Rathen West Parish Church

National Grid Reference (NGR): NK 00180 60910, map


AB43 8UL


Rathen West Church is a prominent building in the landscape, thanks to its elevated position and tall spire. It is located on the outskirts of the small village or hamlet of Rathen a short distance west of the remains of the original medieval church. There is a small graveyard in front of the church and a recent extension extends to the north. 

The church was built in the mid to late 19th century by architect William Smith, in an Early English style. The old church had been deemed beyond economic repair and the new church was begun in 1867. 

Description (exterior)

The large church is aligned east-west and comprises a nave, vestry and tall south-west tower and spire. It was built with a variety of granite and basalt types, with contrasting red, black and grey stones. Grey granite is used for the large, tooled blocks and there are small red granite pieces inbetween. The voussoirs in the arches above the windows are in contrasting black and red stone. The tall nave roof is slated and has small gableted vents. 


The west gable forms the principal elevation of the church, along with the attached tower. The central bay of the gable is slightly advanced and has a pair of pointed-arch doorways with wide, chamfered margins and a linked hoodmould. The wooden double-leaf doors are recessed and have decorative metal hinge plates. Relieving arches above the doroways have alternating red and black voussoirs (wedge-shaped arch stones). Above the doorways is a group of three large pointed-arch (lancet) windows, all with latticed, leaded glazing. There is a hoodmould and relieving arches to match those of the doorway. High up on the apex is a small metal cross finial. Flanking the central bay of the gable are prominent, stepped buttresses, which rise up to, and above, the gable skews. They may have been pinnacled originally but non are evident today. Towards the edges of the gable are small, curved recesses in which are trefoil windows. The corners of the gable have angled buttresses, similar to those close to the centre. 


The tower of the church is at the south-west corner. It is square on plan and rises in three stages to a corbelled parapet at the top. There are tall, stepped buttresses on the corners and a pointed-arch doorway on the south face. The second stage has pairs of lancet windows and above is the belfry stage, which has, on each face, large louvered openings ( twin lancets and a round opening abbove) with a hoodmould. The broached, octagonal spire is made of ashlar granite and has small gableted openings (lucarnes) with trefoil recesses. On top is a small metal finial. 


The side elevations of the church have tall lancet windows with latticed glazing and relieving arches. Inbetween are narrow, stepped buttresses. The east gable of the church has a single, large round window with a large cinqfoil with latticed glass. High in the gablehead is a small trefoil window. Attached to the gable is a central, gabled session house and vestry, with small lean-to porches on either side. They have shouldered-arched doorways. 

Description (interior)

The interior is aligned east-west, with the sanctuary and pulpit at the east end and a gallery to the west. The walls are plastered and painted, and the heavy (barrel-vaulted) wooden roof beams and ribs are exposed and stained a dark colour. 


The nave has original wooden pews with passages at each side for access. The space under the west gallery has been converted into a separate room by walling off the area; there are doors at the north and south ends. The room has a kitchen area, tables and chairs for the Sunday School and a large sofa. The gallery above is still in original condition and has wooden pews, and is accessed by a stairway in the tower. 


The sanctuary area at the east end is symmetrically arranged. There is a central wooden pulpit with stairs and handrail on either side, with a door behind leading to the vestry. In front is the sanctuary area, raised from the nave slightly and with tall wooden chancel rails on three sides. There is a simple, open communion table in the centre, as well as a small font and lectern. There are also a number of fine wooden Glastonbury chairs with carved crests. They were originally in the gallery and intended to be used by the local Saltoun family, but were never used in that context and soon after were moved to the sanctuary. 

People / Organisations:

William SmithArchitect of the church1867-70


  • Church built (1867 to 1870)

Archive References:

Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 4171
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 16138C(S)-listed
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: RCAHMS NK06SW 56:00
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 180766

Bibliographic References:

The Third Statistical Account of Scotland: The County of Aberdeen1960sp320
Rathen West Church Cemetery, Rathen, Aberdeenshire (Rathen parish), evaluationH K and J C Murray2007Published in Discovery and Excavation in Scotland, Vol. 8, p28