Mortlach Parish Church, Dufftown

National Grid Reference (NGR): NJ 32370 39290, map


Church Street
Mortlach, Dufftown


Mortlach Church is known for being one of the oldest sites of continuous Christian worship in Scotland. Molvag, a contemporary of St Columba, came from Bangor and established a church or chapel here in around 566. The present church owes its form and appearance to centuries of phases of building work, stretching from the 13th century (or possibly earlier) to the late 19th century, when the existing church was extensively re-worked.

The church is located just to the south of Dufftown in the small hamlet of Kirktown of Mortlach, now dominated by a large distillery complex. It stands alongside a crossroads and is close to the Dullan Water river - thus occupying a typical early Christian site. There is a large graveyard on three sides of the church and an even larger 19th century cemetery alongside to the east, on the other side of the river (and accessed from the church by a small bridge). 

Description (exterior)

The church we see today dates largely to the 19th and early 20th centuries, although parts of the fabric are medieval, reflecting the long history of the building and the site as a whole. It is a large T-plan building and aligned east-west. Most of the walls are harled apart from the north gable, which is rubble-built with finely-tooled surrounds and corner stones (quoins). The other elevations of the church have tooled sandstone around window and door openings. The roofs of the church are slated and the long east-west nave has a tall, steeply pitched roof, while the shorter north aisle roof is slightly lower and shallower pitched.  


The large north wing of Mortlach Church is thought to have been built in the early 1830s. The north-facing gable of this wing or aisle is the principle elevation of the church today and has the main entrance doorways into the building. There is a large, central pointed-arch window with three tall lancet openings set in a recessed sandstone panel. The glazing comprises small, leaded diamond-shaped panes of glass. Below and on either side of this window are pointed-arch, recessed doorways with a linked hoodmould. Each doorway has narrow double wooden doors with decorative metal hinge plates. Mounted on top of the gable is a tall octagonal bellcote or belfry. It is built in fine ashlar stone and has pointed-arch (lancet) openings and a stone slab roof or spire. It is corbelled out a little from the gable face and a bell hangs within, suppported by a metal mechanism. The east and west side walls of the wing have rectangular windows at ground floor level and a dormer window at gallery level above. The windows have a Tudar-like appearance, with thick stone mullions and diamond-pane glazing. The dormer windows are taller and have pointed-arch tops to the openings.  


The nave of the church is the largest part of the structure. At the western end, on the north side, is a small side porch with an external stair. Above is a dormer window that is similar to those in the north wing but slightly smaller. The west gable has a central pointed-arch window with simple intersecting tracery and a thick hoodmould. Below is a rectangular window which is almost at ground level. Both of these windows have diamond panes which match the glazing in the north wing. The opposite east gable of the nave has three narrow lancet windows, which are thought to be of medieval date - two at ground floor level and one above. At the junction of the nave and north wing, on the eastern side, is a later vestry and side entrance, which is canted and has a piended roof. It has small rectangular windows and a plain rectangular door. 


The long south elevation of the church's nave has a central gabled bay, which is advanced forward from the rest of the elevation by a metre or so. The gable has three tall and narrow lancet windows, which each have stained glass. In the gablehead is a small quatrefoil window. The western side of the elevation has two large rectangular windows which are similar to those in the north wing. On the eastern side are two more of these rectangular windows. Near the east end is a small lancet window with stained glass. 

Description (interior)

The interior of Mortlach Church has been altered, revised and partially re-built a number of times over its history. The most recent alterations were carried out in the early 1930s, when the interior was re-cast and a new chancel created. The chancel is housed at the east end of the main nave building with pew seating in the nave and north aisle. There is a gallery at the west end and in the north wing. 


The chancel is raised above the nave by three steps and is carpeted. Most of the furnishing dates to the 1930s re-fit, which includes the wooden pulpit, communion table and pulpit. The pulpit and communion table have simple traceried panels and a grape and vine freize. A fine marble font is placed over the steps into the chancel. One of the oldest features in the church is a recumbent stone effigy burial monument, which is set in a 1930s arched recess. It commemorates Alexander Leslie, Laird of Kininvie, who died in 1549. It was moved to its current position, in the north wall of the chancel, during the 20th century re-fit. Alongside this monument is a large stone finial with a sundial set in one face. It presumably used to be mounted on an exterior gable or wallhead but was removed and placed inside the church. On the opposite (south) wall of the chancel is another fine monument. It is a large sandstone memorial with detailed carving showing symbols or mortality and heaven. It has a Latin inscription and is dated 1694. The three lancet windows in the chancel's east gable are deeply splayed and have exposed pink sandstone masonry. The narrow windows have detailed stained glass.


The nave is largely the result of the 1930s refit. There are plain wooden pews in the nave and north aisle, with narrow passages for access. There is a small gallery at the west end of the nave, which now also houses a fairly large pipe organ. There is a larger gallery in the north aisle with a staircase in the large vestibule area. In the centre of the south elevation of the nave is a war memorial area, which occupies the former organ bay. A former communion table (likely one replaced by the 1930s table) is placed in the centre of the bay and there are several wooden panels with the names of those lost from the parish during the World Wars. The three windows in this bay have memorial stained glass to those killed in the wars. The remaining windows in the south elevation of the nave also have stained glass, mostly depicting biblical figures and events. 

People / Organisations:

A Marshall MackenzieArchitect1930-1Re-cast interior and installed new pews and furnishing


  • Earliest phase of church building (11th century)
  • Church building work (13th century)
  • Major renovation work to church interior (1930 to 1931)
  • Church restored and partially rebuilt (19th century)
  • North wing of church built (c1830)
  • Monastery founded on the site (c566)

Archive References:

Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 3497
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 15864A-listed
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: RCAHMS NJ33NW 10
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 16798

Bibliographic References:

The ecclesiastical architecture of Scotland from the earliest Christian times to the seventeenth centuryD MacGibbon and T Ross1896-7Vol. 3, p408-9
Medieval religious houses in Scotland: with an appendix on the houses in the Isle of Man,I B Cowan and D E Easson1976p167, 195
The Statistical Account of ScotlandSir J Sinclair (ed)1791-9Vol. XVII