Prior to being at Dornoch the cathedral of the diocese was at Skinnet (see this page for evidence) but, following the brutal treatment of bishops John and Adam, it was decided to transfer the cathedral to the safer area to the south.

St Gilbert Window, Dornoch Cathedral Bishop Gilbert de Moray, who was buried under the central tower in 1245, built the cathedral, working at times with his own hands, and consecrated it to the Blessed Virgin Mary. He also took oversight of the making of the glass at Sideray, or Sitheraw. In 1290, Edward I gave oaks for the completion of the fabric.

The church of SS Gilbert and Mary consists of a nave, choir, and transept, with a low spiked spire. Originally it had aisles and is mainly of the Early English style. The foundation stone was laid in the same year as that of Elgin Cathedral and it is of interest to note how differently the two cathedrals were built. There is no means of ascertaining how long it took to build but we do know that the first service was held in it in 1239 - it may have been that this was the service at which Bishop Adam's body was translated from Skinnet and re-buried in the cathedral. It contained an altar dedicated to St James.

Gilbert was the last Scotsman to whom a place was given in the Calendar of Saints.

The cathedral was burned in 1570 by Murray, Master of Caithness, assisted by Jye Mackay of Strathnaver, in a feud with the Murrays, who had taken away his ward, the Earl of Sutherland. The nave was almost totally destroyed. Though the chancel and transept walls remained for the most part intact, the entire roof was destroyed. Interestingly, the sarcophagus containing the bones of Sir Richard de Moravia (Murray), brother of the saintly Bishop Gilbert, survived the marauding attack of the McKays. He lived at Skelbo Castle, and was slain in a battle during a Danish invasion. To reward his stalwart service Earl William caused a burial place to be assigned to him in the "queir of the Cathedral Church at Dornogh, with his statue and weive image armed at all peeces maid of fyne stone." It is a fine example of 13th Century stonework.

In 1616 Sir Robert Gordon with the help of the heritors re-roofed the quire and the transepts. In 1623 further repairs were made to the cathedral by Bishop Abernethy. The result was a T-plan church which served the parish for over two hundred years.

In 1835-37 through the generosity of Elizabeth Duchess-Countess of Sutherland, the nave was re-built and other parts repaired under the direction of William Burn, fresh from his renovation of St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh. However, the old stonework was, for some obscure reason, covered with lath and plaster which was only removed in 1924 at the direction of Rev. Charles Bentinck so revealing again the glory of the soft local stone.


Plan of the Cathedral.

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