Scalan Roman Catholic Seminary, Glenlivet

National Grid Reference (NGR): NJ 24665 19470, map


Braes of Glenlivet
AB37 9JS


Scalan is an important ecclesiastical site in Scotland and is renowned for its important role in helping to preserve Roman Catholic worship in the country during the 18th century when faith in this religion was illegal. Scalan was a small seminary where young men and boys began their education and training as priests before they left Scotland to complete their schooling in colleges on the Continent.

Because of the nature of Scalan and its role in Roman Catholic faith, it was necessary for it to be located in a remote location and not to draw attention to itself. For this reason this rather barren valley was chosen, with rough pasture and moorland and small, scattered crofts and farmsteads.  The first seminary was established in 1716 by Bishop Thomas Nicolson in a small croft building. However, the students and priests were forced into hiding on a regular basis during the 1720s and 30s and the first seminary building was burnt to the ground by the Duke of Cumberland after the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Scalan was rebuilt shortly afterwards near to the old site, and over the years a number of small and fairly temporary buildings were built to house the priests and pupils. The latest building was constructed in the 1860s and has survived to this day, albeit with some structural alterations. Scalan was in use as a seminary until the end of the 19th century, when a new and larger seminary opened at Aquhorties, near Inverurie, and subsequently at Blairs College near Aberdeen. 

After Scalan closed as a seminary it became a farmstead with a working mill and various outbuildings. Several alterations were made to the interior in later years, but a major restoration and examination of the building in the 1990s led to many of the original features and fittings being restored and the original layout of the seminary was re-established. Scalan is open to the public and has several displays and information panels, which illustrate the rich history of this rather plain-looking building.

Description (exterior)

The building that survives to this day was originally built in the 1760s and is a fairly substantial rectangular structure, built of rubble stone with lime render and a slate roof. The roof has three large chimney stacks, built with tooled granite blocks. The walls were heightened some time later to provide a larger first floor and a tall attic space. Smaller single-storey extensions were added too, which provided a kitchen for the seminary and a small public chapel. 


The main building of the seminary is aligned north south and the west elevation forms the principle elevation. The architectural features were deliberately chosen to make the seminary appear to be a vernacular building, such as a farmhouse or steading. The west elevation has plain rectangular windows at ground and first floor levels, all with multi-pane, clear glazing. The first floor windows are larger than those below and were later additions inserted when the walls were heightened. To the centre of the west elevation is a small, rectangular doorway with narrow wooden double doors. Directly above is a small rectangular recess, which appears to be a blocked window from the earlier phase of the building. 


The north gable has a rectangular window at ground flor level and a slightly smaller one above, at first floor level. There is a rectangular doorway on the first floor too, which was originally reached by an external stone stair and provided access to a chapel (allowing access to the chapel by members of the public without disturbing the students). The opposite south gable has a rectangular window at ground and first floor levels. The east elevation has single large rectangular window to the centre at wallhead height, which lights the stairs and corridor within. There are a number of smaller rectangular windows in this elevation too, as well as a fairly small rectangular doorway towards the north end. At the north and south ends are small lean-to extensions, one of which was the kirchen.These slated and rendered structures have small rectangular windows and doors. 

Description (interior)

The interior of Scalan has, in fairly recent years, been renovated and returned to its original layout as far as possible. Most of the internal walls are finished in pointed rubble stone, although there are some areas of walls which retain original plaster and layers of old wall paper. 


The ground floor comprises a living room, the Master's study and private room, interconnecting corridors and a study and dining room. Narrow stairs near the centre of the floor lead to the first floor above. The first storey had a large dormitory room, the Master's bedroom and study and a simple chapel at the north end with a small wooden altar. After the seminary closed it later became a farmhouse, which may have been sub-divided into two or more separate dwellings. The conservation works carried out in the 1990s changed the interior back to its original late 18th century seminary layout. 

People / Organisations:

Bishop James GordonFounded seminary1716/17
Bishop George HayConsecrated at Scalan1769
Bishop John GeddesBishop of Scalan and oversaw building of latest building1762-67


  • Scalan seminary founded on this site (1717)
  • Latest building constructed (1769)
  • Seminary closed (1799)
  • Building repaired, renovated and displays ins (1990s)

Archive References:

Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 2163
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: RCAHMS NJ21NW 21
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 117667
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 8453A-listed

Bibliographic References:

Scalan: The Forbidden College, 1716-1799John Watts1999
Tomintoul: Its Glens and Its PeopleV. Gaffney1970p45
Invera'an; A Strathspey ParishH Dunnet1919p115