St Thomas' Episcopal Church, Aboyne

St Thomas' Episcopal Church, Aboyne

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Article 4

Article 4

This fourth in a series of articles by Hugh Cochran continues to deal with the Diocese of Aberdeen as it was in 1560 and looks at the church at Banchory and the four churches in Cromar.

Old St Ternan’s Church Banchory stood at OS Map reference NO 706958 or at least within the extensive churchyard which exists at that map reference but there is no obvious sign of the ruins. There is a vivid history of the early days of the site, how St Ternan came there with his bell “Ronecht” and founded a Bangor or religious settlement there. The arguments about his dates continue, but there seems no doubt that a permanent settlement was formed on the low lying ground where the grave yard now is, and that a church and settlement were there at the time of the Reformation. As early as 1178 the church of Banchory Ternan was appropriated to Arbroath Abbey along with Coull church and five other churches in the Diocese by William the Lion, and by 1198, the revenues of all of them had been confirmed to the Abbey. Ian Cowan gives us a rare glimpse of some of the detail involved at this church from an agreement of 1250. The church was valued at 16 merks, and the vicar was to have the altarage (that is gifts made at the altar) with one acre of land and the teind of corn of the town of Banchory Ternan thus cultivated. Arbroath on the other hand was to receive forty pence and the corn teinds of the lands cultivated thereafter together with the church lands and the garbal teinds (that is the corn and animal teinds) of the whole parish.

The low lying graveyard at Banchory where St Ternan's Church once stood

There is also evidence that in 1485 the Abbot of Arbroath granted to Alexander Simpson, Vicar of Banchory Ternan, all rights in the Bell of St Ternan and the profits from it. As well as the Bell there is evidence that the church had two other relics, first the embalmed head of St Ternan, and also his book of the Gospels enclosed in a costly cumdach (book shrine) of gold and silver. All these relics were lost at the time of the Reformation, but they tell us that Banchory was an important pilgrimage shrine at that time. It is assumed that the relics were kept at Banchory (not Arbroath), and that the profits were sent to Arbroath, except that after 1485 Banchory kept the profits of the Bell. All three relics were lost at the Reformation,and the head and the cumdach have never been seen or heard of since. The bell however still has a kind of half life. When the railway was being built in Banchory, in 1863, workmen unearthed a square iron hand bell which may well have been Ronecht. Nothing more was thought of the discovery at the time, and the hand bell vanished. At least, so Fenton Wyness records in 1968. But that is not the end of the story, for a bell now hangs in the Banchory East Church of Scotland. Questions may be asked whether St Ternan ever had a bell, miraculous or not. Stories of bells are common among Saints of that period, and the anecdotal evidence is strong to the extent that the Banchory Coat of Arms shows the Saint carrying just such a bell as does the badge on the blazers of the pupils of Banchory Academy.

Two other relics from the age of the Saints survive, and are associated with St Ternan Just west of the point where the road to the cemetery joins the main North Deeside road, and built in to the garden wall of the former Manse building there is a circled Celtic Cross thought to date from about 900AD. And back in the cemetery itself, on the wall of the Douglas Mausoleum are two other crosses thought to date from the same period.
Alas we don’t know anything about the church itself, but there is a richer body of evidence about St Ternan and the details of what happened at the church in Medieval times than in any other church in Upper Deeside, and Banchory is fortunate to have these rich traditions.

Drawings of the Migvie Stone, front and rear
The Museum building built by the Astor family at or very near the site of the former Migvie Church
Douglas Simpson's sketch of the crosses on the Douglas Mausoleum
Photo of the Circled Cross in the Old Manse Garden wall

Migvie at OS Map reference 437069. Along with St Moluags at Tarland, St Finan’s Church at Migvie was gifted as an appropriation by Agnes, Countess of Mar to St Andrews Priory in the late 12th century. The description of the church in the title deed reads “ecclesia S. Finani de Miggeveth” the Church of St Finan of Migvie. This appears to be the only evidence that there was a dedication to St Finan. The church seems to have fallen into disrepair by the time of the Reformation, probably because of the Earl of Mar’s preoccupation with his other properties at Kildrummy and Braemar, and the castle and settlement at Migvie fell into disuse. No new church was built there by the reformers and it was not until the 19th century that any work was done at the church when the now famous Migvie Stone was discovered This was erected at the entrance to the churchyard and takes its place as one of the major early Christian monuments on Deeside.

Tarland at OS Map Reference NJ 484043

Little is known about the ruined St Moluag Church building in the centre of the village of Tarland. However it was built on the historic site of a very early Church dedicated to St Moluag, but there is no evidence that St Moluag, a contemporary of St Columba, ever went to Tarland. The dedication was probably made long after his death when his greatness as a saint was fully recognised. The current ruin in the centre of Tarland is larger than the average medieval Deeside church, and this reflects the size of the settlement in Tarland in medieval times. The belfry on the western gable is definitely post reformation and the whole building may well be post Reformation too. The story of St Moluag was told in the previous series of articles on Local saints, and there is little left to tell. Along with Migvie, Tarland was in the ownership of the Earl of Mar, and near the end of the 12th Century, both churches were given by the Earl (or his wife) to the Priory at St Andrews, but we know nothing about the terms of these conveyances. The now ruined church standing at the end of the village square was in use until 1869 when the new church also called St Moluags was opened.

Coull at OS Map Reference NJ 512026 

The ruin of the disused church of St Moluag in the Square, Tarland

By tradition St Nathallan, whose main area of activity was at Tullich, founded a church here in the 7th century, but the first (and only) documentary evidence in the medieval period was in the late 12th century when William the Lion granted its revenues along with those of Banchory Ternan and five other churches in the Diocese to the Abbey of Arbroath. We do not know what church stood there then for the current church was only built in the late 18th century, but there will have been a strong association with the Durward family who owned the nearby Coull Castle.

This family came to prominence in 1228 when Thomas le Durward acquired a significant portion of the Mar Earldom including the southern portion of the Howe of Cromar, and also land at Kincardine o’Neil where he built a bridge over the Dee, and at Strachan. His main stronghold for this extensive land was at Coull Castle, but the prominence of the family was short lived. Thomas’ brother Alan succeeded to the title in 1233 and he died in either 1268 or 1275 when the barony was divided among Alan’s three daughters. The church and the castle survived, but the power base was gone, and the castle gradually fell into disrepair. The church, unlike Migvie, continued in use, and was considered worth while replacing in the late 18th century.

The late 18th century church at Coull as it stands today

Formaston at OS Map Reference NJ 541001


Formaston, or Aboyne church as it is called for clarity, lies two km east of the present centre of Aboyne village with access through the Lodge on the Loch just east of the Aboyne Loch. The ruins of a church are visible in a wooded area, and the site was used as a graveyard in the post Reformation period. It was dedicated to St Adomnan who lived from 627 to 704, and his main claim to fame was that he was the biographer of St Columba, but there is no record of his ever coming to Formaston. The site however is intriguing because there is no sign of where the settlement was, other than some cultivation strips just west of the church which could be prehistoric or they could be medieval.

The ruins of Formaston Church looking west towards the golf course

It did however yield an important relic from the Age of the Saints namely the Formaston Stone which can now be seen in the Victory Hall Aboyne. It is only a fragment of a much larger class 2 stone (that is it bears both pagan and Christian symbols), and it also bears some Ogham script dating from about the ninth century. These features combine to make Formaston an important centre for Christian evangelism in the Age of the Saints and are a strong link with the nearby Migvie stone which is also Class2. Little is known about the church in the later medieval period, except that along with the churches at Towie, Maryculter and Tullich, it was granted by Alexander II in 1242 to the Knight’s Templars at Maryculter until their suppression in 1309 when it passed to the Hospitallers. The Church may have remained in use till 1763 when a new church was built on the site of the present Aboyne and Dinnet Parish Church in the village of Aboyne.

© Hugh Cochran 2014

The Formaston Stone