A Corpus of Scottish Medieval Parish Churches

There has been a widespread view that the loss of medieval ecclesiastical architecture since the Reformation has been so great that insufficient now survives for a detailed understanding of the pre-Reformation Scottish parish church. It is certainly true that relatively few parish churches still in use appear to be of predominantly medieval date. Nevertheless, it is becoming increasingly clear that a majority of parish churches survived the Reformation, although many were subsequently rebuilt or abandoned. The purpose of this project is to determine if more historic fabric at Scotland’s parish churches of medieval foundation – whether still in use or abandoned – has survived than might appear on first sight (Picture: see, for example, the perilous state of St Michaels parish church on the Black Isle, Easter Ross).

Image of Medieval Parish Churches

In order to assess how far this might be the case, a one-year pilot study was conducted in the two dioceses of Dunblane and Dunkeld with the financial support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, in which the architecture of the churches and the documentation associated with them were closely examined. Such a precisely defined study permitted investigation of a sufficient number of parishes of varying size, wealth and type of location to allow the project research techniques to be refined and tested, and to determine if a larger project covering all thirteen Scottish dioceses might be viable.

The results of the project were deemed to be highly productive and, with the further generous support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council, work is now moving on to consider the churches in the interlocking dioceses of St Andrews and Brechin.

The principal questions that are being addressed in the course of this project are:

  1. How many of the medieval parishes in Scotland have retained anything of the pre-Reformation fabric of their churches?
  2. How complete a picture can be established of the range of their medieval architectural forms and liturgical provisions?
  3. How much can be established of their parochial history, and how far can that be related to the architectural history?

In this on-line corpus each site has an entry in which the historical and architectural evidence is set out, together with a bibliography of the principal sources of information and extensive illustrations of the existing structures. In addition, conclusions drawn from the information gathered in the course of the pilot project at the individual sites across the dioceses of Dunblane and Dunkeld are offered in a series of appendices. In due course these will be restructured to take account of the information brought together for the dioceses of St Andrews and Brechin.