Kirriemuir Parish Church

Kirriemuir Church, exterior, from south east

Summary description

Rebuilt in 1786-90, with further significant works in 1886 and 1905.

Historical outline

Dedication: Our Lady(1)

A rich collection of Pictish sculpture including two fine Class II cross-slabs, the lower parts of two other cross-slabs and a small Class III slab found during demolition of the old parish church at Kirriemuir in 1787 points to the existence of an important Christian centre at this location by the eighth century.(2)  A church, however, does not actually make an appearance in surviving historical records until shortly after 1200.

Around 1201 Earl Gille Chriosd of Angus granted the church of Kirriemuir, which may have been one of the principal estates in his possession, to the monks of Arbroath, along with its chapels, lands, teinds, all kinds of offerings, rights of common pasture and other easements pertaining to it.(3)  Probably around 1204x1205, King William confirmed this grant to his favourite abbey and, shortly before his own death in 1214, reconfirmed it as part of an all-encompassing confirmation of Arbroath’s properties.(4)  Episcopal confirmation had been secured from Bishop William Malveisin between 1202 and 1204 in two charters, the first dealing specifically with Kirriemuir the second with all of the abbey’s churches in his diocese.(5)  Reconfirmations were gained from Gille Chriosd’s son, Earl Donnchad, and grandson, Earl Mael Coluim, and between 1214 and 1218 from King Alexander II(6)  In 1219 Arbroath secured a papal bull from Pope Honorius III which confirmed them in possession of all churches granted to the abbey by earls of Angus.(7)

William Malveisin’s confirmation had awarded the church to the monks of Arbroath in proprios usus but it is only in a subsequent agreement between Malveisin and Arbroath over procurations that it is established that a perpetual vicarage had been instituted in Kirriemuir.(8)  In 1249 Bishop David de Bernham ratified a vicarage settlement which confirmed the annexation of the parsonage to the abbey and the service of the cure thereafter by vicars perpetual.(9)  That settlement prevailed until 1352 when the vicar of Kirriemuir was one of nine vicars serving churches in St Andrews diocese appropriated to Arbroath who petitioned the bishop of St Andrews over the inadequacy of their portions. The bishop made a fresh ordinance and petitioned the pope for confirmation.(10)  The union with Arbroath thereafter endured to the Reformation, at which time the parsonage was noted as pertaining to the abbey and valued at £266 13s 4d, while the vicarage, held by George Fleschar, was valued at £60.(11)

There are references to additional altars and chaplainries associated with the parish church On 18 May 1418 it was noted in a papal letter that Thomas Lyle, canon of Aberdeen, held the perpetual chaplaincy in the chapel ‘built in the cemetery of the parish church of Kirriemuir’.(12)  This style of reference to a chapel ‘in the cemetery’ often describes buildings projecting laterally from the flank of the main body of the church.  As the church was described in the 1740s as possessing transepts, it is likely that this chapel formed one of those appendages. It is not known if this is the same as the chapel of St Colmoc in the churchyard of Kirriemuir, recorded in 1528 when its advowson was granted to William Wood of Bonnyton by King James V.(13)  The chapel was described as then in the king’s hands following the forfeiture of the Earl of Angus (Archibald Douglas), which suggests that the successors of the thirteenth-century earls had continued to direct their patronage towards what was the parish church of one of their principal manorial centres.


1. J M Mackinlay, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland. Scriptural Dedications (Edinburgh, 1910), 103.

2. J R Allen, The Early Chrisian Monuments of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1903), part III, 227, 258-261, 277-8; H Coutts, Ancient Monuments of Tayside (Dundee, 1970), 61-2.

3. Liber S Thome de Aberbrothoc, i (Bannatyne Club, 1848), no.44 [hereafter Arbroath Liber, i].

4. Regesta Regum Scottorum, ii, The Acts of William I, ed G W S Barrow (Edinburgh, 1971), no.453; Arbroath Liber, i, no.1.

5. Arbroath Liber, i, nos 164, 165.

6. Arbroath Liber, i, nos 47, 48, 100.

7. Arbroath Liber, i, no.222.

8. Arbroath Liber, i, no.167.

9. Arbroath Liber, i, no.236.

10. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Petitions to the Pope, ed W H Bliss (London, 1896), 235.

11. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 359, 396.

12. Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon, ed F McGurk (Scottish History Society, 1976), 372.

13. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, iii, 1513-1546, eds J B Pal and J M Thomson (Edinburgh, 1883), no.764.  

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: The church was granted to Arbroath by Gilchrist, earl of Angus 1201x07. The parsonage remained with the abbey and the cure was a vicarage perpetual.(1)

According to Mackinley the church was dedicated to Our Lady.(2)

1201x1205 Gift by Gilchrist, earl of Angus of the churches of Mains (Strathdighty) and Kirriemuir to Arbroath with chapels, lands, teinds etc. Confirmed by William I.(3)

1202x04 Possession of church by Arbroath confirmed  by William, bishop of St Andrews, in two charters, the first specifically related to the church, the second including all the churches held by Arbroath in the diocese of St Andrews.(4)

1204x11 Church included in confirmation of gifts to abbey of his father by Duncan, earl of Angus and in 1214x26 by Malcolm, earl of Angus.(5)

1213 Church included in confirmation by William I of the possessions of Arbroath.(6)

1214x18 Church included in confirmation by Alexander II of all the lands and churches belonging to Arbroath.(7)

1219 Church included in papal bull by Honorius III of possessions of Arbroath given by earls of Angus.(8)

c.1233 Church included in a confirmation by David de Bernham, bishop of St Andrews, of all the churches held by Arbroath in the diocese of St Andrews.

1249 Vicarage settlement by the bishop, parsonage with abbey, perpetual vicarage set up.(9)

1352 Suit brought before the bishop of St Andrews between abbey of Arbroath and the vicars of Inverlunan, St Vigean, Barry, Arbirlot, Monifieth, Muirhouse, Newtyle, Glamis and Kirriemuir. ‘The vicars asserted that they had insufficient portions, whereupon the bishop made an ordinance, which the Pope is asked to confirm’.(10)

1395 Thomas Lyel has chapel of Kirriemuir, still holds it in 1418 when bishop elect of Ross.(11)

1405 John, abbot of Arbroath, described as holding the church in proprios usus. In 1412 exchange between Patrick Houston and Alexander de Balburg.(12)

1440 John Paniter, rector of Kirriemuir at council of Basle, both John Rede and David Seras supplicate for his church [neither appears to have been successful].(13)

1451 Suit between Hugh Lennox and Richard and John Harwart over perpetual vicarage; Hugh wins (value £20).(14)

1463 Garbal teinds of the churches of Nigg and Kirriemuir with their pertinents assigned to Richard Guthrie (former abbot of Arbroath (1449-63) as a pension to sustain him in retirement.(15)

1470-1471 Litigation over church between James Kinnaird, John Gardyne, James Dodds and Thomas Newton. Thomas wins, but resigns in 1471 and John Gardyne is collated.(16)

1485 John Lychtoun presented to perpetual vicarage on the death of John Gardyne. By 1495 John is dead, replaced by Geroge Brown.(17)

1489 Garbal teinds set for 9 years to Robert Gray for 220 marks.(18)

1497 Presentation right of Arbroath by ‘ancient and approved custom’ mentioned on collation of George Brown.(19)

1500 John Fletcher presented to vicarage on resignation of Thomas Halkerstone.(20)

1525 Garbal teinds set for 19 years to William Graham of Fintry for 400 marks pa.(21)

Altars and chaplaincies

St Colmoc

1528 (12 Mar) The King (James V), for his good service, has granted to his household servant, William Wood of Bonnyton, and to his heirs, the advowson of the chaplainry of St Colmoc within the churchyard of Kirriemuir, shire of Forfar.(22)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage with Arbroath, value £266 13s 4d. Perpetual vicarage held by George Fleshcar, value £60.(23)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of £26 13s 4d.(24)

1610 (16 Sept) Visitation of the church finds the minister (Alex Kinnimont), to be competent; the kirk is in good estate excepting the north aisle, which wants a roof, for the repairing all is in readiness but a hold up with the heritors means the work has yet to be done. The synod orders them to accomplish the work (a complaint is also made that the parishioners walk through the church yard which full of middins).(25)

#1664 Rev Alexander Kinninmouth, son of a former minister, left 100 marks to the church to build a new bell house on the top of the west wall of the church.(26)

1723 Contract between the heritors of Kirriemuir and George Brown, wright there, for the repair of the kirk at Kirriemuir.(27)

#1748 Historical account of the parish written by Rev George Ogilvy described the pre-1787 church as ‘a large house, about 200 feet long, and 20 feet broad; built in the form of the cross, with 2 aisles, one to the south, another opposite it to the north’.(28)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Thomas Ogilvy, 1792): [Contains description of several religious houses in the district.](29)

‘An elegant church was built here in 1787, to which Charles Lyell… added a handsome spire (manse built in 1774)’.(30)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Thomas Easton, 1833): [Same information regarding parish church (built 1787); no reference to older ecclesiastical buildings.](31)

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches (George Hay): 1787, James Playfair, architect; later additions and furniture.(32)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 125.

2. Mackinley, Scriptural Dedications, p. 103.

3. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, nos. 44 & 45, RRS, ii, no. 453, Liber Aberbrothoc, i, nos. 44 & 45.

4. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, nos. 164 & 165.

5. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, nos. 47 & 48.

6. RRS, ii, no. 513, Liber Aberbrothoc, i, no. 1.

7. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, no. 100.

8. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, no. 222.

9. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, nos  172 & 236.

10. CPP, 235.

11. CPP, 584 & 608-09.

12. CPL, Ben, 144 & 257.

13. CSSR, iv, nos, 695 & 698.

14. CSSR, v, no455 & 485.

15. CSSR, v, no.956.

16. CSSR, v, nos. 1430 & 1482.

17. Liber Aberbrothoc, ii, nos.272 & 352.

18. Liber Aberbrothoc, ii, no. 321.

19. CPL, xvi, no.782.

20. Liber Aberbrothoc, ii, no. 403.

21. Liber Aberbrothoc, ii, no. 597.

22. RMS, iii, no. 764.

23. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 359 & 396.

24. Donaldson, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, 10.

25. NRS Records of the Synod of Fife, 1610-1636, CH2/154/1, fol. 8 & 9.

26. Reid, The Regality of Kirriemuir, 61.

27. NRS Papers of the Scrymgeour Wedderburn of Wedderburn Family, GD137/2828.

28. Reid, The Regality of Kirriemuir, p.60.

29. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1792), xii, 195.

30. Ibid, 196.

31. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1833), xi, 185-86.

32. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, p. 125n & 246.


NRS Papers of the Scrymgeour Wedderburn of Wedderburn Family, GD137/2828.

NRS 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 Papal letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon, 1976, ed. F. McGurk, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1433-47, 1983, ed. A.I. Dunlop and D MacLauchlan, Glasgow.

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.

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

Hay, G., 1957, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, 1560-1843, Oxford.

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

Liber S Thome de Aberbrothoc, 1848-56, ed. C. Innes and P. Chalmers, (Bannatyne Club) Edinburgh, i.

Mackinley, J.M, 1910, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland. Scriptural Dedications, Edinburgh.

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

Regesta Regum Scottorum, Acts of William I (1165-1214), 1971, Edinburgh.

Reid, A., 1909, The Regality of Kirriemuir, Edinburgh.

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

Architectural description

Kirriemuir was evidently an important centre for the production of Early Christian sculpture. Of the eighteen stones associated with the site, four of the finest were found re-used in the foundations of the church when it was demolished in 1787.(1) Twelve further fragments were found in the course of excavations associated with access improvements in 1995.(2) All of those stones are now in the Meffan Institute in Forfar. An eighteenth fragment was found in 1999, and is now in the Gateway Museum in Kirriemuir.(3)

Of the stones known located before 1995, number one has an interlace-decorated cross flanked by eagles and ecclesiastics, with standing ecclesiastics, a seated figure and symbols to the rear. Stone number two has a key-pattern-decorated cross flanked by angels, beasts, a pilgrim figure and a hunting scene, with a hunting scene and a symbol to the rear. Stone number three is the lower part of a cross slab with an interlace-decorated cross shaft flanked by intertwined beasts, and with horsemen within a key-pattern-decorated border to therear . Stone number four is also the lower part of a cross slab, and has an angel within a key-pattern-decorated border. Stone number five has a cross flanked by panels of interlace within a key-pattern decorated border, and the rear is similar but without a border.

The medieval church was granted to the Tironensian abbey of Arborath by Gilchrist, earl of Angus, at a date between 1201 and 1207, and was confirmed to the uses of the abbey shortly afterwards by Bishop William. The cure was a vicarage perpetual.(4)

On 16 September 1610 the church was said to be in generally good repair, except that the north aisle needed a new roof.(5) In 1664 the Rev’d Alexander Kinninmouth is said to have bequeathed 100 marks to build a bellcote on the west gable.(6) Significant repairs were required in 1723, when a contract was signed with the wright George Brown for works that involved the rebuilding of the south wall and the re-roofing of the south aisle.(7)

The likelihood that the aisles referred to in 1610 and 1723 were lateral rather than longitudinal offshoots is suggested by a description of 1748 by the Rev’d George Ogilvy, which stated that the church was cruciform, with aisles to the north and south. Ogilvy’s description also gave dimensions for the church of 200 by 20 feet (60.95 by 6.1 metres),(8) dimensions that would be acceptable for a rural church with a rectangular core of medieval origin. There is nothing to indicate whether the aisles were of medieval or post-Reformation date, however.

The church was completely rebuilt in 1786-90 to the designs of James Playfair, though there were to be problems that led to legal proceedings.(9) A spire was added at the cost of Charles Lyell, one of the heritors.(10) Modifications were made to the windows on the north side in 1886, and a hall was added at the east end in 1905 that was extended in 1914 and 1968.(11)  

The church is set back within a churchyard that is enclosed by the buildings flanking High Street, Bank Street and Kirk Wynd. It is oriented and constructed of red coursed rubble with ashlar dressings, with its main faces directed towards the west and the south.

The entrance front, to the west, is of five bays capped by a pediment-like gable, with the end bays being slightly advanced. At the lower level there are doorways of alternating rectangular and arched form, and at the upper level there are arched windows; there is an oculus within the pediment. Rising above the centre of the front is a square two-stage tower capped by an octagonal stone spire. The south flank is of seven bays, with the end bays slightly advanced. There is nothing in any of this that appears to have retained medieval fabric.


1. J. Romilly Allen, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1903, pt. 3, pp. 226-8 and 258-61.

2. ‘Kirriemuir Parish Church’, in Discovery and Excavation in Scotland, Edinburgh, 1995, p. 94.

3. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Early Medieval Sculpture in Angus Council Museums, 2003.

4. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, pp. 125.

5. National Records of Scotland, Records of the Synod of Fife, 1610-36, CH2/154/1, fols 8 and 9.

6. A. Reid, The Regality of Kirrimuir, Edinburgh, 1909, p. 61.

7. National Records of Scotland, Papers of the Scrymgeour Wedderburn of Wedderburn family, GD 137/2828.

8. Reid, 1909, p. 60.

9. Howard Colvin, Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 4th ed., New Haven and London, 2008, p. 812.

10. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, vol. 12, pp. 195-6.

11. John Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Dundee and Angus, New Haven and London, 2012, pp. 579-80.



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

  • 1. Kirriemuir Church, exterior, from south east

  • 2. Kirriemuir Church, exterior, from south west

  • 3. Kirriemuir Church, exterior, from south

  • 4. Kirriemuir cross slab 1 ( Meffan Institute Forfar)(Allen and Anderson)

  • 5. Kirriemuir cross slab 2 (Meffan Institute Forfar)(Allen and Anderson)

  • 6. Kirriemuir cross slab no 3 (Meffan Institute Forfar)(Allen and Anderson)