Glenisla Parish Church

Glenisla Church, exterior, from south

Summary description

Rebuilt in 1821 and modified in 1885.

Historical outline

Sometime between 1165 and 1195, King William granted the patronage of the church of Glenisla, with its kirklands and all other rights, to the canons of Cambuskenneth Abbey.(1) Whatever the canons’ wider ambitions, only the patronage of the church was confirmed to them by Pope Celestine III in 1195 and in Bagimond’s Roll in 1274 the church was noted for taxation at 22 shillings and 8d.(2)

In 1311, however, the canons claimed that Bishop Gregory of Brechin (1218-42) had supplemented their interest in the church with an annual pension of £10.(3)  That pension having fallen into arrears for many years, in 1311 the canons agreed to the transfer of their rights in the church to the monks of Coupar Angus, reserving their £10 pension which the monks were obliged to pay.(4)  In 1405, Coupar Angus acknowledged its obligation to continue the pension, regardless of whether the church was productive or unproductive in its fruits in any given year.(5)

A notarial instrument of November 1404 concerning the fruits of the parish church indicates that by that date the monks of Coupar Angus had succeeded in gaining corporal possession of it.(6)  It seems that both parsonage and vicarage was annexed to the abbey, although no confirmation of this exists in the surviving monastic records, and a vicar pensioner was serving the cure before 1405.(7)  As ‘rector’ of the parish, the abbey had responsibility for the upkeep of the presbytery of the church but in 1467 that burden was passed to Robert Herries of Auchteralyth under a five-year lease arrangement.(8

In 1469, before the completion of the existing lease, a fresh five-year lease was agreed with Alexander Spalding of Auchinhary, for yearly payment of 85 merks.  Alexander was answerable for all burdens, associated with parish and the new building of the church (for the repair of which, the tenants were bound to undertake carriage of materials), the repairing of the high altar, and all subsidy due to the bishop.(9) At the Reformation the parsonage and vicarage remained in the possession of the monks of Coupar Angus, together valued at £80.(10)


1.RRS, ii, no 527.

2. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no.25; SHS Misc, vi, 53.

3. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no.105.

4. Ibid.

5. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no.106.

6. Coupar Angus Charters, ii, no.121.

7.. CPL, Benedict XIII, 142.

8. Cupar Rental, i, 145.

9. Cupar Rental, i, 150-1.

10. Kirk (ed), Book of Assumptions of Thirds of Benefices, 355, 369.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Patronage was with Cambuskenneth after grant by William I.  In 1311 the patronage was transferred to Coupar Angus (annual pension in recompense to Cambus). Both vicarage and parsonage were annexed to Coupar with a vicar pensioner serving the cure.(1)

Mackinlay suggests that the church was probably dedicated to the Virgin Mary.(2)

b.1195 Right of patronage in the church granted to the abbey by William I.(3)

1195 Papal bull by Celestine III confirms grant by William I of the church and all its pertinent.(4)

1207 Church included in the possessions of abbey in papal bull by Innocent III.(5)

1311 Cambuskenneth gives up its rights in the church to Coupar Angus (citing the proximity of Glenisla to that abbey) in return for an annual pension of £10.(6)

1405 John Cometi described as vicar of Glenisla.(7)

1413 Quittance by Coupar Angus of the annual payment for the church to Cambuskenneth.(8)

1496 Chapel of St Ninian in the parish of Glenbervie, annexed in perpetuity to Coupar Angus.(9)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage and vicarage pertain to Coupar Angus, value £80.(10)

1764 (15 Jun) Report to the presbytery of Meigle notes that a decision had been taken to take off the roof of the church and a new one put in (new windows were also required). [no further details](11)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev James Donald, 1791): ‘The manse and the church are very old’.(12)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev James Watt, 1842): ‘The church… was built in 1821 and is in a good state of repair’.(13)

[No reference to earlier buildings in NSA]

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches: (George Hay): 1821; hearse-house attached, interior recast.(14)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 76.

2. Mackinlay, Scriptural Dedications, p. 103.

3. Original grant has not survived in full, first recorded in a 1311 charter, RRS, ii, no. 527, Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 105.

4. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 25.

5. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 26.

6. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 105.

7. CPL, Ben, 142.

8. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 107.

9. CPL, xvi, no. 528.

10. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 355 & 369.

11. NRS Presbytery of Meigle, Minutes, 1749-1768, CH2/263/11, fols. 361-363.

12. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1791), 395.

13. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1842), vi, 471.

14. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp. 239 & 245.


NRS Presbytery of Meigle, Minutes, 1749-1768, CH2/263/11.

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.

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.

Mackinlay, 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.

Registrum monasterii S. Marie de Cambuskenneth, 1872, ed. W. Fraser, (Grampian Club), Edinburgh.

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

Architectural description

The patronage of Glenisla was granted to the Augustinian abbey of Cambuskenneth by William the Lion, at a date between 1165 and 1195. However, in 1311 it was instead granted to the Cistercian Abbey of Coupar Angus, albeit with a pension reserved to Cambuskenneth, and eventually both the parsonage and vicarage were annexed to Coupar, after which the cure was served by a vicar pensioner.(1)

On 15 June 1764 it was reported that it had been decided to replace the roof and that new windows were also required;(2) nevertheless, in the 1790s the building itself was still said to be ‘very old’.(3) It was rebuilt in 1821,(4) by David A. White,(5) and was modified later in that century, in 1885, by John Carver.(6)

The church is a rectangular structure of grey rubble with ashlar dressings, with dimensions of 19.6 by 8.3 metres; it is aligned on an axis running from east-north-east to west-south-west. There is a birdcage bellcote on the west gable, and a small offshoot, probably for a hearse, has been added at the centre of the north wall.

The main front, which faces south, has a pair of pointed-arched windows with timber Y-tracery at the centre. Towards each end of that front is a rectangular door beneath a rectangular window, an arrangement that presumably reflected the original location of galleries at each end of the building; the provision of a gallery is also reflected in the two tiers of windows in the west wall. Since the operations of 1885, however, the pulpit and communion table have been relocated to the east end, with the tester of the former immediately below a rectangular window.

It is inherently likely that the church is on or close to the location it has occupied since the middle ages, though no identifiable medieval fabric is to be seen.


1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 76.

2. National records of Scotland, Presbytery of Meigle, Minutes, 1749-68, CH2/263/11, fols 361-3.

3. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, vol. 6, p. 471; National Records of Scotland, GD 16/46/58.

4. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 6, p. 471; National Records of Scotland, RHP, 7724 and GD 16/46/86.

5. Howard Colvin, Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 4th ed., New Haven and London, 2008, p. 1114. 

6. John Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Dundee and Angus, New Haven and London, 2012, p. 577.



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

  • 1. Glenisla Church, exterior, from south

  • 2. Glenisla Church, exterior, from north east

  • 3. Glenisla Church, exterior, from west

  • 4. Glenisla Church, interior, from west, 1

  • 5. Glenisla Church, interior, from west, 2