St Nathalan Roman Catholic Church, Ballater

National Grid Reference (NGR): NO 36680 95620, map


Golf Road
AB35 5RS


This fairly small Roman Catholic Church was built in the early 20th century by well known architect Archibald Macpherson on the south-west edge of Ballater, a small planned town which was established in the late 18th century. The church is built in the centre of fairly large grounds, which are bounded by mature trees and there is a large presbytery attached to the south. It is set back from the street by quite a distance, which partially hides the building from view. Golf Road is a wide, quiet residential street with some large, detached houses. 

Description (exterior)

The church is a fairly unusual design and is aligned approximately east-west. It is fairly low in height and has a chancel, small transepts, entrance porch and nave. The presbytery where the priest lives is attached mid way along the south elevation. The church and presbytery were built using coursed blocks of pink granite, tooled to a deliberately rough (or rock-face) finish. Areas such as window surrounds and buttresses are picked out with finely-tooled grey granite. The roof of the church is mostly hidden from view but is slated, along with the presbytery. 


The most prominent part of the church is the unusual chancel apse at the east end, which faces the entrance gateway and path into the church grounds. It is three-sided or canted and has an advanced base course, which steps up to the centre to form a stringcourse. In the central face, to the middle, is a large niche in which is mounted a finely-carved stone statue of St Nathalan holding a staff. The niche is topped by a ogee-curved hoodmould with a carved finial. At the top of the chancel apse is a slightly advanced parapet, which steps up to the centre and is topped by a large carved celtic cross stone panel. Slightly behind can be seen a simple cross finial, which is mounted on top of the piended roof of the chancel. 


The sides of the church (which are difficult to photograph in their entirety due to the encroachinig tree-cover) have pairs of arch-top windows, close to the wallhead, with small, square panes of leaded glass. Towards the east end, attached to the west of the chancel apse, are small transept aisles on both north and south elevations. They have a sloping base course and a small, stepped parapet at the top. At the angle where the transept and chancel meet is a squat buttress with pyramidal tops. The transepts have small windows towards the wallhead: pairs of rectangular windows and a single 6-sided window with stained glass. At the north-west end of the church (the west end of the north side elevation) is a small entrance porch. It is gabled, with overhanging eaves. There is an open, round-arched doorway with chamfered edges and inside is a wooden door which leads into the nave. 


The tall west gable has the largest windows of the church. To the centre are two windows that consist of pairs of round-arched openings with a separate, small ogee-curved opening above. The glass is made up of small, leaded squares. An angled hoodmould is placed above these windows and is linked in the centre. Above these large windows is a small round window, again with a hoodmould. The glass is shaped into a star design, with small, leaded panes. In the south-west corner of the gable is a small, rectangular doorway, which may provide access to a storage area under the inner gallery or lead to the original heating chamber/boiler house.


The attached presbytery is a domestic-style structure, with rectangular windows, dormer windows at first floor level and large chimneys on the gables. The main entranceway is on the east elevation. 

Description (interior)

The interior of St Nathalan's Church is fairly simple and open. The wooden framed roof structure is left exposed and the walls are plastered and painted. The nave has original wooden, bench-like pews and a central passageway. There are small carved images of the Stations of The Cross on the nave walls and at the west end is a small, wooden-framed gallery with steps for access on the north side. The gallery is not used for seating but has a small wooden-panelled pipe organ in one corner. In the south-west corner of the nave is a small recess in which sits the fine, stone font with a wooden cover. 


At the eastern end is the open chancel area, which encorporates the small transept aisles. The walls here are painted light blue with gold stars and there is a fine wooden dado, which clearly differentiate this area from the nave. The chancel is also carpeted and steps up from the nave floor level. There is a wooden table in the centre and directly behind, against the east wall of the chancel, is the wooden altar. This features some detailed carving on the panelled front and there are numerous candlestick holders on top. There is a small, wooden reredos behind, which has similar carving to the altar. Above, on the wall, is a large, framed oil painting. At the junction of the chancel and nave on the north side is the pulpit, a small but well-detailed wooden structure. It stands close to the north transept, which has some wooden chairs and a painted statue of Christ. The opposite south transept has a painted statue of Mary and in front is a small display case with a medieval stone font, thought to come from an early chapel in Glenmuick (see site Inchmarnoch Chapel, Glenmuick). 

People / Organisations:

Archibald MacphersonArchitect of the church1905


  • Church built (1905)

Archive References:

Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 4213
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 21831C(S)-listed
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: RCAHMS NO39NE 82
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 181921

Bibliographic References:

Deeside and the Mearns: An Illustrated Architectural GuideJane Geddes2001p144