Church of The Incarnation, Tombae

National Grid Reference (NGR): NJ 21710 25670, map


Glenlivet, Tombae
AB37 9JD


The Church of The Incarnation is a Roman Catholic Church located alongside a small, winding road in a remote area known as Tomnavoulin. The church sits at the base of a large south-west facing hillside and on the north bank of a small river. The Tomnavoulin Distillery is located nearby, to the north-west.

The church was built between 1827-9 to a design by Aberdeen architect John Gall, with a large school house next door (now a private house). There is a small graveyard on the west side of the church, which was established slightly later than the church. A previous church existed a short distance to the north-east but was destroyed by a flood, leading to the building of this church. The new church served as as school as well until a separate school building was constructed in 1904.

The church was in use until recently but is currently (2012) closed and fenced off due to structural concerns and the danger of falling slates. Therefore it has not been possible to record the interior but it is thought little has been removed from the inside of the church, although it may be at a later date if the church does not re-open or if the interior is damaged by water ingress. 

Description (exterior)

The church is a fairly large, rectangular building with Gothic features, such as pointed-arch windows and pinnacles. It was rubble built with ashlar granite used for window and doorway surrounds, as well as the pinnacles and finials. The wide double-pitch roof is slated, although when visited it had lost a large number of them. 


Fairly unusually, the principle elevation does not face the main road or approach to the church. The principle elevation is the south-west gable and it is built entirely in large ashlar blocks of pink granite. The central bay is slightly advanced and is flanked by very tall buttresses. There is a large, deeply recessed central doorway, which forms the principle entrance into the church. It is pointed-arched and has a large, single wooden door with decorative metal hinge plates. Just above the doorway is a stone inscription panel, which has lost its inscription insert, leaving a recessed space. Higher up is a large pointed-arch window with simple intersecting tracery and latticed glazing. The flanking buttresses rise in four stages and step slightly inwards as they gain height. They are topped by tall, eye-catching pinnacles with urn-shaped finials. On top of the gable apex is a large, ornate stone finial in the shape of a celtic cross. The outer bays of the south-west gable have a tall, narrow pointed-arch window with intersecting tracery and latticed glazing and the top of the gables here are battlemented. At the corners are diagonally angled buttresses that are similar to the central ones although slightly shorter. 


The side elevations of the church (north-west and south-east) have three large pointed-arch windows, each with intersecting timber tracery and latticed glazing. The northern-most window of the north-west elevation is different to the others. It is shorter and has a narrow, rectangular door below it, which enters a basement room or space. It is not clear whether this is an original feature or if it is a later alteration. The window itself has been partially blocked, with one half boarded over. The wooden board was painted to simulate the white tracery and lattice glazing, although this must have been many years ago as most of the paint has weathered away. The side walls of the church were originally rendered with either lime mortar or cement, but this has been largely removed or has fallen off, leaving most of the stonework visible. 


The north-east gable has similar stonework to the side elevations, with the original render mostly removed and the rubble block stonework on show. To the centre is a large pointed-arch window with a smaller pointed-arch window below, close to the ground. Flanking these are two tall, narrow pointed-arch windows. All of the windows have simple wooden tracery and latticed glazing. On the apex is a stone cross finial on a square base. At the skew ends of the gable are square bases, which may have originally supported pinnacles (although there are none now). 

Description (interior)

It was not possible to record the interior during SCHR's 2012 visit due to the current unsafe nature of the building. From other sources it is possible to give a brief description of the interior, which is thought to survive intact despite the church being closed. 


When the church opened for use in 1829 the interior was not completed and it wasn't until the 1840s when Bishop Kyle re-modelled and finished it. There is a simple entrance lobby at the western end of the church, which opens in to a spacious nave with narrow side aisles. There is a rib-vaulted roof structure which is supported by wood-clad iron columns and plastered capitals and corbels. There is a small chancel at the eastern end of the church, which houses an altar and wooden pulpit.  The gallery at the west end appears to have been a later insertion, probably when Bishop Kyle completed the interior. The gallery holds the large pipe organ, which has decorated metal pipes. 


An unusual and important feature of this church is the presbytery (priest's accomodation), which unusually, is contained within the church building, rather than being built separately alongside. The presbytery accomodation is contained within a narrow area between the chancel and the north-east gable of the church. Entry is gained externally by the small doorway in the north-west side elevation. 

People / Organisations:

Rev. James GordonEstablished the church1827
John GallArchitect of the church1827-9
Bishop James KyleRemodelled and completed the interior of the church1840s


  • Church built (1827 to 1829)
  • Church interior completed (1843 to 1844)

Archive References:

Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 6766
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 8476A-listed

Bibliographic References:

The Statistical Account of ScotlandSir J Sinclair (ed)1791-9Vol. 13, p35
Catholic Church Building in Scotland from the Reformation until the Outbreak of the First World War, 1560-1914Peter Anson1954Published in 'Innes Review 1954', p125-140
The District of Moray: An Illustrated Architectural GuideCharles McKean1997p166