A 2-storey, T-plan gabled church, largely dating from 1808-1810 incorporating 12th century fabric. At the west end there is a 12th century tower, with a later saddle-back roof with crow-stepped gables. The building is squared and course rubble with ashlar margins and there are raised cills.
The 6-stage tapered tower has band courses at the upper levels and a weathercock on the roof ridge. There is a timber entrance door to the south elevation and small square openings on all faces of the tower. At the upper stages, there are clocks to each face and above these there are round-arched openings with two lights, separated with a capitalised column.
The church was extensively remodelled in 1808-10 by Alexander Bowie. The south elevation is symmetrical with a central pair of tall, pointed-arch windows with simple tracery. These are flanked by rectangular entrances with timber doors and there are rectangular window openings to the outer bays.
The east elevation has a late 17th century forestair leading to an entrance door for the east gallery. The lintel of the door is carved with the impaled arms and initials LAR and LMB and the date 1687.
The eastern section of the north elevation is windowless, with a row of corbels. The north aisle has rectangular window openings and doors. There is a forestair in the northwest re-entrant angle leading to a roll-moulded doorway. Obscured by this forestair is a blocked up 12th century doorway which would have accessed the original nave.
The roof of the church has grey slates and raised skews.
The interior was seen in 2016. There is a timber pulpit placed centrally on the south wall of the church and there are timber pews and panelled timber galleries to the north, east and west. A pointed-arch opening with scalloped capitals at the east end of the church leads to the base of the tower.
The stained glass windows are by the Edinburgh firms of A. Ballantine & Son and A. Ballantine and Gardiner and date from 1899-1910. The large windows on the south wall depict the figures of Justice, Humility and Fidelity.
The tower has a stone spiral staircase. A 9th century Pictish Cross, called the Dupplin Cross, stands on display at the base of the tower. It was moved to St Serf's Church in 2002. The cross is carved from a single block of red sandstone and commemorates King Constantine, who ruled the Picts and the Scots from around 811-820.
Statement of Special Interest
The church is currently in the care of Scottish Ministers.
St Serf's Church combines a rare 12th century church tower which has retained much of its early form with a modified medieval church which has surviving medieval fabric. Dating largely from 1200 and 1808, the building is the dominant landmark in Dunning and has retained its central village context within its associated surrounding churchyard. The building has some rare medieval carved decoration and a late 17th century forestair and lintel. The church has a well-preserved 19th century interior in a typical early 19th century layout. The building as a whole is significant in helping our understanding of Scotland's ecclesiastical history. It demonstrates how a relatively complex medieval church could be remodelled to meet both the requirements of reformed worship and the architectural tastes of the early nineteenth century.
Age and Rarity
St Serf's Church was built in the late 12th century, enlarged in 1687 and extensively remodelled in 1808-1810. The site has an earlier history, however as there is evidence of an earlier stone building at the foundations of the north wall of the tower (Campbell, 2013) and a 10th century cross slab was found beneath the floor of the church during building works in the 19th century
The 12th century church was rectangular in plan with a tall western tower. A nave to the east with a lower chancel at the far eastern end would have contained the altar. The church is depicted on the late 16th century Timothy Pont map of the area.
After the Scottish Reformation in 1560, churches changed their liturgical emphasis from the altar where the Eucharist was celebrated, to preaching. This affected the internal arrangement of church buildings. Altars became redundant and pulpits were inserted, most usually at the centre of the south wall. In 1687 at St Serf's, the now redundant chancel was raised and a laird's gallery inserted in 1687 by the local lairds, the Rollos of Duncrub. This was accessed via the external stair to the east. The initials on the lintel above the door are those of Lord Andrew Rollo and his wife, Lady Margaret Balfour.
The village of Dunning was largely destroyed in 1716 as part of the Jacobite rebellion and most of the houses date to the village's rebuilding during the late 18th century. To accommodate the increased population, the Stirling architect and builder Alexander Bowie enlarged the church in 1808-10 by widening both the nave and chancel, covering them with a new roof and building a north aisle. The galleries date from this period and the current pews were a later addition in 1868. The current pulpit was taken from the Auchterarder West Church (now demolished) and dates to 1914.
Although remodelled, Gifford (2007) notes that some medieval masonry survives including the north wall of the chancel, the door at the west end of the nave and other fragments incorporated into the walls.
The congregation moved out of the building in 1974 and it was taken into the care of the Scottish Ministers in 1978.
The Dupplin Cross, which was moved here in 2002 from a hillside overlooking Forteviot is an exceptional and rare carved Pictish Cross with a unique representation of a named king.
The tower at St Serf's is one of only a few surviving 12th century church towers in Scotland. It is a rare building type with intrinsic value as an important part of Scottish religious history. The remainder of the church, largely remodelled in the 19th century, has retained some rare 12th century fabric and a relatively unaltered 19th century interior.
Architectural or Historic Interest
Few Scottish medieval church interiors survive intact and so any remaining decorative material from churches of this date is important. The scalloped decoration on the 12th century capitals by the archway between the tower and the nave is a rare survivor from the period and helps our understanding of 12th century church decoration.
The panelled fronts of the timber galleries is a typical decorative feature. The 1868 pews and the 1914 pulpit are not exceptional.
The T-plan was a typical plan-form of Scottish churches following the Scottish Reformation in 1560. Internally, the liturgical requirements after the Reformation differed to those previously, with more emphasis placed on preaching and with a Communion Table in the centre of the church rather than an altar at the east end. The pulpit was most usually at the centre of the south wall and St Serf's conforms to this pattern. Existing parish churches were adapted for worship after the Reformation and it was common for a north aisle to be added. This allowed the maximum number of people to be able to see the pulpit.
Surviving 12th century church towers are extremely rare in Scotland and only a handful exist. In terms of plan-form, they were placed at the west end of the church building, as here, and would have been used to accommodate bells and also to be a prominent feature in the landscape. Similar towers can be seen at Muthill Old Parish Church, which is a scheduled monument (SM90225) and at the west end of St Droston's Parish Church, Markinch, listed at category A (LB37664).
Technological excellence or innovation, material or design quality
Rubble was the standard building material for medieval churches.
Fawcett (2002) notes that 12th century church towers usually only had very simple openings with a door at a lower level and a 2-light belfry. This design can be seen in this 12th century tower at St Serf's with only a few small window openings on the tower itself, and with 2-light openings at the upper level. The lack of alteration to this basic design is significant in helping our understanding of the construction of the towers.
Few intact medieval churches survive in Scotland and our understanding of the buildings, their design and decoration comes from all surviving fabric, including that within modified churches. At St Serf's, the retained north wall and corbels of the former chancel, the entrance door on the north wall and other medieval stones are significant.
The modification of medieval churches to conform to a new religious understanding after the Scottish Reformation is a key part of the history of the Scottish Church. The addition of the north aisle and the carved lintel and forestair at the east end help our understanding of this area of Scottish history.
Early 19th century church history is also evidenced at St Serf's with the extant timber galleries. Whilst timber galleries and pews are not rare features in Scottish churches the ones at St Serfs are well preserved.
Alexander Bowie (died around 1829) was a Stirling based architect/builder who is known to have been responsible for a number of houses in Stirling.
St Serf's church is located in an isolated position within its grassy churchyard and surrounding boundary walls at the centre of Dunning village. The nearby buildings date largely to the late 18th century and are mostly 2-storey, residential buildings. The church and tower are the dominant landmarks in the village.
There are no known regional variations.
Close Historical Associations
The church was dedicated to St Serf, a Pictish Saint who probably lived in the early 6th century. He is most often associated with Fife.