Aberlemno Parish Church

Aberlemno Church, exterior, from south east

Summary description

Largely rebuilt in 1722 and 1799 on the footprint of rectangular medieval church, with later additions of 1856 and 1986.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

High-quality Class II Pictish cross-slabs at the church site and in the nearby village indicate that Aberlemno is a site of ancient Christian significance, but no record survives of the church until the early thirteenth century.  A now lost act of King William from 1202 recorded its grant to an unknow recipient(1) but from c.1242 it was in the hands of the Augustinian canons of Jedburgh Abbey.(2

The loss of most of the medieval records of Jedburgh Abbey have rendered details of the donor, dates of appropriation and other information concerning the institutional relationships between the monastery and the parish, irrecoverable.  The nineteenth-century antiquarian, Alexander Warden, cited (an unreferenced) memorandum of January 1230 which indicated that the church was in the gift of a ‘Mr John’ (3)  Warden suggested that this man might have been John Romanus, archdeacon of York, who in 1239 was recommended by the pope to the abbot of Jedburgh for provision to a benefice in the gift of the abbey. 

The first secure reference toAberlemno is dated 21 August 1242, when the church was dedicated by the bishop of St Andrews, but no dedicatee is recorded.(4)  Since neither parsonage nor vicarage is listed in the accounts of the papal tax-collector Master Boiamund (Bagimond’s Rolls) in the 1270s, it would seem that the whole revenues of the parish had been appropriated to Jedburgh.  The church was later assigned for the support of Jedburgh’s dependent cell at Restenneth, but the date of that allocation is unknown.  It had not occurred by 1322 when King Robert I issued a general confirmation of Restenneth’s possessions, for it is not listed amongst them.(5

By the fifteenth century at the latest, however, the abbey had assigned the parsonage revenues of Aberlemno for the support of their dependent cell at Restenneth Priory, for in 1482 one David Stewart ‘pensioner of Rostinoth’ had the benefice with the cure being served by his chaplain, John Lowtholt.(6)  The church remained part of Restenneth’s portfolio of lands and churches, which was erected in 1606 into a free barony for Thomas Erskine, viscount Fenton.(7

A vicarage settlement appears to have been reached subsequently, for the cure was a vicarage perpetual and at the Reformation, held by Mr William Gardin, and valued at £24 with 7 marks stipend allocated for the curate who served in his place, but only worth £16 without corpse presents, pasche fines and other oblations.(8)

Notes

1. Regesta Regum Scottorum, ii, Acts of King William I, ed G W S Barrow (Edinburgh, 1971), no.525.

2. I B Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society, 1967), 3; Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree in Scotia (Bannatyne Club, 1841), xxviii.

3. A J Warden, Angus or Forfarshire, the Land and People, ii (Dundee, 1881), 288.

4. A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (London, 1922), 522.

5. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, i, 1306-1424, ed J M Thomson (Edinburgh, 1882), App 1, no.29.

6. Warden, Angus, ii, 288.

7. The Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707, K M Brown et al eds (St Andrews, 2007-2014), 1605/6/127. Date accessed: 14 August 2014.

8. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 375.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Granted to Jedburgh c.1242. Parsonage revenues devoted to dependant cell of Restenneth by at least 15th century.(1)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: Parsonage with Restenneth, value 160 marks.William Gardin, holds perpetual vicarage, value £24 with 7 marks for the curate. Only worth £16 without corpse presents, pasche fines and other oblations.(2)

Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of vicarage £5 6s 8d.(3)

[Post Reformation - linked to Auldbar sometime in the early 17th century]

1610 (13 Sept) visitation of the church of Aberlemno and Auldbar, the minister (Thomas Lindsay), competent but the kirk had faults in the slates, but materials are in readiness to repair them after the harvest. The kirk dykes are also to be repaired.(4)

1720 (13 Dec) visitation of the church finds the manse and office house to be wholly ruinous.(5)

#1722 [nothing in the presbytery records anent the new aisle; kirk session record is not extant].

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Andrew Mitchel, 1791): ‘The church was repaired in 1774 and manse built in 1782’.(6)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev John Crombie, 1842): ‘The situation of the church is not central, but could not be improved…. The nave of the church stands on the original, and, no doubt, Roman Catholic foundation, but the walls, from about 3 feet above the ground, and an aisle, in the north centre, were built in 1722’.(7)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 3.

2. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 217, 218 & 374.

3. Donaldson, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, 9.

4. NRS Records of the Synod of Fife, 1610-1636, CH2/154/1, fols. 6-7.

5. NRS Presbytery of Forfar, Minutes, 1717-1727, CH2/159/2, fols. 179-180.

6. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1791), iv, 48.

7. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1842), xi, 634.

Bibliography

NRS Presbytery of Forfar, Minutes, 1717-1727, CH2/159/2.

NRS Records of the Synod of Fife, 1610-1636, CH2/154/1.

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

Donaldson, G., 1949, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh.

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

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, Edinburgh and London.

Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, ed. J. Sinclair, Edinburgh.

Architectural description

Aberlemno was evidently an important centre for early Christianity in Angus, and it has retained two particularly fine cross slabs, as well as a symbol stone that is presumably of pre-conversion date.(1) Bishop David de Bernham carried out one of his many dedications here on 21 August 1242,(2) and around the same time the church was granted to Jedburgh Abbey, though by the fifteenth century the revenues were being devoted to Jedburgh’s dependent priory at Restenneth.(3)

Repairs were carried out at various times, with repairs to the slating in 1610, for example.(4) But in its present form the church is largely of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, though its proportions, together with the oriented elongated rectangular plan of the main body, have all the appearance of its origins being medieval. This pre-Reformation date is confirmed by the entry in the New Statistical Account, which states ‘The nave of the church stands on the original, and, no doubt, Roman Catholic, foundation; but the walls, from about three feet above the ground, and an aisle, in the north centre, were built in 1722’.(5)

There appear to have been a number of subsequent modifications, and despite the fact that the Statistical Account had stated that repairs had been carried out in 1774,(6) the New Statistical Account, could still complain that the building was ‘unconveniently low in the roof’. This presumably continued to be the case following works by Samuel Bell in 1799, and it was evidently left to James Maclaren to heighten the walls and install east, west and north galleries in 1856.(7) The final significant addition to the fabric was a Sunday School room of 1986 which projects on the north side of what was the chancel, and overlaps the north aisle.

As now seen, the church is a basically T-plan structure with walls of dun-coloured rubble above a widely projecting base course, and a rectangular bird cage bellcote capped by an obelisk is located over the west gable. There are simply traceried two-light windows along the south face, and there are three-light windows above rectangular two-light windows in the gable walls of the main body and of the north aisle. The latter arrangement reflects the existence of galleries within the building.

A porch that houses a stair to the galleries, and which therefore presumably dates from 1856, stands in the re-entrant angle between the north aisle and the main body. The much larger Sunday School of 1986, which absorbs a similar porch, is on the other side of the north aisle. Internally there is a polygonal arrangement of galleries looking towards the pulpit at the centre of the south wall.

The font that is now housed within the church has a circular bowl carved with simple round-arched arcading, and with a cable moulding around its base. In this it shows relationships with other fonts in Angus, and particularly that in Brechin Cathedral. A font from Restenneth Priory (now in Forfar Episcopal Church) also has arcading above a cable moulding, though in that case the bowl is octagonal and the arcading appears to be unfinished.(8) The Aberlemno font was formerly in the chapel on the estate at Aldbar, but its original location is uncertain.

Notes

1. J, Romilly Allen and Joseph Anderson, the Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1903, pt 3, pp. 205 and 209-15; George Henderson and Isabel Henderson, The Art of the Picts, London, 2004, pp. 37-40, 69-70, 128-29, 150-52.

2. A.O. Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, Edinburgh, 1922, vol. 2, p. 522.

3. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 3.

4. National Records of Scotland, Records of the Synod of Fife, 1610-36, CH2/154/1 fol. 7r and v.

5. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 11, p. 634.

6. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99, vol. 4, p. 48.

7. John Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Dundee and Angus, new haven and London, 2012, pp. 287-88.

8. J. Russell Walker, ‘Scottish Baptismal Fonts, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 21, 1886-7, pp. 346-448, at pp. 408-11.

Map

Images

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  • 1. Aberlemno Church, exterior, from south east

  • 2. Aberlemno Church, exterior, from north

  • 3. Aberlemno Church, exterior, from south

  • 4. Aberlemno Church, exterior, from south west

  • 5. Aberlemno Church interior

  • 6. Aberlemno Church, exterior, west gable

  • 7. Aberlemno Church, font

  • 8. Aberlemno churchyard cross slab, 1

  • 9. Aberlemno churchyard cross slab, 2

  • 10. Aberlemno Class I slab

  • 11. Aberlemno roadside cross slab

  • 12. Aberlemno roadside cross slab, reverse