History Index : The Church

The Building
St Mary's Kirk Tower
St Mary's Kirk Tower

One tradition tells of Malcolm III going to the church at Monymusk before going on to fight MacBeth at the Battle of Lumphanan in 1057. Malcolm III is reputed to have said that if he won the battle, he would build a tower here and traced the outlines of it with a spear. Having won the Battle of Lumphanan, Malcolm III built the tower in its characteristic Norman style and hunted down MacBeth's stepson and heir, Luath, who was killed near Luath's stone on The Green Hill.

There are some striking resemblances between the architecture of a church near Whithorn, founded by St. Ninian in the 5th or 6th Century and St. Mary's Church, Monymusk. The arches, pillars and capitals are similar in shape, diameter and architectural detail. This could simply mean that the builders of Monymusk Church copied the design of an earlier church or else that parts of Monymusk Church are of early Celtic origin.

Weathered Arch
Weathered Arch

It has been noted that the chancel arch (now inside the church) appears to be 'weathered' with age, which suggests that this could have been an original part of the building and was once exposed to the elements. If this is true then the church at Monymusk could be of 'Celtic' (Saxon) rather than 'Augustinian' or 'Norman' origin and may have been rebuilt or added on to much later, but the Western tower and doorway is Norman ca. 1060, the nave is 8th Century and there is also a Jacobean extension on the North wall.

The Chancel is particularly long compared with the Nave, which may indicate that monks prayed there, and there is a so called "priest's door" leading into the chancel, as opposed to the "civil door" in the tower, which may also help to support this theory. The end part of the chancel is now roofless and is used as a private burial ground.

Church Spire
Church Spire, 1800s

The tower today is 51 feet high but used to be 23 feet higher. It was lowered by 8 feet around 200 years ago to correct an area bulging outwards at the top, and was replaced by a slated spire, which in turn also became dangerous and had to be taken down in 1891. The tower was reduced by a further 17 feet and was topped with the grey granite battlements which still remain today.

The Norman part of the Kirk is of pink granite, most probably from the old quarry at Pitfichie, but the dressed masonry is of sandstone from Kildrummy rather than granite. It is thought that the masons of the day did not have the necessary tools to carve the hard granite, so sandstone was used for the corner stones and arches.

Dr W. D. MacPherson was a Minister of the church from 1868 until 1912, who was also a scholar and wrote a comprehensive history of the Church and Priory of Monymusk.

Church Artefacts

The clock, which is still in good working order, has been dated at 1792 and is thought to have been made by William Lunan of Aberdeen. However, a clock restorer named Dr Edwards suggested to the present Minister, Rev Ewan Glen, that it may have been rebuilt in 1792 and is probably at least 100 years older, for there are records in the Monymusk Papers which detail the purchase of a clock in this period.

St Mary's c.a. 1960
St Mary's c.a. 1960

The church bell is very old bearing the Latin and English inscriptions 'ICA MOWAT ME FECIT AET ABD 1748' (Jacob Mowat made me at Aberdeen in the Year of 1748) and 'I fix the Sabbath, I bewail at funerals.'

The Communion register goes back to the year 1630, and the Bible on display in the church is recorded in the 'Session Records' from the time of Charles II, as having being purchased from a merchant in Aberdeen named Alexander Orem.

The Session Records also note the purchase of six communion cups which are still in use, 4 smaller ones in 1691 and two larger in 1712. The 4 smaller vessels are William and Mary church plate and were displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, being considered very fine examples of silver work. The patent silver Baptismal bowl was given to the church by Lady Grant (Dame June Johnson) in 1775.

 

 

Church Music
Inside Monymusk Kirk
Inside Monymusk Kirk

During the 1750s Sir Archibald helped to reform church singing at Monymusk. At this time the Minister or precentor (leader) would sing a line and then the congregation would repeat it. This method developed because there were not a lot of hymn books and not everyone could read, so the precentor would give out the line to the congregation to keep everyone together in the tune.

Thomas Channon was an English soldier who had sung at St Paul's Chapel in London and was proficient in a new style of psalm singing being developed in England where the choir was trained to sing in harmonic parts in order to lead the congregation. In January 1755 Channon's singers demonstrated the new style at Aberdeen West St. Nicholas Kirk and afterwards Sir Archibald invited Channon to teach it at Monymusk. Channon used a small instrument called a pitch-pipe to teach the new method and travelled with his singers from parish to parish.

A choir was formed at Monymusk which was helped and encouraged by Sir Archibald, who sang with them on Sundays, installed an organ (possibly a barrel organ) in the library at Monymusk House for choir practices and advertised in the Aberdeen Journal for a Schoolmaster who did 'sing and teach Church music and play a musical instrument'. The church employed their new choir leader, bought new hymn books and built a singing loft, which was a gallery to accommodate a large choir. The loft was later taken down in 1929 when the church was restored as much as possible to its original plan.

St Mary's Kirk Tower
St Mary's Kirk Tower

The Monymusk choir travelled around the local parishes in the North East to demonstrate the new method which sparked a reform of church music in the local area known as the Monymusk Revival, and which subsequently spread to the rest of Scotland. By the end of 1755 it was reported that there were 13 parishes in the local area using the new method and that by the end of 1756 all the churches in Aberdeen had adopted it. The choir from Monymusk even taught the new method to the congregation of St. Machar's Cathedral, although it wasn't accepted there for some years.

In 1761 the Rev John Wesley, founder of the Methodist Church, was making his way around Scotland and on reaching Aberdeen was invited by Sir Archibald to take a service at Monymusk Church. Wesley was impressed by the high standard of the choir singing, which he said was comparable with any Cathedral in England. He also reputedly remarked that he "may as well have been talking to the church walls for all the reaction he got from the congregation for his sermons!"

 

 

The Monymusk Stone
The Monymusk Stone
The Monymusk Stone

The church houses a class II Pictish Symbol Stone, known as the Monymusk Stone. The Stone is a 7 foot high granite slab, decorated with a equal arm shafted Celtic Cross, ornamented with knot work and the 'step' and Pictish 'double disc' symbols. It is thought that a carver of the stone knew about the Brecbennoch and that the 'step' symbol represents the casket.

It initially stood in a field at Nether Mains Farm but was moved sometime in the 18th Century to the edge of the field. In 1903, it was relocated to the Billiard Room of Monymusk House and then in 1978 it was moved again to St Mary's Church. Click on this link to see photos of the Monymusk Stone being moved.

 

 

 

 

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