Elgin.

Associated Chapels: Longmorn; Pluscarden; St Thomas; The Castle; Upper Bogside.

OS Ref: NJ 216629    RCAHMS No: NJ26SW 15

The church history of this Royal Burgh is both ancient and impressive in its national importance. Elgyn or Helgyn may have been an encampment first established by the Northmen - Helgyn is said to have been a general of the Norse army of Siward, Jarl of Orkney, who invaded c.927 and is said to have had a camp hereabouts. However, it is certain that Christian 'peregrines' were at work here and in the surrounding district from the very earliest times and long before the coming of the invaders. Within the precincts of the cathedral there is a most impressive Pictish Symbol stone which was moved here following its discovery under the High Street, within what is thought to have been the graveyard of the old Parish Church. Whatever the truth of the tale of a Viking settlement, Elgin was obviously a centre of great importance to the Picts.

The internationally renowned cathedral dwarfs the ecclesiastical scene in Elgin but here were also many religious houses and the splendid parish church of St Giles which, sadly, has been replaced by a modern monstrosity.

The west front of Elgin's magnificent medieval cathedral.

Parish Church of St Giles.

The church, "with its chapels of St Andrews and Manben" (Manbeen?) was gifted to the Bishop of Moray by William the Lion (1187x89)

It has always been a point of some surprise that, when the Chapter of the diocese was first established, the Parish Church of Elgin was not included amongst the prebends. The church was, in fact, a part of the Bishop's mensa although the prebend known as Centum Solidorum was founded (1222x42). It received this name from the fact that the prebend was endowed with 100 shillings of the altarage of the Parish Church. Later, the whole of the vicarage of St Giles was added to the prebend (1299x1325).

The original parish church, often referred to as "the Muckle Kirk" because of its size, sat on the site presently occupied by the modern parish church. Also known as the "High Kirk", it was said to have been surpassed by few in the Kingdom. It was even older that the cathedral and had altars belonging to the six Incorporated Trades - Hammermen, Glovers, Tailors, Shoemakers, Weavers and Square-wrights. Its was re-built in 1684 but was finally demolished in c.1800 to make way for its successor. The church stood on two rows of arched pillars and was 60 feet broad and above 80 feet in length. It was said to be particularly well endowed with seats and lofts of wainscot and a pulpit of 'curious workmanship'. This latter is the only surviving remnant and is now to be found within the Convent Church - which is the restored Greyfriars church. It was lit, besides several windows in the side walls, by a 'Venetian' window of 3 arches in the western gavel, of which the middle arch was about 15 feet high. It had four 'hearses' of brass of curios work, each having 12 sockets (for candles), hung in the middle of the church. To the east end was joined "the Little Church," where worship was performed on weekdays, and between these two churches was the steeple, with bells and a clock. The steeple was roofed in stone not slate. On 22 June 1679 it all fell down except for the 4 pillars and vault that supported it. The re-building was finished in 1684.

The transepts were removed in the early 18th century and the choir, or Little Kirk, at the end of the 18th century. The nave, or Muckle Kirk, was demolished in 1826. The present parish church was designed by Archibald Simpson in 1828 and, although much in keeping with his 'style', it has always stood out as an alien implant in what used to be a very medieval environment. It bears similarities with his works in Aberdeen.

Upper Bogside.

It is said that at Bogside (c.NJ202571) there formerly stood a hospital and chapel dedicated to St John the Baptist of uncertain date. No archaeological evidence has ever been found to support this story but, locally, it was said that the remains were removed by a tenant to build a 'rumbling drain'.

Upper Bogside today, looking over the river to Thomshill.

Maison Dieu.

Founded between 1222 and 1237, the Maison Dieu at Elgin was burned in 1390 then re-built, misused, and granted to the nearby Blackfriars in 1520. King James VI by a charter of 1620, granted to the Provost and Baillies, the Hospital of Maison Dieu, with the patronage and tiends thereof - Upper and Nether Manbeen, and Haugh, Upper and Nether Pitnasear, Upper and Nether Kirkdales in Knockando. No trace of the buildings remain but human remains have been revealed during recent building works. The chapel had a large gothic window and, in 1773, the walls "of the Old Popish Chapel called Maison Dieu," were blown down by a hurricane (Scots Magazine, January 1773).

Blackfriars.

The Blackfriar's Monastery at Elgin was founded c.1233 by Alexander II., and was closed before 1570. The church was dedicated to St James. The buildings stood to the immediate north of the Castle Hill wher is now a new development of houses. There is still 'Blackfriar's Street' nearby. Charles I, by charter of 1633, confirmed the gift of the lands of the Hospital of Maison Dieu and added those which appear to have been the property of the House of the Blackfriars - Glassgreen, Upper Barflathills, Bogside, with the mill lands and multures of Kirkdales, the Blackfriar Croft and the land and gardens belonging to the predicant brethren on the north side of the burgh.

Greyfriars.

About 1281 the Franciscan Friars Minor Conventual  received lands for the upkeep of their order "who for the time or in the future may be in occupation of their house in Elgin beside the Cathedral." However, it is probable that this settlement was temporary since an alternative use of the lands came into operation. It is thought that, at the time, the Greyfriars came to realise that there was already a house of the Blackfriars in Elgin and, following their custom, they refused to accept a friary in a locality colonised by the Dominicans. However, their welcome by the Bishop had been very warm indeed and it would seem that a house of Greyfriars was founded some time later. Easson writes that, "the House of the Franciscan Friars was founded in Elgin in 1479, and passed into the possession of the burgh probably c.1559 and was used as a court of justice from 1563."

The present church is part of the Convent of Mercy, and is a building of the 15th century, much restored in 1896, at which time the conventual buildings, grouped around a court to the south, were re-built on the old foundations, incorporating some fragments of the older work. Within the church is preserved the magnificent pulpit which was rescued from the old Parish Church of St Giles when it was re-built.

House of Lazarus.

The Leper Hospital lands lie near the Order Pot (NJ 226626) and, in 1850, excavations revealed the foundations. A charter of the Bishop of Moray, of 1360, mentions "land ... held of the brethren of St Lazarus" (Moray Reg, 236) The land called 'Spetalflats, beside the houses of the lepers of Elgin' is mentioned c.1391. There is still a Lazarus Lane to the south-west of the cathedral. The buildings of the Leper House are said to have been extensive signifying that there was a sizeable community at one time.

The Castle.

There was a Chapel of the Virgin Mary within the Castle of Elgin whose ruins are still to be seen upon the Lady Hill.

Pittendrigh.

Some writers tell that at Mains of Pittendrigh, on the south side of a knoll, there was a hermitage or cell for an anchorite. No trace of it has ever been found. One writer tells of a fragment of a sculptured stone having been found here and taken to Elgin Museum.

Longmorn.

This was the site of a free chapel which still had its own minister up to 1613. The area was ploughed over early in the 19th century and the site is now covered by a mill-pond (NJ 232584) within the grounds of the Longmorn Distillery.

 

The supposed site of the chapel of Longmorn.

Pluscarden.

It is said that there was a chapel and holy well, dating from before the 13th century, in the Vale of Pluscarden. The dedication is said to have been to St Andrew as a consequence of the existence in the Vale, before the establishment of the Priory, of a hermit's cell dedicated to the saint. It is said to have stood to the south side of where the Priory was built. No evidence of such a chapel or well has ever been found.

 

 

 

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