Rathen Old Parish Church

National Grid Reference (NGR): NK 00110 60960, map


AB43 8UL


The old church of Rathen is located in the centre of a fairly small rectangular graveyard a short distance north-east of the later Rathen West Church. It is at the edge of the small village of Rathen and surrounded by mature trees. 

An early church was founded on this site (or close to it) in the 6th century, and was said to have been consecrated by St Ethernan. The latest church on this site, the ruins of which can be seen today, dates from the mid 17th century and was partially rebuilt in the late 18th century. 

Description (exterior)

The church was originally a T-plan building, with an original east-west nave and a later south aisle. Today the church is a roofless ruin, with only parts of the walls still upstanding. There have been several phases of construction and alteration, shown partly by the masonry. The south wall was mainly built with good quality, large granite blocks with small pebbles set into the mortared joints (cherry cocking). However the thick west gable is rubble-built and would appear to have been rebuilt at some point, perhaps to accomodate a larger bellcote. The south aisle is built from poorer-qualty masonry still, mostly small rubble pieces and stones, and has thinner walls than the nave. The straight join at the junction with the nave wall shows that the nave and aisle are not contemporary. Most of the east end of the nave and the north wall have not survived. 


The west gable of the nave is complete. It has a central rectangular doorway with red sandstone surrounds. It is clear that the ground level has risen over the years as this doorway is partially sunken. Above the doorway is a fairly small round-arched window with the remains of subtly-moulded sandstone surrounds. On the apex of the gable is a large birdcage-type bellcote, its finely-tooled granite blocks differing from the rest of the gable. It has a stone ball finial and a large metal weather vane on top. It is dated 1783, so is obviously later than some of the fabric. It is possible the church was heightened or partially rebuilt at this time. 


The south wall of the nave is mostly constructed with large, roughly-squared granite blocks with cherry-cocking. There are rectangular window openings and a narrow doorway, which has been blocked at the bottom and converted into a window at a later date. A large round-arched doorway in the south wall linked the nave and aisle. It has been partially blocked at the bottom, showing later alterations (carried out after 1896 when already ruinous). The entire east end of the nave is lost, with not even foundation stones visible. 


The south aisle of the church would appear to be later than the nave and is built rather crudely in places with small rubble pieces and field boulders. There is a round-arched doorway in the west elevation and a number of small rectangular windows. The south gable has been reduced in height to the wallhead, although the carved skewputts have survived. It has clearly been reduced in height after 1896 as MacGibbon and Ross' drawing of the church (1896-7) clearly shows the gable as complete, with crowsteps and a stone sundial. The gable has the lower part of a large rectangular window to the centre. The east elevation of the aisle has a single, fairly large rectangular window. 

Description (interior)

There are very few surviving internal features in the ruins, apart from an aumbry with an ogee-arch above in the east wall of the aisle. Part of a piscina may be alongside but has been partially blocked by a later memorial. 

People / Organisations:

St Ethernan or EddranDedication, founded original church here6th century


  • Church partially rebuilt (1783)
  • Church built on site of older church (c 1643-6)

Archive References:

Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 770
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 16139B-listed
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: RCAHMS NK06SW 5
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 21144

Bibliographic References:

The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation ChurchesG Hay1957p169 and 204
The New Statistical Account of Scotland1845Vol. XII, p297
The ecclesiastical architecture of Scotland from the earliest Christian times to the seventeenth centuryD MacGibbon and T Ross1896-7Vol. 3, p604-6
Fasti ecclesiae Scoticanae: the succession of ministers in the Church of Scotland from the ReformationH Scott et al (eds.)1915-61Vol. VI, p238