Aberlemno Parish Church

National Grid Reference (NGR): NO 52240 55550, map




This small country parish church has a long history. A church here was dedicated by Bishop David de Bernham in 1242, but the site's history may be substantially longer.

There is documentary evidence to suggest that Aberlemno Kirk was originally called Egglespether, a Pictish church of around 710AD by King Nechtan, although this is not agreed by some scholars. On the register of churches belonging to Restenneth in 1161/2 Egglespether is mentioned but by 1230 it had become known as Aberlemno.  

The building today largely dates to 1722 when the church was more or less completely rebuilt, although a ridge of possibly earlier stonework survives at the base of the church's walls. It has a T-shape plan, with a later porch and rear extension. The church is built in coursed sandstone rubble, with ashlar surrounds and has a slate roof. It is surrounded by a small graveyard and the manse stands to the east.

The church is surrounded by a graveyard with many 19th century stones. It is famous for its Pictish stone however, which stands near the west gable of the church. It dates to the 8th century and commemorates the battle of Nechtansmere.

Description (exterior)

The north elevation of the church features the aisle and porch. The gable of the aisle has a simple pointed-arch window high up in the gable, with simple tracery and thick mullions. Below is a pair of rectangular windows; all have quarry panes of glass. The apex of the gable has a raised platform, which would likely have originally supported a finial or weathervane. Attached to the gable, in the north-east corner, is an extension built in the 1980s. The sandstone walls match the original fabric well, as does the slate roof. The extension has large Velux windows and a small doorway. The porch with a doorway into the church is of uncertain date although is later than 1722. It has a small door and a rectangular window on its north face. 

The west gable has windows that mirror that of the north gable. The lower, rectangular window was possibly formerly a doorway into the church (often found in pre-Reformation worship with a matching door in the opposite gable). On top of the gable is mounted a tall, open bellcote with a small stone spire. It is built in ashlar sandstone. An external bell pull rings the bell, which was cast in 1728 by Robert Maxwell of Edinburgh. The base of the gable has a lower foundation course of stonework that extends beyond the rest of the wall fabric, which will give it more strength. It is possible this is surviving stonework from an earlier church on the site. This lower course extends around all of the church, except the north aisle and modern extension. 

The south elevation has four pointed arch windows equally spaced along the wall. Again these windows have thick mullions and simple tracery, with quarried panes. The east elevation has the same windows found in the north and west gables, and, again, the lower window, like that of the west gable, was possibly once a doorway, with straight-edged masonry below and a possible doorstep at ground level. The gable is topped by a simple stone cross finial. The 1980s extension is joined to the north end of the gable and has a simple rectangular window similar to those found elsewhere in the church.

Description (interior)

The interior of the church has a typical post-Reformation layout, with the pulpit and sanctuary arranged along the south wall. The pews of the nave and aisle face the sanctuary and pulpit. Large galleries were added on three sides in 1856.

The wooden pulpit features a carved arcade and quatrefoil inserts. Its steps were repositioned to the east to give more room in the sanctuary area. There is also a small, carved communion table, font and wooden chairs in the sanctuary area. A medieval stone font, formerly in the graveyard, was brought inside on display in 1992. The simple wooden pews are painted purple and have matching cushions. The galleries are fairly simple with panelled fronts, and are supported by iron uprights.

People / Organisations:

Bishop David de BernhamDedicated church of Aberlemno1242
Robert MaxwellCast church's bell1728


  • Church: Founded (12th century or earlier to 1722)
    Original church prior to current church being built on its site. Possible Pictish structure of 8th century before this.
  • Church rebuilt (1722)
  • Church: Repair (1800)
  • Church: Build/construction (1800)
    Feature: Vestry
  • Extension built (1980s)
    Modern extension added to north elevation

Archive References:

Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 4947C(S)-listed
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: NO55NW 28:00
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 0877

Bibliographic References:

The Statistical Account of Scotland1791-9Vol. IV, p48
The New Statistical Account of Scotland1845Vol. XI, p634
Scottish Medieval Church Architecture: Architecture and FurnishingsR Fawcett2002p301
RCAHMS: The archaeological sites and monuments of ScotlandRCAHMS1984p7
A Short History of Aberlemno Kirk1982
Aberlemno, The Heart of Angus: A Short HistoryI Jackson1986