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Monymusk, Aberdeenshire

(57°13′37″N, 2°31′21″W)
NJ 6855 1528
pre-1975 traditional (Scotland) Aberdeenshire
now Aberdeenshire
medieval Aberdeen
now n/a
medieval St Mary
now none
  • James King
04 Oct 2011, 22 July 2014

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Monymusk is a village in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. The church of St Mary at Monymusk consists of a west tower, nave, rectangular chancel and rectangular wing (built off the north side of the nave). Only the chancel arch and lower part of the west tower have carved work from the twelfth century. The ground floor of the west tower is also barrel vaulted, this being a later insertion. Alterations to the the church were undertaken in the 17thc. and 18thc., but in 1822/1825 significant reconstruction work on the nave walls and a new spire on the west tower was undertaken; some fourteen feet of the upper tower was removed for structural reasons before the new spire was built. The north wing off the nave was also built at this time. In 1890/1891, the re-built spire was removed and battlements erected in its place. Meanwhile, in 1851, the chancel arch was built up, thus closing off the chancel area from the nave. In 1896 the western compartment of this was being used as a vestry, the unroofed eastern part used for burials. A complete renovation of the church was undertaken in the early 20thc., which was finished in 1931. Along with other work at this time, the west section of the chancel was opened up to the nave again and the north wing of the nave was walled off to form a new vestry.


Monymusk was a Culdee (early medieval Christian ascetic) site, but its earliest history is uncertain. One reference to Monymusk, found in a 16thc. transcript, refers to King Malcolm Canmore passing through it in 1078 and making a gift of the lands there to the church of St Andrews. But the first surviving reference to the Culdees of 'Munimusc' only occurs in a later grant made by Roger, Earl of Buchan about 1170. This grant confirmed a grant of Gartenach, Roger's grandfather, made possibly 1120-30. Robert, bishop of St Andrews (1127-59) gave land to these Culdees, as did the Gilchrist, Earl of Mar, who died about 1211. In a confirmation made by John, Bishop of Aberdeen (1199-1207), Gilchrist is said to have built his monastery of Monymusk in the church of St Mary, in which the Culdees formerly were. A complaint was made to Pope Innocent III in 1211 against the Culdees of Monymusk, which resulted in the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry. At the same time, it was noted that the Bishop of St Andrews had granted permission to the Culdees to have in the future a refectory, a dormitory and an oratory, but that they would not have their own cemetery, their dead being buried in the cemetery of the parish church of Monymusk. This was followed in 1245 by a papal confirmation which was granted in favour of a prior and convent of Augustinians at Monymusk, which seems to show that by this latter date the Culdees at Monymusk had been replaced. By 1437, the teinds of the parish church of Monymusk were controlled by Aberdeen Cathedral and in 1445 the church was made a Prepend of Aberdeen with the consent of the bishop of St Andrews. By 1549, the buildings of the priory of Monymusk were said to be in a ruinous condition, which was the result of a fire. The canons borrowed money from Duncan Forbes, in return for which they pledged certain lands of the monastery in the parish of Monymusk to Forbes. The following year, the prior, John Elphinstone, was brought to trial for a series of serious offences. The Forbes family continued control of the priory and about 1584 Robert Forbes, last Commendatory Prior, conveyed the priory, still in ruins, to William Forbes for the foundation and maintenance of a school. In 1563, James Murray was Minister of the Monymusk and in 1570 James Johnston was the Parson. Either Murray or Johnston seems to have been the last Roman Catholic head of the parish.


Exterior Features


Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches
Tower/Transept arches

The Pictish stone now inside the church was found about a mile from the centre of Monymusk and the so-called 'Monymusk Reliquary' has no certain connection with the church. Thus, the earliest known surviving work is the parish church of St Mary, itself. Various scholars have suggested a range of dates for the earliest parts of the church, generally from about 1130 through to the early 13thc. The carved capitals are the most informative feature and stylistically suggest a date in the first half of the 12thc. or middle years at the latest, the bulbous wedges between the cones of the capitals usually associated with the late-11thc. and first part of the 12th century. This, along with the historical documents that survive suggest that the Romanesque church was most likely built at some point during the first half of the 12thc.


The Bannatyne Club, Liber Cartarum Prioritus Sancti Andree in Scotia (Edinburgh, 1841), 358 and 367-75.

I. Black, 'The Church and Priory of St. Mary, Monymusk', The Liturgical Review, 2 no. 1 (Edinburgh, 1972), 34-41.

I. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Edinburgh, 1967), 150-1.

R. Fawcett, Scottish Medieval Churches, Architecture and Furnishings (Stroud and Charleston, 2002), 72, 80, 93, 168, 206 and 341.

R. Forbes, 'Parish of Monymusk', The New Statistical Account of Scotland, 12 (Edinburgh and London, 1845), 468-9.

J. Gordon, Ecclesiastical Chronicle for Scotland, 1 (Glasgow, 1867), 148, 150-1 and 155.

A. Low, 'Notices of the Localities in a Grant of the Lands of Keig and Monymusk, by Malcolm King of Scots, to the Church of St Andrews; and a Sketch or History of the Priory of Monymusk', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,6 part 1 (Edinburgh, 1866), 218-32.

D. MacGibbon and T. Ross, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland, 1 (Edinburgh, 1896), 215-8.

W. MacPherson, Materials for a History of the Church and Priory of Monymusk (Aberdeen, 1895).

Ordinance Survey Name Book: Aberdeenshire, 64 (1864-71), 33-45.

H. Scott, Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, 6 (Edinburgh, 1926), 175-6.

H. Scott, Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, 8 (Edinburgh, 1950), 569-70.

J. Sharples, D. Walker and M. Woodworth, The Buildings of Scotland, Aberdeenshire: South and Aberdeen (New Haven and London, 2015), 676-8.

W. Simpson, 'The Augustinian Priory and Parish Church of Monymusk, Aberdeenshire', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 59 (Edinburgh, 1925), 34-71.

The Spalding Club, Registrum Episcpatus Aberdonensis, 2 (Edinburgh, 1845), 52, 55, 65, 71, 94, 97, 107, 152, 253 and 264-6.

The Spalding Club, Registrum Episcopatus Aberdonensis, 1 (Edinburgh, 1845), 58, 171, 267, 302 and 359.

The Spalding Club, Collections for a History of the Shires of Aberdeen and Banff (Aberdeen, 1843), 169-85.