Brechin Cathedral

National Grid Reference (NGR): NO 59632 60094, map


Church Lane
Brechin, Angus


Brechin Cathedral has a long and complex history stretching back to the 12th century and possibly earlier. Most of the cathedral structure dates from the 12th century, although fragments of an earlier Romanesque structure have been found, with some stones now housed in the cathedral. In the mid 12th century King David I made the church one of Scotland's cathedrals, and Norman-style alterations were carried out shortly after.

The famous Round Tower, attached to the south-west, was built around 1000 and was originally a free-standing earlier ecclesiastical structure (see separate site entry, 'Brechin Round Tower') and there was an early monastery located nearby to the west of the cathedral.

The cathedral tower dates from the 13th-14th centuries, and was built at the same time as the west front. The tall spire of the tower was built in the 15th century. Much of the nave and aisles were substancially altered in the early 19th century and during 1899-1902.

JD 2011

Description (exterior)

The cathedral today comprises a west tower, nave, south and north aisles, transepts and chancel. Local red sandstone was sourced to build the cathedral, with coursed ashlar blocks used to construct the walls.


The five-bay nave was heightened during early 19th century restoration work, allowing the nave to be roofed by a single span. The aisles were widened at this point too and have large, Gothic pointed-arch windows, all with stained glass.


The original medieval transepts were demolished in 1806 but were rebuilt to a similar layout in 1899-1902 restoration work. The north transept was made larger to form a memorial to the recently deceased Queen Victoria (The Queen's Aisle), and the north aisle was rebuilt much smaller than it was originally, as a new north entrance porch was built, taking up part of the aisle's foot print.


After the Reformation the nave was used as the parish church, and so it was maintained and survived. However, the choir, at the east end, was not required and so fell into disrepair and was eventually demolished. It was rebuilt as the chancel during the 1899-1902 restoration and has tall lancet windows and a rose window in the east gable. It is shorter than the original choir.

Description (interior)

The interior of the cathedral has had several restorations and rebuilds during its long history. What we see today is largely the result of 1806 and 1899-1902 rebuilding and restoration work. The hammer beam roof dates to 1806, as does the layout of the aisles, while the transepts and chancel were rebuilt during the Victorian works. The pews face the east end and chancel, with the pulpit and font located at the junction of the nave and chancel. There is much stained glass throughout the cathedral, and these date to different periods and are by a variety of artists. Herbert Hendrie created some in the 1890's, and there is one by Douglas Strachan (1949) on the north wall next to the porch entrance, featuring Moses, Melchizedek and David. In 1952, William Wilson began work on his largest and most significant series of windows, including the great west window of 1958 and also the Queen's Aisle and vestry windows. 


There is a small display area in the cathedral with photographs and artifacts, including a clock mechanism and a Pictish cross stone.

People / Organisations:

David IGranted the founding of the cathedral12th century
John HoneymanUndertook repairs and alterations1899-1902
Douglas StrachanCreated stained glass window1949
William WilsonInserted stained glass windows1952


  • Cathedral Founded (0975 to 1150)
    Possible earlier church before this
  • Cathedral: Build/construction (12th century to 15th century)
    Current structure built and modified
  • Rebuilding and alterations (1806 to 1808)
    New aisles and nave roof. Transepts demolished
  • Alterations and rebuilding (1899 to 1902)
    Transepts rebuilt and Queen's Aisle added.
  • Stained glass added (1949)
    Douglas Strachan window inserted
  • Stained glass added (1952)
    Wiliam Wilson window inserted

Archive References:

Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 22439A-listed. Also a Scheduled Ancient Monument
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: NO56SE 12:00
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 3694

Bibliographic References:

1000 Churches to Visit in ScotlandB Fraser (ed)2004p25
The Old Parish Churches of ScotlandMike Salter1994p107
Celtic and Medieval Religious Houses in AngusD G Adams1984
Notices, historical and architectural, of the round tower of Brechin, in Proceedings of the 'Society of Antiquaries of Scotland'R R Brash1863
Early medieval carved stones at Brechin CathedralN Cameron2007
A short history of Brechin CathedralW W Coats1903
Medieval Religious Houses in ScotlandI B Cowan and D E Easson1976
The HIstory of BrechinD D Black1839
Historic Brechin: The archaeological implications of development, Scottish Burgh SurveyR Gourlay and A Turner1977
Object Name Book of the Ordnance SurveyOrdnance Survey
The archaeogical sites and monuments of central AngusRCAHMS1984
The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland from the Earliest Christian times to the Seventeenth CenturyD MacGibbon and T Ross1896-7
Illustrated Guide to Brechin CathedralD B Thoms1985
Scottish Medieval Churches: architecture and furnishingsRichard Fawcett2002
Exploring Scotland's Heritage: Fife, Perthshire and AngusB Walker and G Ritchie1995