Scheduled Monument

Tain, remains of old parish church and burial groundSM2803

Status: Designated


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The legal document available for download below constitutes the formal designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The additional details provided on this page are provided for information purposes only and do not form part of the designation. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within this additional information.


Date Added
Last Date Amended
Supplementary Information Updated
Ecclesiastical: burial ground, cemetery, graveyard; church
Local Authority
NH 78024 82175
278024, 882175


The monument consist of the remains of a medieval church with associated burial ground. The church is likely to have been the original parish church of Tain and may date to the 13th century. The church is surrounded by a burial ground which contains a number of coped medieval grave markers as well as later memorials. A short distance to the north of the remains of the parish church, and still within the burial ground, is the roofed late medieval St Duthus's Collegiate Church. The monument is located in the burgh of Tain, on the edge of a raised beach sitting above the Dornoch Firth.

The church building survives as a simple rectangular structure that measures 10m east-west by 4m transversely. It appears to have been truncated at the west end reducing what would have been a more typically elongated church building to the current dimensions. The northern wall appears to have been partly rebuilt toward the west end and the whole structure may have been reduced in height when it became a burial enclosure for the Ross family.  The east wall has a triple lancet window (this may be re-used material), and the south wall has a pointed-arched doorway cutting into the blocking of a round-arched window.

The scheduled area is irregular on plan to include the remains described above and an area within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduled area excludes the former Collegiate Church of St Duthus (see separate designation - Listed Building Number 41843), burial plots where rights of burial exist, railings, the above ground elements of all post-medieval gravestones, and the top 200mm of all paths.

Statement of National Importance

Cultural Significance

The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:

Intrinsic Characteristics

Although truncated and lowered, this example of a medieval church building is a relatively well-preserved example of its type, retaining features such as windows and door openings. The parish church of Tain is first recorded in 1227, when there is a reference to a vicarage and it is likely that the unroofed structure within the burial ground is this church. The structure is largely built of cubical masonry which is typical of early 13th century construction. This church is believed to have suffered a serious fire in 1427. However, documentary sources indicate that it remained in some form of use into the 16th century. It has been subject to alteration, particularly in the post-reformation period, when it was reused as a burial enclosure.

The role of this church as a parish church appears to have been superseded by the much grander collegiate church dedicated to St Duthus which dates from the late 14th century. The collegiate church is also located within the burial ground, immediately to the north of the earlier parish church (which is separately listed and does not form part of the scheduled monument). Although this church was formally erected into a college in 1487, it appears to have been functioning as such for many decades. There were other buildings associated with the college, including manses for the chaplains and choristers, a chapter house and schoolhouse.

The manses are likely to have been located outwith the boundary of the college and within the town, but the chapterhouse would have been close to the church, and a plan of 1821 of the collegiate church show a number of attached structures that no longer survive, as well as the earlier parish church which is identified as a burial place for the Ross family. The burial ground has significant potential for the preservation of the remains of structures associated with the functioning of the college at Tain. The burial ground is also likely to contain interments associated with its medieval use and there are several coped grave markers of likely medieval date. Scientific study could reveal evidence for health, diet, illness, cause of death, and perhaps the types of activities people undertook during life over a long time period. Buried artefacts and ecofacts may also provide information about the nature and use of this ecclesiastical site.

Contextual Characteristics

The church and burial ground can be understood in the context of Tain becoming a centre of devotion of St Duthus or Duthac in the later medieval period. At some point, traditionally said to have been in the reign of Malcolm III, Tain became a place of sanctuary, and this area was marked out by four 'girth' crosses. Within this area, which later came to delineate both the parish and burgh, three churches were established in the medieval period, all dedicated to St Duthus. An early 13th century chapel lies on a small knoll in St Duthus Cemetery to the east of Tain (scheduled monument SM3753, Canmore ID 14680), near where the River Tain enters the Dornoch Firth, and was traditionally believed to be the burial place of St Duthus. The focus of the cult included the parish church and burial ground, particularly with the construction of the collegiate church. With its large windows and polished red ashlar this served as an enormous reliquary (a container for holy relics) in stone.

The three churches all appear to have been in use in some form into the 16th century, each serving as a separate focus of pilgrimage within the wider sanctuary/immunity. This is indicated by the Treasurer's Accounts for 1504 which records a pilgrimage by James IV. The king made offerings to a hermit at 'St Duthus's chapel where he was born' (the chapel by the shore), also in 'St Duthus's chapel in the kirkyard of Tain' (the old parish church), and in 'St Duthus's Kirk' (the collegiate church). The survival of three medieval churches increases the cultural significance of this monument and offers opportunities to study the three church sites together, with potential to gain insights into their inter-relationships, precise functions as pilgrimage sites, role in the veneration of St Duthus, and aristocratic and royal connections.

The church is located on a small promontory on the edge of a raised beach overlooking the Dornoch Firth. The site would have been a conspicuous one in the medieval period particularly for pilgrims arriving by boat, who would have first seen St Duthus's chapel by the shore and then the churches on higher ground. The church and burial ground are within the centre of the town of Tain. Tain as a settlement developed because of the sanctuary and its later medieval development as a pilgrimage centre, and it gradually evolved the commercial rights associated with a royal burgh.

Associative Characteristics

The church and burial ground are strongly associated with St Duthus. While there is little reliable information about when St Duthus lived or about the origins of his cult, Turpie (2014) suggests he was been a holy man with Irish connections who was based in the Dornoch Firth area for at least part of his career. One tradition suggests that the remains of St Duthus were moved to Tain around 1253, and a cult seems to have grown in the 13th century. The first historical reference to a shrine to St Duthus at Tain dates from 1306, when the wife, daughter and sisters of King Robert I sought protection at the sanctuary of Tain but were nevertheless captured by William, earl of Ross. It was during the late 14th and 15th centuries that the cult grew and flourished receiving support from the Crown, particularly James IV who visited on multiple occasions. The historical accounts add to the importance of this monument; there is potential for researchers to explore what role this site played in the growth of the cult of St Duthus, its role within the sanctuary and in the development of Tain as a pilgrimage centre.

Statement of National Importance

The monument is of national importance as it has potential to make a significant addition to the understanding of the past, in particular to the study of medieval churches and the development of the cult of saints in Scotland. The monument can contribute important information about the origin, form and development of medieval churches. It can also inform our understanding of burial practice and medieval health, diet, illness, and cause of death. The site is strongly associated with St Duthus, whose shrine at Tain received significant royal patronage in the 15th century. It is one of three surviving medieval churches in Tain, all dedicated to St Duthus, and together they contribute to our understanding of the cult of saints generally and in particular that of St Duthus, and how this veneration was expressed through pilgrimage. Documentation adds to our understanding of the significance of this site in relation to the cult of St Duthus.



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 14707 (accessed on 09/06/2018).

The Highland Council Historic Environment Record ID: MHG31333 - (accessed on 09/06/2018).

Cowan, EJ and McDonald, R (2000). Alba: Celtic Scotland in the Medieval Era. Edinburgh.

Fawcett, R (2002). Scottish Medieval Churches: Architecture and Furnishings. Stroud.

Fernie, E. (1986). Early Church Architecture in Scotland, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 116.

MacDonald, A and Laing, L. (1968). Early Ecclesiastical Sites in Scotland: a Field Survey, Part 1, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 100.

MacDonald, A and Laing, L. (1970). Early Ecclesiastical Sites in Scotland: a Field Survey, Part 2, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 102.

MacGibbon and Ross, D and T. (1896-7). The ecclesiastical architecture of Scotland from the earliest Christian times to the seventeenth century, 3v. Edinburgh

Oram R, Martin PF, McKean C, Cathcart A & Neighbour T (2009) Historic Tain: Archaeology and Development. Scottish Burgh Survey. York: Council of British Archaeology.

RCAHMS (1979). The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. The archaeological sites and monuments of Easter Ross, Ross and Cromarty District, Highland Region, The archaeological sites and monuments of Scotland series no 6. Edinburgh.

Turpie, T. (2014). Our Friend in the North: The Origins, Evolution and Appeal of the Cult of St Duthac of Tain in the Later Middle Ages , The Scottish Historical Review, vol. 93.

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Tain, remains of old parish church and burial ground with roofed collegiate church in background, in day time with a blue sky.

Printed: 20/04/2024 06:02