St John's Church, Gamrie

National Grid Reference (NGR): NJ 79110 64470, map




The ruins of St John's Church are sited in a stunning location on the north coast of Moray. Reached only by a long, rutted, only partially accessible trackway from the south, the church and its small graveyard are remote and set on the edge of a tall cliff, overlooking Gamrie Bay and the fishing village of Gardenstown. The church is surrounded by barren rough-grazing ground on fairly steep ground. 

This site has a long, sometimes bloody history. A church here was granted to monks of Arbroath Abbey by King William the Lion in the 1190s. The church was rebuilt several times during the medieval period, the latest rebuild probably dating to the 16th century and incorporating earlier fabric. The church hosted a rather morbid collection of skulls well into the 19th century. The heads of defeated Danes were brought to the church at some point afer the 1004 Battle of the Bloody Pits. Today only the roofless shell of the church survives, having been abandoned after a new church was built in Gardenstown in 1830. 


Only the granite, rubble-built walls and gables of the church survive today. It is a long, low, narrow building and orientated east-west. The long south wall has two pointed-arch doorways as well as several rectangular window openings of different sizes. There is a blocked pointed-arch doorway in the east gable and a splayed gallery window inthe west gable. There are numerous fine memorials and tombstones within the church and around it. The ornate Barclay of Tolly mural monument is placed at the east end of the church, with grape and vine mouldings. There is also a niche for a sacrament house at the east end. 


  • Church founded (1004 (poss))
  • Church granted to monks of Arbroath Abbey (1189 to 1198)
  • Church rebuilt (17th century)
  • Church abandoned (1830)

Archive References:

Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 555
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 10583B-listed
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: RCAHMS NJ76SE 2
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 19282

Bibliographic References:

Banff & Buchan: An Illustrated Architectural GuideC McKean1990p114-115
The ecclesiastical architecture of Scotland from the earliest Christian times to the seventeenth centuryD MacGibbon and T Ross1896-7Vol. 3, p567-9
The Statistical Account of ScotlandSir J Sinclair (ed)1791-9Vol. 1, p469
The New Statistical Account of Scotland1834-1845Vol. 13, p282-4