Scheduled Monument

Cille Bhrea, church and burial ground 60m ENE of Waterloo HouseSM2968

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
Ecclesiastical: burial ground, cemetery, graveyard; chapel
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NH 57645 61502
257645, 861502



The monument is a church and burial ground which served as the parish church of Lemlair until it was united with Kiltearn parish in 1618. The north and west walls of the church are visible as upstanding features. A low bank visible to the northeast of the chapel probably indicates part of the burial ground wall. Excavation shows that buried remains of another rubble bank lie northwest of the chapel. The church stands about 5m above sea level on the north shore of the Cromarty Firth. It is bounded to the southeast by a low, eroding cliff.

The church measures 4m wide by at least 10m long within rubble walls 0.6m to 0.8m thick that stand less than 1m high. It is orientated east northeast – west southwest. Partial excavation of the interior in 1998 revealed parts of the south wall but indicated that the east wall has been lost to coastal erosion. The bank to the northeast measures about 1.2m wide and 0.2m high and appears to be part of a curvilinear enclosure bounding the church on the landward side. The rubble bank, revealed by excavation to the northwest, overlaid an infilled ditch. Limited excavation at the east end of the church interior demonstrated the existence of gravel deposits up to 1.1m thick containing much human bone. In addition, about 50 burials were excavated within a narrow strip 4m wide along the top of the cliff and many additional graves remain unexcavated to the north.  Pottery recovered by excavation indicates activity on the site between 1100 and 1500, while the burials appear to post-date the Reformation.

The scheduled area is irregular on plan and includes the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Statement of National Importance

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance has been assessed as follows:

Intrinsic Characteristics

The monument is a church and burial ground within an enclosure. Although the site has been overgrown and subject to coastal erosion, excavations in 1966 and 1998 demonstrate that the remaining church walls and burials survive in good condition.

The two recorded excavations only investigated parts of the church interior, ground adjacent to the church walls and a strip of land running along the coastal edge. The majority of the site, including deposits below the church and most of the ground between the enclosure wall and the chapel, has not been excavated. It is clear that extensive buried archaeological deposits survive, including the church walls, thick deposits containing human bone below the church interior, a large number of graves, the enclosure wall and a ditch stratified beneath it. Scientific study of the burials has potential to enhance our understanding of the local population over an extended time period, and can tell us about social status, health during life, and cause and age of death. The survival of artefacts and ecofacts is to be expected around the church, providing information on the nature and use of this ecclesiastical site and about burial practices before and after the Reformation.

The 1998 excavation showed the lower courses of the church west wall were built using flag-like blocks of stone and probably derive from the original structure while the upper courses were less well constructed from a variety of more rounded stones, and may derive from rebuilding in the 18th century to form a burial vault for the Munros of Foulis (Rees 2004, 205). The excavation also produced medieval pottery dating from about 1100-1500, confirming pre-Reformation use of the site. Radiocarbon dating of bone from the burials along southeast edge of the burial ground suggested they dated from the 17th to 19th centuries, but these dates are unreliable because the samples were contaminated during the dating process (Sheridan and Higham 2007). Further scientific study would allow us to develop a better understanding of the chronology and development sequence, clarifying how the church relates to the enclosure wall and to the burials. A carved stone door jamb and stone font located within the chapel in 1966 provide insight for the architectural embellishment of the church.

The original function of the monument was as a place of worship and burial. Later use of the site as a family mausoleum probably occurred in the 18th century and it appears the church ruins were adapted for this purpose. Ecclesiastical use of the site could date from as early as the 8th to 11th centuries AD; a cross-inscribed slab found on the foreshore in 1979 could date from this time or from later in the medieval period.  The church is first mentioned in 1227 when it is recorded that the Parson of Lemnelar was present at Kennedar in Moray at the settlement of a dispute between the bishops of Moray and Ross. It appears to have been abandoned for worship following a merger of parishes in 1618 although it continued as a place of burial.

Contextual Characteristics

Records show this monument served as the parish church for Lemlair until 1618.  Many medieval parish churches have been adapted beyond recognition, demolished and rebuilt or cannot be traced in the archaeological record, so this is an important survival. Other parish churches in the vicinity that were founded in the medieval period include Kiltearn (5.5km to the northeast), Alness (10km to the northeast) and Dingwall (3.75km to the southwest). The churches as these sites were all significantly altered after the reformation.  Within a 10km radius of the monument there are also six recorded chapels but none have confirmed physical, medieval remains. This further supports the importance of the remains of the early origins of this site.  There is potential to compare this monument with other churches and chapels in the vicinity, looking at changes in worship and burial over time, increasing the significance of the site.

The church sits on level ground, on the slightly raised coastal plain overlooking the Cromarty Firth. The site has open views across the Firth. The monument would have been quite a prominent feature and focal point in the landscape, visible from the water and land.

Associative Characteristics

It has been suggested that the church was dedicated to a St Brig or St Brigh, possibly one of the holy maidens of the Brigit who died in 525AD. However, it is also recorded that the site was dedicated to St Mary. The church is associated with the Reverend Donald Munro author of the 'Description of the Western Isles of Scotland' the oldest known written account of the Hebrides published in 1582. Munro, a catholic priest, became a reformed Minister in 1560 and was admitted to the new ministry for the parish of Kiltearn, to which he later added the adjacent Lemlair and Alness. He is said to have lived at Castle Craig, sailing across the Cromarty Firth to preach at his parishes.

Assessment of national importance

The monument is of national importance because it has makes a significant contribution to the study of medieval churches, religious practices, and death and burial in Ross-shire. This is particularly the case as the monument may have been a site of Christian worship from the 8th to the early 17th century. The monument retains well-preserved archaeological deposits to a marked degree and offers potential to study a medieval church together with an associated enclosure and burial ground. There is particular potential to study burial practice before and after the Reformation. The monument stands above the Cromarty Firth and would have been a prominent part of the medieval and post-medieval landscape. The loss of the monument would impede our ability to understand the history and development of the parish system and also of burial practice before and after the Reformation in the Highlands.



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 12912 (accessed on 15/06/2016).

Highland Council Historic Environment Record reference number MHG 8942 (accessed on 15/06/2016)

AOC Archaeology Group (1999). The Archaeological Investigation of Cille Bhrea Chapel, Lemlair, Highland.

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.

Gourley, Musgrove and Harden, R B, P and G. (1985). 'Cille Bhrea (Kiltearn p) Early chapel site', Discovery Excavation Scotland.

Hale and Cressey, A and M. (2003). 'Assessment survey: the inner Moray Firth', in Coastal archaeology and erosion in Scotland. Edinburgh

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.

MacRae, N. (1923). The romance of a royal burgh: Dingwall's story of a thousand years. Dingwall.

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.

Reed, D. (1995). 'The Excavation of a Cemetery and Putative Chapel Site at Newhall Point, Balblair', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 125.

Rees, T. (2004). 'Excavation of a post-medieval chapel and graveyard at Cille Bhrea, Lemlair, Highland, Post-Medieval Archaeology, vol 38/1, 181-289.

Sheridan, A. and Higham, T. (2007) 'The re-dating of some Scottish specimens by the Oxford radiocarbon accelerator unit (ORAU), DES, vol 6, 202-4

Watson, W J. (1904). Place names of Ross and Cromarty. Inverness.

Watson, W J. (1926). The history of the Celtic place-names of Scotland: being the Rhind lectures on archaeology (expanded) delivered in 1916. Edinburgh.

Wordsworth, J. (1997). 'Cille Bhrea (Kiltearn parish), medieval chapel and graveyard', Discovery Excavation Scotland.

HER/SMR Reference


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Printed: 18/10/2021 18:55