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The Kirk of Sanct Ternan Arbuthnott


This is one of the few Parish churches in Scotland that dates from pre-Reformation times and is still in use for public worship.

The church is dedicated to the memory of St.Ternan who, it is believed, was born to a Pictish family in the Mearns in the first half of the fifth century A.D. After training in his native country, he went to Ireland, took part in missionary work and became Abbot of a monastic settlement in Leinster. Thereafter he returned to Kincardineshire and probably settled in Banchory where his religious community was an important missionary centre.

It is not possible to trace a connection between Arbuthnott Church and Ternan during his life, but it is known that Arbuthnott Church was dedicated to his memory from very early times and there is every indication that a church existed on the site of the present kirk before the chancel was dedicated on 3rd August A.D. 1242 by the famous David de Bernham, Bishop of St.Andrews.

The Parish of Arbuthnott was probably brought into being as a result of the Norman influence that pervaded all Scottish affairs during the reigns of Margaret and her sons 1005-1154. That there was certainly a kirk at Arbuthnott with a Parish church is established through surviving documents that relate the long dispute that arose between the Thanes of Arbuthnott and successive Bishops of St.Andrews which was only settled by a decree of the Synod of Perth in the year 1206. The fact that this dispute was concerned with the relationship between the Thanes of Arbuthnott and the Bishops as owners of the Kirkton lands and that it was also related to the management of the Kirkton lands as agricultural subjects is evidence of the very long standing close association between the church, the land and its people and their daily lives. Arbuthnott was developing as an agricultural community in the latter part of the 12th century and today still draws its wealth from agricultural production. The close tie between the governorship of the church and agricultural community can still be seen in all kirk affairs today.

The chancel which was dedicated in 1242 is probably the oldest existing structure in the church today but the evidence of the Norman arch at the entrance to the Arbuthnott Aisle on the south side of the chancel and an incomplete wall on the north side indicate other buildings that could have been earlier to the chancel itself. It is built in the early English style and under the eastmost south lancet. As can be seen, the lancet windows and the top part of the east gable have been considerably altered at some later date. From earliest times the chancel has served as a burial place for the Norman family of Allardyce to whom the lands of Allardyce were granted in 1165, or thereabouts.

The first nave was built probably soon after the chancel and then rebuilt on the eve of the Reformation. The existing bell tower at the west end of the nave and the Lady Chapel, which has become the Arbuthontt Ailse, were constructed by Sir Robert Arbuthnott of that Ilk in the year 1500. As has been suggested, the Arbuthnott Aisle was probably built on the site of an older building as it is of the later period to the archway that divides it from the church.

The bell tower was dedicated to the church by Sir Robert and he also gave two bells to ring for the services and offices. The Arbuthnott Aisle is a beautiful example of late Scottish Gothic and has two storeys. The lower one, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, has a stoup (One of these is situated at the entrance to the church, by the south door, and at the entrance to the aisle. Each would have contained holy water to "cleanse" the visitor as he entered the building.) and an aumbry (A form of cupboard or wall recess in which the host [the blessed bread, water and wine] would remain until required by the officiating priest.). It contains a tomb, the top of which is the stone effigy of Hugo le Blond of Arbuthnott, who lived in the 13th century. The tomb beneath the effigy is of a later period probably mid-16th century and probably contains the remains of James Arbuthnott of that Ilk, son of Sir Robert, the builder of the Aisle. The four shields on the coffin are those of the stewart, Arbuthnott, Arbuthnott and Douglas families. The room above the Lady Chapel was destined for the use of the Parish priest and it would have been in a room like this, but an earlier one, in which James Sibbald, Vicar of Arbuthnott, who died in 1507, would have completed the famous Missal of Arbuthnott in the year 1492. The construction of the bell tower and the Aisle in the late 15th century, the commissioning of the Missal and other religious books, the donation of the communion plate, and other church vessels, continued, through the 16th century and 17th centuries, the long association between the church and the family of Arbuthnott. At the Reformation the first Protestant minister of the church was a member of the Arbuthnott family, Alexander, whose memorial stone is seen in the north wall of the church close to the pulpit. He later became the first protestant Principal of King's College, Aberdeen, and was Moderator of the General Assembly. The other large plaque in the north wall above the center of the nave is a memorial to another Sibbald, John, of Kair, who was minister of the Parish in the middle of the 17th century. He it was who gave a library to the church which was for many years housed in the upper part of the Arbuthnott Aisle.

Towards the middle of the 18th century and into the 19th century the structure of the church became decayed. The nave, was, therefore, restored in the middle of the 19th century when galleries were added to three sides of it and the pulpit was set against the south wall. In 1890 fire destroyed the greater part of the nave and another restoration, which included the reroofing of the chancel, was carried out. It may have been at this time that the lancet windows were altered.

In the mid 20th century further attention was given to the church, modern central heating was installed and it was decorated as it is today. The outside of the church and Aisle were pointed and the care of the graveyard became the responsibility of the County Council. Most recently the church organ was completely overhauled, electrified and given a new pedal-board.

Outside the church to the west a slight depression in the churchyard marks the original boundary of the burial ground. Beyond this depression and to the west stood the original school of Arbuthnott, which building was destroyed about the year 1920 after the new school at the top of the hill was constructed.

The plan shown gives and indication of the probable periods of construction of the present church. However, considerable alteration at intervening times has caused the shape of the windows, doorways and other parts of the building to be altered. Probably the bell tower and the Arbuthnott Aisle are the only two constructions that remain in their original state exactly.

Clan Arbuthnott