Cortachy Parish Church

Cortachy Church, exterior, from south east

Summary description

Rebuilt in 1828-29 on the site of its medieval predecessor. A Sacrament House is built into the external walls of the mausoleum at the east end.

Historical outline

A church had probably been in existence at Cortachy since at least the later twelfth century but it was only first recorded in December 1257 when the then lord of Cortachy, Malise, earl of Strathearn, granted the advowson to the canons of Inchaffray Abbey.(1) Although the church is not named as a free parsonage in Bagimond’s Roll, which might imply that appropriation had been achieved, one Master I Scot was taxed at three-and-a-half merks in respect of some interest in Cortachy.(2)  That sum compares well with the tax assessment of other parsonages in the diocese, suggesting that the grant had been ineffective. 

The church remained independent in the patronage of Malise’s successors thereafter.(3)  Patronage of the church passed into the hands of the Black Douglases in the fourteenth century along with the barony of Cortachy, their right of presentation being used on at least one occasion to reward a familiar clerk.(4)  In 1409 Archibald, 4th earl of Douglas, resigned possession of the barony and all its associated rights in favour of Walter Stewart, earl of Atholl, whose possession was confirmed on 22 September 1409 by charter of his elder brother, Robert, duke of Albany, governor of the kingdom for their imprisoned nephew King James I.(5)

In 1429, Walter made a pro anima grant of his rights of patronage to the chapter of Brechin, possession in proprios usus being confirmed the same year by Bishop John on account of the poverty of the chapter’s common resources.(6) On 20 October 1429, the chapter bound itself to observe in perpetuity the conditions of the earl’s grant, principally that they would institute two chaplainries and six choristers in the cathedral funded out of the fruits of the annexed church.(7)

For greater security of possession, the dean and chapter supplicated Pope Martin V for confirmation of the arrangements, which included reservation of £10 per annum to support a vicar pensioner who would be appointed after the death of the incumbent rector, William Heslyhope.(8) Papal letters confirming the canons’ possession were issued on 21 March 1430.  Despite attempts by the crown in 1443 to challenge the alienation of the patronage, possibly arising from Earl Walter’s forfeiture and execution for complicity in the assassination of King James I in 1437, the annexation proved permanent and at the Reformation the parsonage and vicarage remained common possessions of the dean and chapter.(9)

Notes

1. Inchaffray Charters, no.LXXXVI.

2. SHS Misc, vi, 53.

3. Cowan, Parishes, 36.

4. CPL, Benedict XIII, 92. [Matthew Geddes, rector of Cortachy MA, illegitimate and secretary of Archibald, earl of Douglas.]

5. Registrum Episcopatus Brechinensis, i, no.19.

6. Registrum Episcopatus Brechinensis, i, nos 30, 32 and 35.

7. Registrum Episcopatus Brechinensis, ii, no.17

8. CSSR 1428-1432, 87-8.

9. Registrum Episcopatus Brechinensis, i, no. 54; Kirk (ed), Book of Assumptions, 392.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: In 1257 there was an ineffective attempt to grant the church to the Augustinian abbey of Inchaffray by Malise, earl of Strathearn. However, it continued as an independent parsonage, the patronage being with Archibald Douglas by 1362 and with Walter earl of Atholl by 1409. In 1429, it was granted by Walter to the chapter of Brechin Cathedral. Both the parsonage and vicarage were annexed, with the cure a vicar pensionary.(1)

According to Mackinley the church was dedicated to St Columba.(2)

1407 Matthew Geddes described as rector of Cortachy (MA, illegitimate and secretary of Archibald, earl of Douglas).(3)

1409 Confirmation by Robert, Duke of Albany of the gift to Walter Stewart, earl of Atholl of the lands of Cortachy along with the advowson of the church of the same by Archibald, 4th earl of Douglas.(4)

1429 The lands and church of Cortachy given by Walter Stewart, earl of Angus to the bishop and chapter of Brechin for pro anime and to pay for 2 chaplains and 6 boys in the cathedral. Consent given by William Heslop, rector and vicar of the church.(5)

1429 Confirmation charter of the union of the church to Brechin in the same year by bishop John confirms that they consider the church to be held in proprious usus.(6)

1430 Confirmation of grant by Walter Stewart, earl of Atholl (actual letter of donation noted as 20 October 1429) of the patronage, lands, possessions and other pertinents of the church of Cortachy to the dean, chapter and canons of Brechin, agreed by William Heslyhope the current rector. Grant made to ‘help pay for obsequeries for his family’; the bishop unites the church with all and sundry rents, lands possessions, greater and lesser teinds and pertinents reserving a pension of 10 marks with a house, toft and croft for a vicar serving the church chosen by the dean and chapter (value of fruits £10 sterling). The grant is to come into effect on the death or transfer of Heslyhope. Later that year there is confirmation of the grant and annexation of the church to capitular mensa of Brechin and further confirmations in 1433 and 1440.(7) There is a further reference to a gift of 40L a year of rents from the lands associated with the church to pay for two chaplains and 6 boys (music school).(8)

1431 Confirmation of the union and ratification of the gift by Walter by Martin V.(9)

1443 Indenture made between James II and chapter of Brechin. James claims rights of patronage and presentation of Cortachy [perhaps following forfeiture to the crown of Walter Stewart in 1437? Not made clear in charter]. James allows Brechin possession of the church until 1447.(10)

1451 John Marshall provided to the perpetual vicarage pensionary of Cortachy.(11)

1466 Successful appeal by Brechin, following a sentence in favour of Robert Stephenson (perpetual vicar of Cortachy) who maintained that his vicar’s portion was insufficient to pay fees etc. Decision reversed in favour of Brechin.(12)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage and vicarage pertain to Brechin Cathedral, value £40.(13)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of parsonage and vicarage £106 13s 4d.(14)

1571 James Ogilvy presented to vicarage and parsonage of church (described as one of the common churches of the see of Brechin).(15)

1579 James gives a yearly pension of £50 from the teind sheaves of the church to his brother Walter Ogilvy.(16)

1667 (19 Apr) The kirk session reprimands the heritors for forcing them to use the poor money to pay for the communion elements.(17)

1679 (5 Oct) At the installation of the new minister (James Small), only £3 was found to be in the poor box; there were no mortifications pertaining to the church and the only utensils available are a basin, two linen table cloths and 2 old cups. The heritors are Ogilvy of Kinnoul, McTaith of Braside and Daisimpson of Conglinne.(18)

1764 (21 Mar) Petition by Mr Ogilvy, minister at Cortachy for a visitation; he complains that his manse, office house, kirk and kirk yard dykes are in need of reparation. Subsequent visitation on 10 May finds that to put the church in proper condition (mostly repairs to the roof) will cost c.£50 out of a total of £75.(19)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev William Haldane, 1791): ‘The church in Cortachy was built about 300 years ago. The present state is shows it to have undergone some reparation’.(20)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev William Ogilvy, 1842): ‘The church… was built in 1828-29, on the site of the former church’.(21)

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches: (George Hay): 1828, David Paterson, architect; earlier burial aisle, 1828 pulpit.(22)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland,  36.

2. Mackinley, Non-Scriptural Dedications, p. 43.

3. CPL, Ben, 92.

4. Registrum Brechinensis, i, no. 25.

5. Registrum Brechinensis, i, nos. 30 & 32.

6. Registrum Brechinensis, i, no. 35.

7. CSSR, iii, 87 & 95-96. CPL, viii, 162 CSSR, iv, nos. 87 & 726.

8. CPL, viii, 164-6.

9. Registrum Brechinensis, ii, nos 18 & 19.

10. Registrum Brechinensis, i, no. 54.

11. CSSR, v, no.453.

12. CPL, xii, 450.

13. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 392.

14. Donaldson, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, 11.

15. Registrum Brechinensis, ii, no. 197.

16. Registrum Brechinensis, ii, no. 266.

17. NRS Cortachy and Clova Kirk Session, 1659-87 & 1697-1702, CH2/561/1, fol. 46.

18. NRS Cortachy and Clova Kirk Session, 1659-87 & 1697-1702, CH2/561/1, fol. 101.

19. NRS Presbytery of Forfar, Minutes, 1749-1774, CH2/159/5, fols. 182 & 184-185.

20. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1791), x, 574.

21. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1842), xi, 451.

22. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, p. 245.

Bibliography

National Records of Scotland, Cortachy and Clova Kirk Session, 1659-87 and 1697-1702, CH2/561/1.

National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Forfar, Minutes, 1749-1774, CH2/159/5.

Calendar of entries in the Papal registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland; Papal letters, 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 1428-32, 1970, ed. A.I. Dunlop; and I.B. Cowan, (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.

Mackinley, J.M, 1914, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland. Non-Scriptural Dedications, Edinburgh.

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

Registrum Episcopatus Brechinensis, 1856, ed. C. Innes (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh.

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

Architectural description

In 1257 there was an ineffective attempt to grant the church to the Augustinian abbey of Inchaffray by Malise, earl of Strathearn. However, it continued as an independent parsonage until 1429, when it was granted by Walter, earl of Atholl, to the chapter of Brechin Cathedral. Both the parsonage and vicarage were annexed, with the cure a vicarage pensionary.(1)

The church appears to have been still in its essentially medieval form by the late eighteenth century, since the author of the entry in the Statistical Account stated that ‘the church in Cortachy was built about 300 years ago’, though he went on to say that its ‘present state shows it to have undergone some reparation’.(2) Some of those repairs may have taken place in 1761, when needful works were costed at £50.(3)

The church was eventually rebuilt in 1828-9 ‘on the site of the former church’,(4) with the work carried out for the 7th earl of Airlie by David Paterson.(5) The new church was of rectangular plan, and was built of red stugged ashlar with polished dressings. It is of three broad bays articulated by buttresses capped by pinnacles, and with rectilinear traceried three-light windows below a crenellated parapet.

An apsidal mausoleum for the earls of Airlie at the east end, which was also the work of Paterson, is differentiated by being constructed of pink masonry. It is presumably on the site of the medieval chancel, and what appear to be exposed footings suggest that, as might be expected, the chancel had been of rectangular plan.

Set within a blocked window arch on the north side of the mausoleum is an unusually fine Sacrament House that deserves better protection than is possible in this external location. Its design bears close comparison with that at Tealing, and to a lesser extent with that at Fowlis Easter. The crocketed ogee arch of the locker is flanked by pinnacle buttresses that rise up to a cornice decorated with foliage. Between the arch and the cornice is a head of Christ flanked by angels. Below the head of Christ and in the hands of the angels are three inscribed scrolls. The inscriptions are now indecipherable, though it may be suspected they were similar to those on the Tealing Sacrament House, with Christ declaring ‘hoc est corpus meum’ and the angels proclaiming ‘benedicimus te’ and ‘adoramus te’ (‘this is my body’, ‘we bless you’, ‘we adore you’).(6)

Within the arch of the Sacrament House is a renewed inscription stating ‘This Edifice Was Erected Anno Domini 1825 by DAVID 7th EARL of AIRLIE on the site of the old church DAVID PATERSON architect’. Above the Sacrament House, within the arch of the blocked window are two heraldic stones dated 1614, one of which appears to have been from a window gablet. Another fragment retained from the earlier church is a sundial within a strapwork frame, at the lower stage of the second buttress from the west of the south face; it is dated 1675.(7)

Notes

1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 36.

2. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, vol. 10, p. 574.

3. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Forfar, Minutes, 1749-74, CH2/159/5. Fols 184-85.

4. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 11, p. 451.

5. Howard Colvin, Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 4th ed. New Haven and London, 2008, p. 784; National Records of Scotland, RHP 5160, 5165.

6. David McRoberts, ‘Scottish Sacrament Houses’, Transactions of the Scottish Eccleiological Society, vol. 15, 1965, pp. 41-42.

7. David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, the Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland, vol. 5, p. 361.

Map

Images

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  • 1. Cortachy Church, exterior, from south east

  • 2. Cortachy Church, exterior, from south

  • 3. Cortachy Church, exterior, from north east

  • 4. Cortachy Church, exterior, Airlie Mausoeum

  • 5. Cortachy Church, exterior, Airlie Mausoleum, from north west

  • 6. Cortachy Church, exterior, Airlie Mausoleum, north wall, inscribed stones

  • 7. Cortachy Church, exterior, Airlie Mausoleum, possible footings

  • 8. Cortachy Church, exterior, Airlie Mausoleum, Sacrament House set in north wall

  • 9. Cortachy churchyard, gravestone, 1

  • 10. Cortachy churchyard, gravestone, 2

  • 11. Cortachy churchyard, gravestone, 3

  • 12. Cortachy churchyard, gravestone, 4