Corpus of Scottish Medieval Parish Churches

  • Fawcett, Richard (PI)

Project: Standard

Project Details

Key findings

Of the 105 sites considered in this first phase of the project, about 14 wholly or partly roofed churches were found to have retained a significant part of their medieval appearance, while 22 ruined churches have retained a significant part of their medieval appearance. In other cases it was necessary to attempt a careful evaluation of the evidence in order to assess the likelihood of medieval fabric having survived or having conditioned what is now seen. On the basis of that evaluation, it has been concluded that considerably more medieval work has come down to us than has hitherto been assumed. At a number of churches it has been possible to identify with some confidence medieval masonry that had previously been overlooked. Elsewhere it is the form of the building that points to the underlying presence of medieval fabric, with the clearest indicators of the retention of medieval work frequently being a combination of the orientation, the size and the relative proportions of the building.
It must be said, however, that in many of the latter cases none of the three indicators mentioned would provide sufficient pointers to the survival of medieval fabric if considered in isolation. So far as the orientation of the buildings is concerned, strict east–west alignment was not always possible for medieval churches where the topography of the site created insuperable difficulties; conversely, a wish for south-facing windows meant that an oriented alignment was on occasion preferred for an entirely post-Reformation church. So far as size is concerned, this was to a great extent a function of the relative wealth and population size of the parish, and, considered in isolation, it would therefore be of limited significance. Proportions, however, do appear to be of a high level of significance. The liturgical requirement in a medieval church for a spatially – if not structurally – distinct chancel to the east of a nave almost inevitably resulted in a relatively elongated plan for rectangular churches, and, as has been indicated, this was commonly in the order of 1:2.69. In post-medieval churches, where a principal requirement was that all of the congregation should be close to the pulpit, proportions closer to 1:2 were evidently preferred.
In addition to those listed above, at least 14 churches that now present an essentially post-Reformation appearance are likely to perpetuate the footprint of their medieval predecessors and may be expected to incorporate medieval fabric. At least twenty-two other churches are likely to be on the site of their medieval predecessors, and, in some cases, more invasive investigation might be expected to reveal that they embody medieval masonry. At no more than 9 medieval church sites were there found to be no structural remains of any kind of medieval church building, though the general location of the church was evident from the existence of a historic graveyard. In only 2 cases – Kenmore (Inchadin) and Obney – was there serious difficulty in identifying the exact site of the parish church because there was nothing remaining above ground to indicate its location.
AcronymCorpus of Scottish medieval parish churc
Effective start/end date1/03/0828/02/09


  • Arts and Humanities Research Council: £60,748.24


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