Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Arbroath and its Abbey
Chapter IX - Church of St. Vigeans

THE Church of Aberbrothock, now called St Vigeans, held for a long period a prominent place among the parish churches of Angus, in respect of the peculiar construction of the fabric, as well as the extent of the parish and the richness of the benefice. It may not be unacceptable on that account to give in one view a short notice of the church itself, with its altars, and the ministers who served the cure as vicars of the Abbey, and during the earlier period of the Reformed Church, so far as these have been gleaned from the records of the Abbey and other sources.


This was the parish church of the district or "shire" of Aberbrothock previous to the time of Vigian or Vigianus, the hermit or confessor, who died at Grange of Conon about 1012. The festival in honour of his death was held annually on the 20th day of January, old style, and gave rise to the fair termed St Vigeans market, formerly held on that day, now the winter market. This is one of the four annual fairs included in King James's charter of novodamucs; but till about the beginning of last century it is said to have been held at a place near Smithy Croft, beyond the bounds of the burgh. Saint Vigian appears to have been interred in the, cemetery of his parish church, as Dempster relates that his monument was there, and adds the fabulous statement that there stood in the cemetery a wooden cross (apparently in Honour of the confessor) which could neither be destroyed by fire nor iron. The ancient carved stones in the cemetery are much more likely to have been parts of St Vigian's monument than to have belonged to any monument in honour of the architect of the Abbey, who has absurdly been also termed the architect of the church. One of these stones is carved in a style very similar to the stone at Pitnniies and the stones at Aberlemno, which are understood to have been erected in memory of the Danes slain in the flight after the battle at Carnoustie, in the reign of Malcolm II., about 1010. This invasion of the Danes was nearly coeval with the death of St Vigian. Another stone, now set up against the east wall of the church, is carved in a superior style, similar to the cross at Camuston, which is commemorative of the same conflict. These stones at St Vigeans church are obviously of a date considerably earlier than the foundation of the Abbey, but they agree in character and style with such a monument as would be erected shortly after the death of the hermit of Conon. The church of St Vigeans was certainly not erected by the architect of the Abbey Church, as it is evidently of 'a later and inferior style ; perhaps not older than two centuries preceding the Reformation. The upper portion of the tower, and the extension to the north called the new aisle, are recent additions, made during the present century ; which also has witnessed alterations in the walls and roofs of the original south and north aisles, by which the upper or clere storey windows have been shortened. The ancient doorway may still be seen on the west side of the tower; and there were probably one or more windows in the east gable before the galleries and stairs were erected. This interesting old church has been subjected to many changes during the last five centuries.


The Bishop of Dromore certified that, on 25th August 1485, he dedicated the church of St Vigeans and two great altars, with the cemetery, at the instance of a devout man, John Brown, a parishioner of the church. The first of these altars appears to have been dedicated to the confessor Vigianus ; but we have no distinct information as to the name of the other. In the beginning of the next century, however, the church contained an altar dedicated to St Sebastian, which was endowed with various tenements and rents in the High Street of Arbroath (Cobgate and Rattonraw), by John Brown in Letham in the year 1506. This was probably the devout parishioner to whom the bishop referred twenty years previously. He endowed the altar for the salvation of his soul, and for the soul of Jonet Lyn his spouse, and for his relations, parents, benefactors, and all the faithful departed ; to the praise and honour of Almighty God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Most Glorious Mary, and Saints Vigianus and Sebastianus. He states that a discreet man, Dominic Alexander Brown, his cousin, had been appointed by him to the office of chaplain at the altar. This foundation was confirmed by Abbot George Hepburn, on 5th July 1506. Some years afterwards the founder added various other tenements and ground-annuals about Arbroath, by a writing which was confirmed by Abbot James Betoun on 21st July 1521. This latter grant is more ample than the former; and is described as for the benefit of the souls of "Jonete Lyne, Elen Brown, and Jonete Brownche, my wives." The founder ordains that, out of the rents granted, the chaplain serving the altar shall receive fourteen shillings and eightpence annually, and shall celebrate every year perpetually an anniversary annually, viz., Psalms and Dirigie, with note and canto, at the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul, before the altar of St Sebastian, in the parish church, for the souls before-mentioned, with six priests and three boys ; and shall give each priest ten pennies, and retain to himself two shillings, and shall give each boy eight pennies, and to the ringer of the bell four pennies, and for a collation to them two shillings; and shall give the remainder of the fourteen shillings to the poor and indigent ; and he (the founder) ordains that this be done yearly perpetually, as the chaplain shall answer at the summons of the Judge on the day of judgment.

This document contains various other directions for the service of the altar on six holidays and two festivals —and provides that the chaplain shall have a silver chalice of twelve ounce in weight—that he shall have a missal (or mass book) of parchment written with a pen — two vestments, one for festivals, another for holidays—three tobals, and two phials. The founder concludes by a declaration which is significant of the state of morals of the clergy at the time, that if the chaplain or any of his successors shall be convicted by his judge ordinary of keeping a concubine or fire-lighter for the space of one month or forty days, then the founder or his successors shall have liberty to dispose of the chaplainry, notwithstanding anything contained in the grant. A part of the properties in Arbroath bestowed on this altar were commonly known by the name of St Sebastian's lands, about 1520. At this time St Sebastian, a martyr of the early church, had become a saint of great repute in Scotland. Sir David Lyndesay, in the Afonarchie, says:

"To Sanct Sebastian they rin and ryde,
That from the schot he sail thair syde."

The legend states that the saint lived after he was shot full of arrows till Dioclesian put him to death.

In taking leave of these small endowments we would remark that a few such annual payments are still occasionally to be met with in the writs of properties about the eleemosynary and in the older burgh. The greater portion of them, however, are now lost sight of, and the causes of their disappearance cannot be better expressed than in the grant whereby King James VI., on 14th March 1585-6, let all the similar small duties about Brechin to James Erskine, vicar of Falkirk, during his lifetime ; and which narrates "That there are diverse lands, tenements, houses, and annual-rents, which were mortified in time of ignorance to certain priests, prebendaries, and chaplainries within the citie of Brechin, for celebrating of masses, singing, and saying of dirigie, and doing of other rites, ceremonies, and papistical service, which now, by the Word of God, and laws of His Highness realm, are damnit [condemned] and alluterlie abolished; of the which nae commodity nor profit has nor will be reported hereafter, ley reason the said annuals, in quantity small, and paid forth of diverse and sundry houses, lands, and tenements, now forth of use of ony payment, and unknawin through the fang process of tyme, cannot be applied again to nae godlie nor necessar use, according to the meaning of the first foundation, without great travell and expences." For these reasons, "and that ane certain knawin duty may be yearly paid therefore to the help and support of the poor, impotent, and decayed people within the said citie, or otherwise to be employed as His Majesty sail think maist meet," the whole duties were let to the vicar for the yearly rent of 6, 13s. 4d., payable to the collectors of the alms for the poor of the city of Brechin.


We have but scanty notices of the priests of St Vibeans during the time of Popery, but they perhaps exceed the items of information which may be gleaned as to the early incumbents of almost any other Scottish church which did not rise above the rank of an ordinary parochial charge.

WILLIELMUS was probably the first parish priest of Arbroath under the monks, although, according to the custom of the time he was termed "chaplain of Abbirbrothoc," as the title of vicar does not appear in the district till about 1238. He was a witness to Earl Gilchrist's grant of the hospital, lands, and fishings at Portincraig in 1200.

RICHARD was chaplain of Aberbrothock in 1225, when he attested a grant to the Abbey by Bernard, the son of William.

ROBERT is the earliest priest that bears the title of vicar of Aberbrothock. He was a witness to Richenda de Berkelay's grant to the Abbey of lands in the parish of Fordoun, about 1245.

Thirty years after this period, namely, in 1275, the churches of Aberbrothock and Ethic, with the chapel, were entered in Bagimund's taxation at 70, shewing that they formed at that time the richest parochial benefice in Angus, except the church of Brechin, which was rated at 80.

After a considerable interval, we find the "perpetual vicar of Aberbrothock," styled Sir or Dominus MAURICE, in 1310. In that year he witnessed a grant to the Abbey by Michael de Monifieth. He is again mentioned as perpetual vicar on 20th December 1333, when his name occurs as witness to a deed.

Dominus WILLIAM DE CONAN is described as perpetual vicar of the church in the contract for building the port, dated 2nd April 139-1, where he is named as a witness.

Dominus ROBERT STEILE resigned the vicarage about 1459.

On 1st August 1459 Abbot Malcolm granted a presentation of the perpetual vicar's pension of the parish church of Aberbrothock, namely, forty merks Scots, with the toft, as usual, vacant by Robert Steile's resignation, to Dominus RICHARD BENZ AT, "our chaplain." Richard Bennat continued vicar at least till 4th November 1464, when he acted on the inquest regarding the house of the Almory and the chapel of St John Baptist.

Master PATRICK AIACKULLOUCII was vicar on 18th September 1482, on which date the Abbot, sub-prior, sacrist, cellarer, and others, agreed to pay him five merks Scots yearly, as vicar's pension for his counsel, unless he resided elsewhere.

On the 9th July 1499 Master JAMES DOUGLAS, vicar of Aberbrothock, declared himself "to be bundin and oblist till David, Abbot of Aberbrothoc, and Convent in lawtay and service to be done and keepit to thaim for all the days of my lyif, be resone of ane certane fee and househald given to me by thaim; the whilk fee and househald I declaris be my conscience I have nocht be richt of my vicarage."

Dominus THOMAS HARROUR was pensionary vicar on 6th October 1512, when a dispute or process was pending betwixt him and the Abbot and Convent regarding the teind sheaves of the rood or croft of Arbroath, and the new pension thereof.

On 27th January 1524 Master ANDREW FOULAR was presented to the benefice of the perpetual pensionary vicarage, viz., thirty-two merks Scots, with the toft and manse, perquisites and oblations, according to the contract between the Abbot and Thomas Harrour, vacant by his resignation. Andrew Foular lived till about 1530'.

On 13th December of this year the Abbot issued a presentation in the terms above noticed in favour of Dominus JAMES AUCIIMUTHY to the pensionary vicarage of the parish church of "Abyrbroth," vacant by the death of Andrew Foular. James Auchmuthy is again mentioned as vicar on 20th August 1536.

After the Reformation, and till 1568, NINIAN CLEMENT was minister of "Aberbrothok Town and Paroche," with a stipend of 100 merks Scots. He was made a burgess-and freeman of Arbroath on 2nd June 1564; and on 2nd March 1564-5 Jonat Boyis was ordered by the bailies to ask forgiveness in the chapel of "Nyniane Clament, mynister," for having slandered him. (Burgh Court Book.) After Ninian Clement's removal from St Vigeans, and previous to the year 1574, lie had charge of the churches of Forfar and Restennet, Kinnettles and Tannadice.

Previous to 1574 blaster JAMES MELVILLE, son of Richard Melville of Baldovie, was minister at St Vigeans. He was a person of learning, and possessed much influence in the councils of the Church. His name is sometimes mistaken for that of his nephew, James Melville, the minister of Kilrenny. It was during his incumbency, and about 1580, that the new ministerial charge was established in the town of Arbroath. In the Appendix No. II. a more extended sketch is given of the life of this worthy minister, who was the chief ecclesiastical personage about Arbroath for many years after the fall of the Abbey.

Master PATRICK LINDSAY, of the family of Edzell, was Melville's successor. He had previously been minister at seme other church, and was a member of the Assembly in 1590. (Scott's Narration.) He was probably settled at St Vigeans about 1599, as he is stated by Calderwood to have been interested in the King's revocation of a grant of the teinds of the Abbey to Robert Bruce of Kinnaird in that year. In 1610 he was nominated a member of the court of High Commission for the trial of refractory presbyterians; and in 1613 was created Bishop of Ross. He was present along with other bishops at King James' extraordinary interview with Calderwood, the historian, in the Court of High Commission at St Andrews in July 1617; and, immediately afterwards, while Calderwood was being conducted to prison, "Mr Patrik Lindsay went up to him and upbraidit him, but he sent him packing away from him." (Wodrow Calderwood, vii., 268.) From this and other instances of Lindsay's zeal for episcopacy it was not to be expected that he stood high in the favour of the presbyterians, although he possessed learning and various acquirements. He was promoted to the archbishopric of Glasgow in 1633, and five years afterwards (12th December 1638) was included in the sentence of deposition and excommunication passed on eight Scottish prelates by the General Assembly at Glasgow. The chief complaint against him was his activity in urging the service book and other English innovations.

During a number of years, both previous and subsequent to Lindsay's removal from St Vigeans, DOCTOR HENRY PHILIP was minister of the Town Church of Arbroath, and held a conspicuous position in the public affairs of the church. He was a supporter of prelacy, and acted as clerk to the Convention or Assembly held at Linlithgow in 1606, in which the preparatory step of appointing constant moderators was carried. He was named, as a decoy duck, along with the Afelvilles, Scott, Balfour, and other ministers, who were invited to London by King James, to confer on matters relating to the Church, but in reality to be delayed, and if possible entrapped, until the establishment, of bishops was ripe for execution. The other eight ministers, fearing that he might reveal their private sentiments to the King and the bishops, refused to have him in their company. (Forbes' Records, 1816, p. 552.) At all events, Philip did not accompany them to London, and there was no necessity for detaining him there, as he could serve the King's purposes much more effectually by remaining in Scotland. After this period, and down at least to 1619, Dr Philip's name frequently occurs as a member of Conferences and of courts of High Commission under King James, along with bishops and archbishops and other supporters of that nondescript Scottish hierarchy which existed from 1610 to 1638. He continued minister of Arbroath at least till 1629, and was generally named an extraordinary member of the Town Council of Arbroath, who paid him about x'30 Scots in part of his stipend. His successor, SIMEON DURIE, was made a burgess of Arbroath, on 26th February 1630, and held the charge for at least the next ten years.

THOMAS ROY was minister of St Vigeans in 1618; as on 9th November of that year, he, along with the ministers of Arbirlot, Barrie, and Inverkeillor, were made burgesses and freemen of Arbroath. (Burgh Records.)

The famed Assembly held at Glasgow in 1638 had no representative from the Presbytery of Arbroath; but in the roll of Assembly held the following year, the Presbytery of Arbroath was represented by "Mr ALEXANDER INGLIS at St Vigeanes," minister, and John Auchterlonie, Cairnie, ruling elder; and the Burgh of Arbroath was represented by George Inglis, burgess. Alexander Inglis retained the charge during several years after this period.

After the restoration of King Charles II., and of Episcopal government, about 1665, PATRICK STRACHAN was translated from Carmylie to St Vigeans. He continued in the charge several years after the Revolution of 1688, without conforming to the Presbyterian government then reestablished. In a preface to a small religious book, of which he was author, dated "From my Study at St Vigeans, 14th July 1693," after alluding to increasing bodily infirmities, he adds, "considering also the uncertainty of the times, not knowing how soon I may be turned out." He dedicated the book to James Earl of Panmure, his patron, and entitled it, "The Map of the Little World Illuminated with Religion: Being a Practical Treatise directing Man to a Religious Scope and Right Measure in all the Periods of his Life, with Devotion suitable: To which is added an Appendix, containing a Gospel Minister's Legacie to his Flock." The "Little World" is man viewed in a religious aspect at different periods of life. The book also contains prayers and hymns, one of which concludes thus:

"From the first minute to ages all;
I will assert Thy Glore,
In melodies sempiternal,
To Trine Une evermore."

This publication skews that its author, although no great poet, was a good man, and a sound Protestant divine. During his incumbency the proprietor of Seaton, named Ochterlony, was twenty years under the discipline of the Church, of which he was an unruly member. Among other deeds be forcibly broke open the doors of Arbroath prison, in which his mistress had been incarcerated, delivered his favourite, and marched up the street with a drawn knife in his hand, setting all officials at defiance. The struggle betwixt him and the Church was ended by his sitting in the place of repentance at St Vigeans.

About the beginning of the eighteenth century Patrick Strachan was succeeded by his son, STRACHAN, who was soon afterwards deposed, most probably for nonconformity.

THOMAS WATSON, probationer, was appointed minister of St Vigeans in the summer of 1702, by the Presbyteries of Brechin and Arbroath, then united. He committed suicide in 1726, by hanging himself on a tree, some distance north-east from the church; and was interred, not below the pulpit like his predecessors, but at the bottom of a turf dyke betwixt the lands of Newgrange and Newbigging. After some delay, arising from the opposition of the heritors, TOBIAS MARTIN, probationer, was ordained minister in the summer or autumn of 1727. His successor was JOHN BURN or BURNS — admitted minister on 14th May 1731;—died in 1734: and was succeeded on 10th December of that year by JOHN HENDERSON. He died in 1753; and in 1754 the Rev. JOHN AITKEN was appointed to the charge, which he held for sixty-two years. His successor, the Rev. JOHN MUIR, was ordained minister of St Vigeans in 1816; so that he and his immediate predecessor have held the benefice for more than a century.

To those acquainted with the times of James VI. it may be of interest to learn that St Vigeans Church contains the burial place of Peter Young, the King's tutor, under the learned Buchanan. The chief preceptor, notwithstanding his subsequent fame, "was a stoic philosopher, and looked not far before him;" and was allowed to live and die in poverty. But the tutor knew how to act the courtier. He was made a Privy Councillor and King's Almoner, and obtained Seaton and Dickmontlaw, with tithes and others which had belonged to the Convent of Arbroath, and was afterwards known as Sir Peter Young of Seaton. He died on 7th January 1628, aged eighty-two, and was interred in a vault at the back of the church, the new aisle of which now contains the tablet erected to his memory, bearing his titles, and that on account of his learning, prudence, and elegant manners he was dear to his king and countrymen, and to the kings and princes to whom he had been sent ambassador. The Latin version is:


Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus