A long, low, rectangular, gabled church which dates from around 1533 and which was extended in 1636. The building is limewashed rubble and has a single, off-centre rectangular opening with a boarded timber entrance door to the north elevation and small windows to both gables. The south elevation has a rectangular door with flanking window openings to the far left.
The window opening in the east gable has rounded window jambs and a lintel of around 1636, carved with the initials SWS and DAM (Sir William Stewart and Dame Agnes Moncrieff)
The building has graded grey slates and raised skews. There are projecting stones on each of the skews at the west end and a stone finial at the apex.
The interior was seen in 2016. The building is unfurnished and has two sections, divided by a stone wall. There is an exposed timber roof to the west end. The east end has an elaborately painted, barrel vaulted, pine timber ceiling which dates to around 1636 and has 28 roundels of varying shapes and sizes depicting saints, biblical scenes and the achievements of the Stewart family interspersed with floral, fruit and angel motifs. These are arranged around a central panel which depicts a resurrection scene. There is a small, open stone aumbry on the east wall and another, larger one on the south wall, with a timber door. There is a concrete floor.
There is a square churchyard to the south of the church. This has a tall, rubble boundary wall to its west and south and a pair of square-plan, coped gatepiers with a metal gate at the northwest, close to the church. The gravestones are mainly 19th century, some with carvings and one obelisk. One stone at the west of the churchyard is dated 1784 and is for a James Thomson. This has a carved angel head, and a depiction of Abraham and Isaac.
A small, rectangular grassy area lies to the north of the church. It is bounded with a rubble wall with curved corners. There is a pair of square gatepiers with loose stone slabs as coping stones situated opposite the entrance door to the church. Metal gates are situated between these gatepiers and also at the west end of the boundary wall.
Statement of Special Interest
St Mary's Chapel is a rare surviving small rural parish church of 1533 with a very good quality painted ceiling dating from 1636. Although painted ceilings of this date are known in other kinds of buildings in Scotland, it is rare to find them in a church building. St Mary's Chapel is one of only two known ecclesiastical buildings with painted ceilings in Scotland. The intact rural setting of the church, with its associated churchyard, boundary wall, gates and a carved 18th century gravestone, also add to the interest of the building in listing terms.
Age and Rarity
St Mary's Chapel was built to serve the people who lived in the settlement of Pitcairn, the name that was given to the area surrounding Grandtully Castle (which lies to the northeast and is listed at category A, LB11830). The chapel was built in 1533 by Alexander Stewart, who lived at the castle, and who provided the money for a priest to serve here. The chapel was extended to the west in 1636 by Sir William Stewart, who was Sheriff-Principal of Perth under Charles I. The new extension was either to provide more worship space or to provide accommodation for the priest. This extension is currently a store (2017).
Sir William Stewart was also responsible for the painted ceiling in the east end of the church. This is one of only two surviving painted ceilings in an ecclesiastical building in Scotland and is discussed in more detail below.
In 1806 a new parish church was built, and St Mary's Chapel remained only in limited use as a church. By 1892 it was in use as a barn and farm store. The building was taken into state care in 1954 and remains in the guardianship of Historic Environment Scotland.
The openings to the exterior of the building have been altered over the years. It is not clear what the original openings were, but Gifford (2007) suggests that there were four openings to the south wall, with a larger opening on the east end to light the sanctuary. The window in the east gable has the carved initials of Sir William Stewart and Dame Agnes Moncrieff who were responsible for extending the chapel in 1636 and this window was probably inserted at the same time. The current entrance door on the north wall may been inserted in the 18th century.
Small, simple rural parish churches were common in Scotland in the 16th and 17th centuries. However, many have not survived in their early form as they were either replaced by newer churches, and later became ruinous, or they were altered to provide more accommodation.
The majority of Scottish burials until around the mid 19th century took place in churchyards, and many small parish churches have a graveyard associated with it. Gravestones from the 18th century had detailed carving and the one here has the typical motifs of biblical stories, an angel and a symbol of the trade of the person commemorated. Here, James Thomson is described as being a tennant (sic) and was probably a tenant farmer. A plough blade is carved on the rear. Similar carved 18th century gravestones can be found in churchyards around the country, although the Abraham and Isaac carving here is more unusual.
St Mary's Chapel is a simple, rectangular-plan late-medieval rural parish church which is remarkable for its survival and also for its outstanding Renaissance painted ceiling.
Architectural or Historic Interest
Painted ceilings were a particularly Scottish style of decoration for the wealthy in the early 17th century and examples can be found in royal palaces, castles, and smaller baronial residences. The ceiling at Grandtully, however, is one of only two known surviving painted ceilings in an ecclesiastical building. Therefore, its survival is rare. The other example is at the private burial aisle, the Skelmorlie Aisle in Largs, (LB37198). It is possible that other churches were decorated in this way and have not survived.
The ceiling at St Mary's Chapel was painted at a time of religious change in Scotland. Since the Scottish Reformation in 1560 the church in Scotland had moved towards Presbyterianism. Presbyterian churches were undecorated and the hierarchical structure was built on a system of courts, rather than a government of the church by bishops, which was the case in episcopal churches. James IV and I (1566-1625) and his successor Charles I (crowned 1625), preferred the episcopal way of church governance. Charles in particular made this very clear when his coronation ceremony in Scotland in 1633 was performed with Anglican rites. The two ideologies struggled to coexist until 1690 when the reformed, Presbyterian Church was established as the national Church of Scotland.
With Charles I on the throne, it became possible for supporters of this way of worship to be able to decorate their churches, although this was dependant on a family with Episcopalian values and the opportunity for decoration. Bath (2003) notes that Sir William Stewart was declaring his allegiance to Charles I and the Episcopalian way of worship. The ceiling at Grandtully has both heraldic motifs which confirm the status of the Stewart family, together with biblical references. The figures and motifs used are typical of Renaissance painted ceilings of this date (Graham 1943; Bath 2003).
Religious imagery was not confined to church settings and can be found in private residences. Provost Skene's House in Aberdeen, for example, (LB20156) has a ceiling with panels depicting the Life of Christ.
Aumbrys were standard internal features in pre-Reformation churches. These were small recessed areas or cupboards where consecrated bread from the Mass could be safely stored. The usual place for them was on a north wall, close to the altar, which would have been at the east end. Some aumbrys had surrounding decorative carvings, but this one is plain. The timber door is a 20th century replacement, but the hinges probably date to the 16th century.
The simple rectangular plan form is typical for a small, rural pre-Reformation parish church and was the most common type of church plan. Other plan forms were used, for example the cruciform form at Tullibardine Chapel, which dates to around 1500, (LB4554).
Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality
Internally, the painted ceiling is an outstanding decorative feature. It is painted in tempera on pine boards, which are fixed lengthwise from east to west. Tempera is a type of paint where the colour pigment is mixed with water and then with a glue or binder. It was normally worked in situ, with the artist working above his head. At Grandtully, the colours used are mainly browns, reds and yellows with a small amount of blues and greens.
The ceiling was restored in 1944.
In the churchyard, the 19th century gravestones are typical in their form. One 18th century stone was seen in 2017, which has a carving of Abraham and Isaac on its rear side. This motif is found on a few other gravestones in Perth and Kinross and in Angus including at Logierait (LB11838), and at Methven, but it is not as popular as the Adam and Eve motif which is found more extensively. The angel carving and the tool motifs are typical for this period.
The chapel is situated in a rural area on an elevated site, with an extensive view overlooking the River Tay and the hills beyond to the northwest. To the immediate east of the chapel is a farm building, which borders the churchyard to the east. The churchyard sits to the south of the chapel and is an integral part of the site. Together they help our understanding of rural worship from the 16th century.
There are no known regional variations.
Statutory address, category of listing and listed building record revised in 2017. Previously listed as 'Grantully Chapel (including adjoining walls, gates, etc)'.