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St Cuthbert, Dalmeny, West Lothian

(55°58′58″N, 3°22′24″W)
NT 144 775
pre-1975 traditional (Scotland) West Lothian
now City of Edinburgh
medieval St. Andrews
now n/a
  • James King
17 Sept 2010, 24 April 2011, 25 Feb 2014

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Dalmeny church is a four-cell building consisting of a west tower, nave, vaulted chancel and vaulted apse. The original west tower seems to have collapsed in the fifteenth century and was subsequently re-built on the same ground plan in 1937, preserving the original sides of the tower arch (capitals and bases) leading into the nave. Four corbels which were found when the tower arch blocking stone was removed have been re-used on the interior of the tower. In 1671, much of the eastern part of the north wall of the nave was taken down to form a new aisle and this area was again altered in 1816. The twelfth-century parts of the church are built from a local sandstone, which on the interior of the church is a soft, light brown, but on the exterior has weathered to a light grey. Both on the interior and on the exterior faces of the walls, the stone is of coursed ashlar and of high quality. In the 18th century, the nave walls were lowered and the chancel walls heightened to form a continuous roof line, but these were put back to their original levels in the restoration work carried out between 1927 and 1937. In addition, some of the windows had had the inner orders taken out to create more light in the 18th century and these windows were restored back to their original form during the restorations. Only one window in the main part of the church is entirely modern, that west of the south entrance, which was inserted in the 18th century to allow light into the gallery (since removed) which had been built at the west end of the nave. In the apse, a tomb niche was inserted into the south interior wall at some point subsequent to the twelfth century.

On the interior, both the chancel arch and the apse arch are elaborately decorated with chevron patterns and there are head corbels carrying both rib vaults, but it is the south exterior entrance which has the most elaborate decoration, though badly weathered. This consists of a doorway with voussoirs carved with various figures and heads, and an upper zone carved with interlacing arcading surmounted by head corbels. In addition, there are three original, heavily decorated windows on the apse, two on the chancel walls and three on the nave walls. Original exterior corbels survive in situ on the chancel, apse and above the south entrance, and there is a 12thc sarcophagus outside the church.

The west tower of the church is thought to have fallen c.1480, at which time the tower arch was filled with rubble. Four romanesque corbels, found when the tower was rebuilt in 1937, were inserted into the west interior wall of the tower above the tower arch. Sometime before 1604 a loft was built into the west end of the nave. Around 1671, part of the north nave wall was taken down to build a north aisle (called the Rosebery aisle), while in 1766 the exterior wall walls of the choir were heightened and the nave walls decreased in height so that the roof continued unbroken across both. Sometime also in the later 18th century, a new window was inserted on the south side of the nave, west of the doorway, to allow light into the loft. In 1816, a gallery was built in the Rosebery aisle and a plaster ceiling in imitation of the stone vaulting in the eastern parts was constructed over the nave (since removed). About the same time, a porch which had been built in front of the south nave doorway, the roofline still in evidence, was taken down, along with the removal of the south chancel doorway. In 1832 a new west belfry was added. Restoration work on the church was finally carried out between 1927 and 1937, at which time the pews and west loft were also removed. A new west tower was also built onto the west end during these restorations after some discussion of the form it should take. Finally, in or before 1948, A.J. Turner undertook a study of masons’ marks in the church.


The early records of the town refer to it as Doumany or Dunmani, but there are no known extant documents referring to the building of St Cuthbert’s Church. It has been suggested that there was an earlier church on the site, but little evidence has been put forward to support this. Certainly nothing is known between this possible earlier church and the present church and no early carved work has been found on or near the site. During the medieval period, we know that the church was dedicated to St Cuthbert and that there were two other altars, one dedicated to St Adamnan and the other to St Bridgit. The dedication of the church to St Cuthbert has continued to this day, but the associations with SS Adamnan and Bridgit have disappeared, along with their altars. Traditionally, the church has been thought to have been built by Gospatric, but there has been considerable confusion about just who this Gospatric was, as the name is found frequently in the family of the Earls of Dunbar.


Exterior Features



Exterior Decoration

String courses
Corbel tables, corbels

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Vaulting/Roof Supports


Interior Decoration





Few churches in Scotland have retained so much of their original decoration. Dalmeny is now often referred to, not without grounds, as the best preserved romanesque church in Scotland. Its decoration places Dalmeny in a group of related churches, the main ones being the abbey church at Dunfermline (Fife), the ruins of the parish church of Tynninghame (East Lothian), the parish church of Leuchars (Fife), and St Giles church in Edinburgh (the doorway of which is known from an early drawing before it was destroyed). Scholars in the past have noted the close affinities with all of these and with the carved work at Durham Cathedral.

For some time it has been recognised that the carved work at Dalmeny can be paralled with work at the abbey church of Dunfermline (Fife), and ultimately with Durham Cathedral. Other churches in eastern Scotland, most noticeable being St Baldred’s, Tyninghame (E. Lothian), St Athernase, Leuchars (Fife) and St Giles, Edinburgh form a stylistic group of churches; all are assumed to have been built after the abbey church of Dunfermline, started c.1128 and dedicated in 1150. A date in the 1140s, 1150s or early 1160s is the most likely period for the construction of the church at Dalmeny. If, indeed, Gospatric of Dalmeny was responsible for the church, which seems probable, then suggestions that the carved sarcophagus was his seems not unreasonable. In the past, there has been a great deal of confusion over the name Gospatric (or Cospatric) as numerous members of the Dunbar family were given this name. One theory is that Gospatric, son of Waldeve/Waltheof (who died sometime after 1126), grandson of Gospatric Lord of Dunbar (d. c.1065), was second cousin to Gospatric III Earl of Dunbar (d.1166), while the other suggestion is that the church was actually built for Gospatric III Earl of Dunbar, himself. Sometime between 1153 and 1160, in a charter King Malcolm IV wrote to Gospatric, son of Waltheof, and the abbot of Dunfermline to transport by ferry Robert, bishop of St Andrews, and his men across the Forth River. It has been argued that this Gospatric was the owner, therefore, of Inverkeithing, Dalmeny and Dundas. Robert Avenel, parson of 'Dunmani' was mentioned in a charter of Waldeve son of Gospatric, recorded in the Registrum de Dunfermelyn.


Anon., Dalmeny (an illustrated leaflet, issued with an appeal for funds for the restoration of the church, 1931?).

R. Billings, The Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland, (Edinburgh and London, 1845-52).

N. Cameron, “The Romanesque Sculpture of Dunfermline Abbey: Durham versus the Vicinal”, Medieval Art and Architecture in the Diocese of St Andrews, British Archaeological Transactions, 14, ed. J. Higgett (Leeds, 1994), 118-123.

P. MacGregor Chalmers, Dalmeny Kirk: Its History and Architecture, (Glasgow, 1904).

F.H. Fairweather, Aislesless Apsidal Churches of Great Britain (Colchester, 1933).

G. Holton, Some Notes on the History of the Parish and Church of Dalmeny, (Edinburgh, 1980).

I. Lindsay, St. Cuthbert’s Parish Kirk, Dalmeny (church guide), (Houston, 1949).

D. MacGibbon and T. Ross, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland, 1 (Edinburgh, 1896).

J. Miller, the History of Dunbar, (Dunbar, 1830).

The New Statistical Account of Scotland, 2 (Edinburgh and London, 1845)

RCAHMS, Tenth Report with Inventory of Monuments and Constructions in the Counties of Midlothian and West Lothian, Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1929).

C. Radford, "Dalmeny Church (NT 144775)", Archaeological Journal, 121 (1965), 186-7.

Registrum de Dunfermelyn, publ. The Ballantyne Club, (Edinburgh, 1842).

A. Reid, “Sculptured Sarcophagus and Churchyard Memorials at Dalmeny; with Notes on the Churchyard of Edzell, Lethnot, and Stracathro”, Proceedings of the Society of the Antiquaries of Scotland, 49 (Edinburgh, 1914-15), 285-303.

J. Sinclair, The Statistical Account of Scotland, 1 (Edinburgh, 1791)

A.J. Turner, "Dalmeny: Mason's Marks", notes and drawings done June 1948. Copy kept in church.