen is the result of post-medieval changes, and especially of works since 1889. It is therefore only a partial reflection of the ideas of its original builders. Apart from the chancel arch, virtually the only original architectural features are the window arches and the doorway into the north range. The two triple ‘triforium’ openings, the north-east tomb recess and the window tracery are all of 1889-93, as is the timber ribbed wagon ceiling. That ceiling, however, with its cusped profile and exposed collars interconnecting the purlins that run along the two sides at the points of the cusps, is undoubtedly a handsome contribution to the sense of space. Of equal importance for the total impact are the modern fixtures and furnishings, which will be touched on below. The most interesting medieval feature is now the pair of openings above the chancel arch. These were blocked after the Reformation, but were re-opened and glazed in 1873; however, close inspection suggests they were originally intended to be glazed on the east side of the openings, and they were thus presumably intended to look out over the apex of a choir roof that was initially to have been lower than the roof which was eventually built in the later thirteenth century. The only other clearly medieval feature is a large rectangular mural aumbry at the east end of the south wall of the chancel, which has provision for a metal grille and was possibly intended as a relic locker.

The chancel contains a number of medieval memorials. On the south side, to the east of stalls is a Tournai marble ledger slab with an inset for rectangular plate. On the central axis of the chancel are three Tournai marble ledger slabs, which now bear brass plates provided in 1897 by fourteenth earl of Perth, claiming that they commemorate Euphemia, Margaret and Sybilla Drummond, who were said to have been poisoned in 1501. In a largely modern tomb recess on the south side of the presbytery is the eroded effigy of thirteenth-century bishop in mitre and mass vestments, with feet resting on wyvern-like creature. This is traditionally identified with Bishop Clement (1233-58), who started the process of rebuilding the cathedral.

The chancel was the original setting for one of the most important surviving groups of medieval choir stalls in Scotland. Two sets of three canopied stalls have been re-located against the west wall of the nave, on each side of the processional doorway, but they can be seen to have been the returned stalls that would have been set within the chancel arch, with the screen probably formed by their backs. The timber arch that interconnected them above the central opening is now in the cathedral museum, and it has the arms of Chisholm in both spandrels. The arms of one of the three Chisholm bishops are also on two of the misericords, possibly in reference to Bishop James (1487-1526). The canopies are articulated by miniature pinnacles, each canopy having a rounded multi-cusped arch embraced by a heavily crocketed ogee outer arch, with a finial penetrating the cresting above the cornice. In the fields flanking the arches is high relief carving of foliage and mythical beasts. Within the presbytery area are two groups of three and one group of four stalls now without canopies. These are traditionally associated with Bishop Michael Ochiltree (1429-46), though the similarities with the Chisholm stalls are so close that it is perhaps more likely they are part of the same set.

Any attempt to understand the architecture of the cathedral must take account of the changes it has undergone since the Reformation. The first impact of the Reformation was felt in June 1559, when orders were given by the Earl of Argyll to purge the cathedral of ‘Monuments of idolatrye’. By 1562 there was a reformed minister in place, even if his relationship with bishop and chapter is unclear. It was perhaps soon afterwards that the decision was taken to limit parochial worship to the chancel, and by 1622 the nave was said to have lost its roof. Slezer’s view of 1693 confirms that the nave was by then roofless, apart from the tower and east bays of the south aisle, and we know it was increasingly in use as a burial place. It is clear that there was at least one gallery within the chancel by that stage, since Slezer shows a forestair against the east bay.

A first major restoration of the building, which was limited to the chancel and its adjacent north range, was carried out by James Gillespie Graham in 1816-19. Tracery inspired by English rectilinear forms was inserted in the windows of the south flank and on the north side of the presbytery, with an intersecting design containing cusped roundels in the east window. By that stage the original tracery had evidently been lost, and Graham’s designs were the stock pattern-book types on which he tended to rely. The internal floor levels were also raised. In 1860-62 the roofs of the chancel and north range, which may until then have been still essentially medieval, were renewed to a flattened section, by Thomas Brown, of Brown and Wardrop, and the south chancel parapet was restored at the same time. Repairs to the tower and its spire were carried out in 1866-68 by the Office of Works; this was at a time when the state was increasingly becoming involved in works at the Scottish cathedrals, as it came to be understood that they had passed into the nominal ownership of the crown with the abolition of episcopacy in 1689. The chancel was yet again deemed to be in a poor condition in 1873, and works were started, apparently with the advice of Sir Gilbert Scott and of Robert Matheson of the Office of Works. As part of this work the floor levels in the chancel were lowered, efforts were made to allow surviving medieval features to be seen to better advantage, and the windows above the chancel arch were re-opened and glazed. In the course of this work the two early cross slabs now displayed in the nave were found below the stair at the west end of the north chancel range.

The most far-reaching nineteenth-century campaign of restoration was that carried out in 1889-93 under the leadership of the Rev’d Alexander Ritchie and to the designs of Sir Robert Rowand Anderson. By 1886 the capacity of the chancel was deemed to be insufficient for the congregation and, after considering the possibilities of extending the chancel or of building a new church elsewhere, it was decided to bring the ruined nave back into use. Despite the objections of John Ruskin and of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and in the face of various disagreements between architect and clients, the work was carried through to completion at a cost of over £26,000, of which £19,000 was contributed by Mrs Wallace of Glassingal. Driven by the spirit of the ecclesiological revival within the ‘high church’ wing of the Church of Scotland, and under the close vigilance of the Board of Manufactures, the state body in which ownership of the cathedral had by then been vested, the end result attempted to pay close regard to the aims of the medieval builders. Much of the restoration was based on analysis of surviving evidence, the main new elements for which there was no evidence being the tracery of thirteenth-century types inserted in the chancel, the construction of a gable over the flank of the east bay of each of the nave aisles to give the impression of transeptal chapels, and the creation of triforium-like openings on the north side of the chancel into the upper floor of the north range. Nevertheless, there was more stone replacement than might now be deemed necessary, with much substitution of ashlar for rubble, while at least enough of the nave clearstorey arcade was removed to allow the construction of an elegant garden house at Glassingal, the house of the project’s patroness.

Since a number of the modern furnishings have a major impact on the appearance of the interior they must be briefly mentioned here; it is remarkable that they reflect the medieval arrangements of the cathedral rather more closely than might have been expected in a Presbyterian church. The earliest of them, including the communion table, screen and pulpit, were designed by Robert Rowand Anderson in 1893. His communion table has a three-bay arcaded front with a foliate cornice. The screen, which was set within the chancel arch, was inspired by French Flamboyant Gothic and early Renaissance prototypes. It has two pairs of openings above a linen-fold-panelled dado, on each side of a wide central arch capped by an ogee super-arch rising up through the crested cornice. It is decorated with figures of Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist and St Paul. The pulpit is octagonal in plan, with linen-fold panels to the stem, while the panels of the pulpit itself have inlaid designs below cusped ogee arches carved in relief. Below tabernacle heads at its angles are statues of St Blane, David I, Bishop Clement, Gilbert earl of Strathearn, John Knox, Bishop Robert Leighton and Principal Carstairs; all of this is in a fine ecumenical spirit, though it is hard not to wonder what Knox would have felt about sharing a pulpit with such company. The whole composition is capped by a tester with Jacobean pediments.

There was a further campaign of furnishing in 1912-14 to the designs of Robert Lorimer, who had earlier worked with Anderson as his draughtsman. The chief results of the second campaign within the choir were a reredos screen, choir stalls and an organ case, all of which were carved by W. and A. Clow. The reredos screen is divided into seven bays with a salient canopy projected out on tierceron semi-vaulting, and has elaborate cresting above a vine-carved cornice. The seven corporal acts of mercy are carved in the tympana within the vaulting. The choir stalls are of two banks on each side, the upper one having lavishly carved canopies inspired by those from Aberdeen St Nicholas, which are now in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. Ogee arches with traceried cusping rise against a pierced traceried field, with enriched cresting punctuated by pinnacles and tall finials; the backs of the upper stalls have ogee arches against traceried fields. Rising above the north choir stalls is the organ case of five bays, which step upwards to the centre, and which have traceried spandrels and flanks. The case was sensitively enlarged and extended outwards when the organ was rebuilt by Flentrop in 1989-90. It might be added that Lorimer was also responsible for the pews in the nave.

Although the entire church is now in use for parochial worship, it is deemed to be in the ownership of the state following the abolition of episcopacy in 1689, though it was only in the nineteenth century that this appears to have been regarded as having implications for the care of the building. At the time of the decision to restore the nave in 1889, the cathedral was transferred from the Commissioners for Woods, Forests and Works to the Commissioners for Manufactures and Improvements in Scotland. However, under the National Galleries of Scotland Act 1906 it was transferred from the Board of Manufactures to the Commissioners of Works, and it is now maintained by Historic Scotland.


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Cockburn, J.H., 1940, ‘Dunblane Cathedral as seen by Joseph Farington, RA’, Society of Friends of Dunblane Cathedral, iii, 102-3.

Cockburn, J.H., 1943, ‘The Bishops of Dunblane before Clement, the builder of the Cathedral’, Society of Friends of Dunblane Cathedral, iv, 22-30.

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Cockburn, J.H., 1956, ‘Friar Clement, OP, Bishop of Dunblane 1233-58’, Society of Friends of Dunblane Cathedral, vii, 86-93.

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Cockburn, J.H., 1961, ‘Parochial Clergy of the Medieval Diocese of Dunblane, part 2’, Society of Friends of Dunblane Cathedral, viii, 146-153.

Cockburn, J.H., 1962, ‘Parochial Clergy of the Medieval Diocese of Dunblane, part 3’, Society of Friends of Dunblane Cathedral, ix, 20-24.

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Gordon, A., 1976, ‘A cist burial at Dunblane Cathedral, Perthshire’, Society of Friends of Dunblane Cathedral, xii, 34-6.

Grant, F.J., 1938, ‘The heraldry of Dunblane Cathedral’, Society of Friends of Dunblane Cathedral, iii, 22-24.

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

  • 1. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, from south east

  • 2. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, east-west section

  • 3. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, north elevation

  • 4. Dunblane Cathedral, restoration study of liturgical arrangements (Historic Scotland)

  • 5. Dunblane Cathedral, plan (MacGibbon and Ross)

  • 6. Dunblane Cathedral, plan (Historic Scotland)

  • 7. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, nave, effigies in north aisle, 2b

  • 8. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, nave, effigies in north aisle, 2a

  • 9. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, north wall choir effigy, 1b

  • 10. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, north wall choir effigy, 1a

  • 11. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, choir, stalls 2

  • 12. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, choir, stalls 1

  • 13. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, choir stalls at west end nave, canopies

  • 14. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, choir stalls at west end nave

  • 15. Dunblane Cathedral, interior ex situ voussoirs

  • 16. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, nave, cross slab 2

  • 17. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, nave, cross slab 1

  • 18. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, choir, aumbry in south wall

  • 19. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, choir, sacristy door

  • 20. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, choir, from west

  • 21. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, window over chancel arch, evidence for glazing

  • 22. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, nave, windows over chancel arch

  • 23. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, nave from east, before restoration

  • 24. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, nave, west end interior

  • 25. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, nave elevation (MacGibbon and Ross)

  • 26. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, nave south clearstorey

  • 27. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, nave, south aisle, from west

  • 28. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, nave, south arcade pier

  • 29. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, nave, north arcade pier

  • 30. Dunblane Cathedral, south nave arcade

  • 31. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, nave, north arcade

  • 32. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, nave, south arcade, east respond

  • 33. Dunblane Cathedral,interior, nave, south aisle, evidence for vault

  • 34. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, nave, west front mural chapel, vault

  • 35. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, nave, west front stair, vault boss

  • 36. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, nave, west front stair, vault

  • 37. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, sacristy range, vault boss

  • 38. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, sacristy range, vault

  • 39. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, sacristy range, from west

  • 40. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, tower, recess in north wall, hoodmoulding

  • 41. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, tower, recess in north wall

  • 42. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, tower, north door, arch

  • 43. Dunblane Cathedral, interior, tower, north door

  • 44. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, from south west, before restoration

  • 45. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, from south east, before restoration

  • 46. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, from north east, before restoration

  • 47. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, from south (John Slezer)

  • 48. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, west elevation (MacGibbon and Ross)

  • 49. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, west front, window tracery

  • 50. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, west front, door, south jamb

  • 51. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, west front, door

  • 52. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, west front, from north west

  • 53. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, tower, belfry window

  • 54. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, tower, from west

  • 55. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, tower, lower stages, from south east

  • 56. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, tower from south east

  • 57. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, nave, south east door

  • 58. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, nave, west bays, from south

  • 59. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, nave, north door

  • 60. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, nave, north clearstorey

  • 61. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, nave, from north

  • 62. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, sacristy range, windows

  • 63. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, sacristy range, east wall

  • 64. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, choir and sacristy range, from north

  • 65. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, choir, from east

  • 66. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, choir, north parapet Chisholm arms

  • 67. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, choir, south side buttresses

  • 68. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, choir, from south

  • 69. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, choir, from south east

  • 70. Dunblane Cathedral, exterior, tower and nave, from south east