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Aldbar / Auldbar Parish Church

Aldbar Church (mausoleum), exterior, from south

Summary description

A ruined mausoleum of about 1853 incorporating some medieval fragments.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

Pictish Class III sculpture found in the vicinity of the medieval church site suggest that there was an ancient Christian focus at this location,(1) but the first surviving mention of the church dates from only 1243, when David de Bernham, bishop of St Andrews, dedicated it on 27 August.(2)  The church remained a free parsonage down to the fifteenth century, its last named rector, Nicholas Greenlaw, being named in June 1425.(3

A supplication to the pope by the provost and chaplains of the collegiate church of Methven, datted 29 April 1437, stated that Walter Stewart, earl of Atholl and lord of Brechin, had granted the patronage of Auldbar to their church and that Henry Wardlaw, bishop of St Andrews, desiring to augment the revenues of Methven, had annexed Auldbar to the collegiate church.(4)  The annexation was to take place on the death or resignation of the incumbent rector, which having happened the provost and chaplains sought possession, with provision for a ‘perpetual’ vicar pensioner. 

In 1451 Edmund Morrison supplicated at Rome for the vicarage pensionary of Auldbar (valued £3 sterling), but he was unsuccessful as one John Smart had been provided on death of Thomas Gardener that same year.(5)  Although the collegiate church was effectively refounded in 1516, there was no change with regard to the annexation to it of the church of Auldbar and at the Reformation both parsonage and vicarage were recorded as held by the provost and chaplains of Methven, valued at £44.(6)


1. H Coutts, Ancient Monuments of Tayside (Dundee, 1970), 52, no.5.  The cross-slab is now housed in Brechin Cathedral,

2. A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (London, 1922), 524 [Pontifical Offices of St Andrews].

3. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, ii, 1423-1428, ed A I Dunlop (Scottish History Society, 1956), 96.

4. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iv, 1433-1447, eds A I Dunlop and D MacLauchaln (Glasgow, 1983), no.365.

5. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, v, 1447-1471, eds J Kirk, R Tanner and A I Dunlop (Glasgow, 1990), no.399; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, x, 1447-1455, ed J A Twemlow (London, 1915), 504.

6. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 297, 298.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Granted to collegiate church of Methven c.1435 by Walter Stewart, earl of Atholl. Whole revenues for provost and chaplains, with provision for a vicar pensioner.(1)

1394 Simon de Creych (MA in canon law) has church of Auldbar.

1403 Simon de Creych (same man) described as a counsellor of the earl of Atholl; value of church 14 marks.(2)

1425 Nicholas de Greenlaw (illegitimate son of a priest) described as rector of Auldbar (£20 sterling).(3)

1451 Supplication by Edmund Morrison to be vicar pensioner of Auldbar (value £3 sterling).(4) Unsuccessful as John Smart provided on death of Thomas Gardener in same year.(5)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage and vicarage with Collegiate Church of Methven. Parsonage value £44.(6)

[Joined to Aberlemno at some point early in the 17th century]

1610 (13 Sept) Visitation of the churches of Aberlemno and Auldbar (Thomas Lindsay), competent but the kirk had faults in the sltes, but materials are in readiness to repair them after the harvest. The kirk dykes are also to be repaired.(7) [parish church seems to be at Aberlemno]

[No reference to Auldbar in the statistical accounts of Aberlemno]


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 11.

2. CPP, 620 & 628.

3. CPL, vii, 380-81.

4. CSSR, v, no399.

5. CPL, x, 504.

6. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 297 & 298.

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


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

Calendar of entries in the Papal registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland; Papal letters, 1893-, ed. W.H. Bliss, London.

Calendar of entries in the Papal registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland; Papal Petitions, 1893-, ed. W.H. Bliss, London.

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

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

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

Architectural description

Aldbar may have been a location of Christian worship from an early period, since two early cross slabs are associated with the site, though there is uncertainty as to whether they originated at Aldbar. One is complete, and has an interlace-decorated cross flanked by ecclesiastics on one face, while on the rear face there are representations of ecclesiastics above scenes including David fighting the lion and a mounted horseman. The other slab, which is thought to have been found in a garden Brechin, has a unique depiction of the Virgin and Child, and may date from the early eleventh century. Both have now been located to Brechin Cathedral.(1)

There was a parish church at Aldbar by at least 27 August 1242, when it was dedicated by Bishop David de Bernham.(2) It was granted to the college of Methven around the time of its foundation in 1433, by Walter Stewart, earl of Athole and Strathearne. There was initial provision for a vicar pensioner, though by the Reformation the vicarage was also in the possession of the college.(3)

The church was retained in use for a period after the Reformation, and there are references to repairs to the slating in 1610,(4) but it was abandoned after the parish was united with that of Aberlemno. It was eventually restored in about 1853 for Patrick Chalmers, the owner of the Aldbar estate, when advancing illness led him to take up antiquarian studies;(5) it appears that Robert William Billings was the architect for the restoration.(6)

The church is an approximately oriented rectangle of 11.1 by 7.05 metres, and it stands in a burn-side churchyard at the foot of a steep slope in the polices of the demolished Aldbar Castle. The north and east walls are blank. The south wall has a round-arched door towards the western end, and two rectangular windows. The west wall has a pair of transomed two-light windows, and a traceried bowed triangle in the gable.

It is said that the proportions of the medieval building were preserved,(7) and that as much of the old stone was used as possible; it is also said that the lower four feet of the old walls was incorporated.(8) However, the relatively short length of the building in relation to its width, may suggest that only a portion of the medieval church had survived; the condition and tooling of the masonry also indicates that there has been considerably more extensive rebuilding than is suggested in the published sources.

Nevertheless, parts of the moulded external reveal of the eastern of the two rectangular windows of the south face do appear to be medieval. Internally, this is also the case for an aumbry that has been set in the south wall, evidently to give the impression of being a piscine; it has a roll moulded round arch and an incised ogee flip.

A font bowl from the church is now housed in Aberlemno Church, though it is not known with certainty if it had originated at Aldbar, or if it had been brought from elsewhere as part of Chalmers’ antiquarian activities. It is circular and is decorated with a simple arched arcade above a cable moulding.(9) Variants on this type of font, with arcading above a cable moulding, are to be seen in a number of churches. That in Brechin Cathedral, is also circular, while an example in Forfar Episcopal Church, which is thought to be from Restenneth Priory, is octagonal.

Although the shell of the church is still complete, the arch-braced roof that was constructed in the 1850s is now in a state of advanced collapse, and the windows are unglazed. It may be feared that the walls will soon begin to decay. The churchyard is heavily overgrown.


1. J. Romilly Allen and Joseph Anderson, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1903, pt 3, pp. 245-7.

2. Alan Orr Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, Edinburgh, 1922, vol. 2, p. 524.

3. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 11.

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

5. Cosmo Innes, ‘Preface’, Registrum Episcopatus Brechinensis (Bannatyne Club), 1856, vol. 1, p. xxv.

6. Blackwood Papers in the National Library of Scotland, cited in Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Canmore online resource.

7. Andrew Jervise, Memorials of Angus and the Mearns, Edinburgh, 1861, pp. 301-2.

8. Allen and Anderson, 1903, vol. 2, p. 245.

9. J. Russell Walker, ‘Scottish Baptismal Fonts’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 21, 1886-7, p. 409.



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

  • 1. Aldbar Church (mausoleum), exterior, from south

  • 2. Aldbar Church (mausoleum), exterior, window in south wall

  • 3. Aldbar Church (mausoleum), interior, looking east

  • 4. Aldbar Church (mausoleum), interior, north wall

  • 5. Aldbar Church (mausoleum), interior, aumbry