Restenneth Priory

National Grid Reference (NGR): NO 48220 51590, map


Restenneth Library, by Forfar,


The ruined priory of Restenneth stands in the centre of the ancient kingdom of the Picts and its foundation may date to this period. Interestingly, however, no carved Pictish stones have been found there. The church stands on a promontory that originally projected into the now-drained Restenneth Moss.

During the 20th century summer open-air services were often conducted in the ruins on Sundays, with people walking from Forfar.

The remains comprise an early tower, a 13th century church and the ruins of a 12th or 13th century Augustinian priory.In 1243 Restenneth was dedicated to St Peter by David de Bernham, Bishop of St Andrews.


The  red sandstone tower is square and stands to the wallhead; its stone spire was a 17th century addition. The tower stands an impressive 14 metres high, not including the later spire, and has similarities to St Rule's Tower, St Andrews, and appears to date to the same period. The lowest part of the tower, to the level of the arch over the opening, is sometimes described as Anglo-Saxon, shown by the technique of cutting the round arch of the door lintel from a single stone The narrow south door survives intact, with the characteristic long and short jambs and solid lintel into which the arch was cut. These are the earliest elements of the building.The other openings have been remodelled to enlarge them but these too are early work.

The tower sits awkwardly, off centre, within the church and clearly is of an earlier date. The walls of the choir,  are intact to the wallhead and are a good example of early 13th century ecclesiastical architecture.The windows have pointed arches.The south wall of the choir adjoins the south wall of the tower. The different forms of masonry used in its construction show that the church and tower were altered several times.The nave remains as foundations only, its west door approached by a step and with traces of decoration on the column bases. 

While Anglo-Saxon architecture is normally dated to the 8th-9th centuries some scholars date the lowest courses of this tower to the 11th century. However, there is a context for the church possibly being of an earlier date than this. Other scholars argue that this could be the remains of the church built for Nechtan, king of the Picts, who sent to Monkwearmouth, Jarrow, for masons to build a stone church in around 710 AD.

The church became a priory after Malcolm IV granted it to the canons of Jedburgh in 1161-2. Later, part of the choir of the church was made into a family burial place by one if the Priory's post-Reformation owners, George Dempster of Dunnichen. The priory cloister survives, enclosed by high walls. The church was damaged in the Wars of Independence.

As there have been no excavations it is not yet possible to use archaeological evidence to clarify dates of indicate the level of survival of other structures of the priory or of the early church and tower.

People / Organisations:

Malcolm IVKing1161-2Gave priory to canons of Jedburgh
NechtanKing of Picts710Letter to Monkearmouth Jarrow Abbey, asking for masons to build a church in stone
David de BernhamBishop1243Dedicated the church to St Peter


  • Monument: Founded ( to 1161)
    People: Nechtan?; Malcolm IV
  • Monument: Build/construction (11A0)
    Augustinian Priory
  • Church dedicated to St Peter (1243)
    By David de Bernham
  • Letter from Nechtan King of the Picts (710)
    letter to monks of Monwearmouth Jarrow, asking for masons to build a church in stone.

Archive References:

Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 3719
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 11386A-listed
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: RCAHMS NO45SE 10:00
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 33745

Bibliographic References:

Scottish Medieval ChurchesRichard Fawcett2002
Scottish Monasteries in the Late Middle AgesMark Dilworth1995
Scottish Medieval Churches of ScotlandStewart Cruden1986
A Wee Guide to Old Churches and Abbeys of ScotlandM Coventry and J Miller1997
The early Romanesque tower at Restenneth Priory, Angus, The Antiquaries Journal, vol 43, 269-83Simpson, W.D.1963