Dunnichen Parish Church

Dunnichen Church, exterior, from south

Summary description

Rebuilt in 1802; session house added 1883. Passed out of ecclesiastical use in 2011 and adapted for domestic use. 

Historical outline

Dedication: St Constantine

When Dunnichen is first recorded in the last quarter of the twelfth century it was one of several churches in Angus the patronage of which was in the hands of King William and granted by him to his new abbey at Arbroath on its foundation in 1178.(1)  Gifted along with the whole shire of Dunnichen, it had possibly originated as a chapel attached to the royal estate centre there.  Soon after the king’s gift of the patronage to the monks, Bishop Turpin of Brechin (1178-98) confirmed the church to Arbroath in proprios usus, along with five other churches in his diocese, and gave the monks the right to serve the cure with a chaplain rather than a vicar.(2

Arbroath’s possession of Dunnichen was undisputed until the time of Bishop Albin (1246-69), who claimed that it and the other churches held by Arbroath in his diocese pertained by right to his episcopal mensa.  The dispute was resolved in vicarage settlement in September 1248, which established that here and at three of the other churches vicarages perpetual were to be instituted.(3

Despite the 1248 settlement, subsequent bishops of Brechin continued to claim rights in the church of Dunnichen and the other churches.  In 1304, William Lamberton, bishop of St Andrews, arbitrated in a dispute between Bishop John and the monks of Arbroath, which resulted in a new settlement whereby two churches were assigned to the bishops of Brechin whilst Dunnichen and the remaining churches in the dispute were to be retained by the abbey but with reservation of a £40 pension on its fruits to be paid to the bishop.(4

It was also agreed that the abbey would remain responsible for the suitable repair and decoration of the church at the time of the collation of vicars and that the cost of future major repairs to the church would be split between the monks and the vicar, the former paying two thirds and the latter one third.  In 1461, controversy was renewed between the bishop and the abbey, but supplication to the pope resulted in the upholding of the 1304 agreement.(5)  Further litigation in 1467 and 1517 likewise failed to change the position and at the Reformation the parsonage remained appropriated to the abbey while the cure was a vicarage perpetual.(6)


1.RRS, ii, no.197.

2. Arbroath Liber, i, no 178.

3. Arbroath Liber, i, nos 239, 243.

4. Arbroath Liber, i, no 244.

5.CSSR, v, 1447-1471, no.864.

6.CSSR, v, 1447-1471, no.1228; Arbroath Liber, ii, no. 543, 54; Kirk (ed), Book of Assumptions, 399.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Granted to Arbroath by William I in 1178. Controversy over the church and 5 others resolved in 1248 when bishop of Brechin renounced all rights and vicarage settlement made. Dispute continues: decided in 1304 that Dunnichen belongs to Arbroath; further suits in 1461, 1467 and 1517. Parsonage with the abbey, cure served by a perpetual vicar.(1)

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

1178 Church included in the foundation charter of Arbroath as a gift by William. 1213 church is included in confirmation by William I of the possessions of Arbroath.(3)

1178x98 Church included in a confirmation by Turpin, bishop of Brechin of all the churches in possession of Arbroath, held in usus proprios, by Arbroath.(4)

1182 Church included in papal bull by Lucius III confirming possessions of Arbroath.(5)

1200 Church included in papal bull by Innocent III confirming possessions of Arbroath.(6)

1211x18 Possession of church by Arbroath confirmed Radulf, bishop of Brechin in two charters, the first specifically related to the church, the second including all the churches held by Arbroath in the diocese of Brechin.(7)

1218 & 1218x22 Church included in confirmations by bishops Hugh and Gregory of Brechin of all churches held by Arbroath in their diocese.(8)

1248 Bishop Albin renounces all right to church along with 5 others in possession of Arbroath within the diocese of Brechin. Vicarage settlement sees parsonage remain with abbey and provision of perpetual vicar.(9)

1304 Decision made by William Lamberton, bishop of St Andrews with regard to 6 churches. Caterline and Maryton/Old Montrose to become mensal churches of Brechin. Arbroath retains Dunnichen, Kingoldrum, Monikie and Panbride.(10)

1440 Litigation over church between Richard Wylie and David de Cranach (value £6, by 1444 Richard is confirmed in possession. 1445; new suit between Richard and John Wylde, Wylde eventually provided.(11)

1461-67 Attempts by Brechin to dispute 1304 settlement and Arbroath to retain control of churches.(12)

1461 Papal bull by Pius II confirming the decision by Lamberton, Caterline and Maryton remain with Brechin, Dunnichen, Kingoldrum, Monikie and Panbride with Arbroath.(13)

1476 John Spalding provided to vicarage (counsellor and confessor of James III).(14)

1514 William Meldrum perpetual vicar (also holds Montrose and is the chanter of Brechin cathedral).(15)

1517 Procurators named for further discussion with Brechin regarding possession of the above churches.(16)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage with Arbroath, teinds in produce. Vicarage held by James Cockburn, value £10.(17)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of vicarage £3 6s 8d.(18)

1662 (1 April) Church along with rector and vicar teinds recorded as in the control of Patrick, earl of Panmure, inherited from his father, George (d.1661).(19)

Statistical Account of Scotland (anon, 1791): ‘The church is small and old’.(20)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev James Headrick, 1833): ‘The present church is situated on a rising ground at the lower part of the kirk town of Dunnichen. This church was built from the foundations in 1802’.(21) [No reference to remains of earlier church]

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches: (George Hay):1802; repaired 1817, late addition and furniture. Belfry early 19th century, incorporating some of 18th century traditions but also more severe classicism or gothic forms.(22)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 53.

2. Mackinley, Non-Scriptural Dedications, p. 203.

3. RRS, ii, nos. 197 & 513, Liber Aberbrothoc, i, no. 1.

4. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, no. 178.

5. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, no. 220.

6. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, no. 221.

7. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, nos. 179 & 185.

8. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, nos. 186, 187 & 191.

9. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, no. 239.

10. Liber Aberbrothoc, i, no. 344.

11. CSSR, iv, nos. 725, 1038 & 1159.

12. CSSR, v, nos. 750, 864, 686 & 1228. CPL, xii, 52.

13. Liber Aberbrothoc, ii, no. 135.

14. CSSR, v, no.1460.

15. CPL, xx, no.238.

16. Liber Aberbrothoc, ii, no. 543.

17. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 361 & 399.

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

19. Registrum de Panmure, p. 337.

20. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1791), i, 422.

21. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1833), xi, 153.

22. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, 116, 170 & 245.


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

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

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

Registrum de Panmure, 1874, ed. J. Stuart, Edinburgh.

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

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

Architectural description

Dunnichen was granted to the Tironensian abbey of Arbroath by that abbey’s founder, William the Lion, in 1178, and was subsequently granted to the uses of the abbey by Bishop Turpin (1178-c.98). There was some controversy when Bishop Alban claimed it as a mensal church, but this claim was renounced, and in 1248 a vicarage settlement took place.(1)

At the end of the eighteenth century the church was described as ‘small and old’,(2) but in 1802 it was rebuilt to a rectangular plan ‘from the foundations’.(3) However, it may be questioned what, if anything, was built on the old foundations. So far as can be seen, there is no masonry in the walls that is of pre-Reformation date, and the dimensions of 17.75 metres from east to west, and 10.10 metres from north to south are what would be expected in a small rural early nineteenth-century church. Nevertheless, taking account of the fact that the building is oriented, it cannot be ruled out that, on grounds of economy if for no other reason, some of the walls were raised on earlier footings.

The masonry is grey rubble with freestone dressings, and there is a small birdcage bellcote on the west gable. The principal fenestration is four large pointed-arched windows along the south wall, while the north wall is blank. There are two tiers of smaller pointed-arched windows in both the east and west walls with doors at the lowest level of each; the door in the west wall now opens into a session house that was built in 1883.(4)  

The church passed out of use for worship in 2011, and is now in domestic use.


1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, pp. 53-4.

2. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, vol. 1, p. 422.

3. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 11, p. 153.

4. John Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Dundee and Angus, Hew Haven and London, 2012, pp. 439-440.



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

  • 1. Dunnichen Church, exterior, from south

  • 2. Dunnichen Church, exterior, east wall

  • 3. Dunnichen Church, exterior, from south west

  • 4. Dunnichen Church, exterior, north wall

  • 5. Dunnichen churchyard, gravestones, 1

  • 6. Dunnichen churchyard, gravestones, 2

  • 7. Dunnichen churchyard, gravestones, 3

  • 8. Dunnichen churchyard, gravestones, 4

  • 9. Dunnichen, symbol stone (Meffan Institute Forfar)(Allen and Anderson)