Scheduled Monument

St Duthus's Chapel, TainSM3753

Status: Designated


Where documents include maps, the use of this data is subject to terms and conditions (

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: chapel
Local Authority
Planning Authority
NH 78556 82220
278556, 882220


The monument is a medieval chapel likely to date from the 13th century. The two gables and the north wall stand almost complete to wall-head. The chapel lies on a small knoll in St Duthus Cemetery to the east of Tain, near where the River Tain enters the Dornoch Firth. It lies about 5m above sea level.

The chapel is rectangular on plan with external measurements of 14m southeast/northwest by 5m transversely. The west gable is pierced by a high lancet window and the partially complete south wall contains a narrow, round-headed window. The knoll on which the chapel stands rises up to 1.5 m above the surrounding land; it is likely to have been altered to accommodate the chapel.

The scheduled area is rectangular 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. The scheduled area excludes any railings, grave markers, headstones, memorial plaques and burial lairs. The monument was first scheduled in 1975, but the documentation did not meet current standards; the present amendment rectifies this.

Statement of National Importance

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic Characteristics

The chapel remains survive in relatively good condition with three of the walls largely complete to the original wall-head. There is no record of archaeological excavation at the site though some relatively modern graves lie within the chapel.

There is high potential for buried archaeological deposits that could support a better understanding of the chapel structure. Although the architectural features suggest a date from the 13th century, there is potential for earlier remains associated with an earlier chapel. Scientific study could provide more information on the chronology of the site, including its date of origin and development sequence. Excavation of other medieval chapels has shown that they were often re-modelled and structurally adapted.

There is also potential for historic burials within the monument and 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. Although the chapel functioned as a place of worship, the site may also have had other ceremonial or ritual uses for the local community.

Contextual Characteristics

The survival of medieval chapels as upstanding structures is not very common; many have been adapted, demolished and rebuilt or cannot be traced in the archaeological record, so the fact that this structure stands almost to wall-head makes it a relatively rare survival in Scotland. The monument is a relatively prominent feature and focal point in the local landscape.

The remains of three medieval churches survive in Tain, all dedicated to St Duthus. St Duthus Church (scheduled monument reference number SM2803, Canmore ID 14707,) lies in the centre of Tain, 520m west of this monument. The upstanding building is of simple rectangular form and may date from the late 14th century or early 15th century. Some 10m to the northwest is St Duthus Collegiate Church (listed building reference number LB41843, Canmore ID 14702), reputed to have been built by William, Earl of Ross, who died in 1371. In 1487, James III had it converted into a Collegiate Church and James IV and V made pilgrimages to it. It was restored in the late 19th century.

The standing remains at St Duthus's Chapel appear to be the earliest of the surviving church buildings in Tain. 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, role in the veneration of St Duthus, and aristocratic and royal connections.

Associative Characteristics

The chapel is dedicated to St Duthus. While there is little reliable information about when St Duthus lived or about the origins of his cult, Turpie (2014) suggests he must have 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 Duthus's remains were translated to Tain around 1253, and a cult seems to have grown in the 13th century. The first historical reference to a shrine 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 15th century that the cult grew and flourished, and a new reliquary church was finished in 1457 (raised to collegiate status in 1487). Turpie draws attention to historical sources suggesting that as well as visiting this new church, pilgrims would have visited a ruined chapel on the links. The historical accounts add to the importance of this monument; there is potential for researchers to explore what role the site of St Duthus's Chapel played in the cult of St Duthus and in the development of Tain as a pilgrimage centre.

Statement of National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to the understanding of the past, in particular to the study of medieval churches and ecclesiastical architecture. 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. This chapel has connections with St Duthus, whose shrine at Tain saw several royal visits in the 15th century. It is one of three surviving medieval churches in Tain, all dedicated to Duthus, and together they contribute to our understanding of the cult of the saints generally and in particular that of St Duthus in the north of Scotland, and how this veneration was expressed through pilgrimage. The loss of the monument would impede our understanding of the architecture and development of medieval churches in the Highlands.





Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 14680 (accessed on 09/06/2016).

The Highland Council Historic Environment Record ID: MHG8582 - (accessed on 09/06/2016).

Tain Community (accessed on 09/06/2016).

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

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.

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.

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

HER/SMR Reference

  • MHG8582

About Scheduled Monuments

Historic Environment Scotland is responsible for designating sites and places at the national level. These designations are Scheduled monuments, Listed buildings, Inventory of gardens and designed landscapes and Inventory of historic battlefields.

We make recommendations to the Scottish Government about historic marine protected areas, and the Scottish Ministers decide whether to designate.

Scheduling is the process that identifies, designates and provides statutory protection for monuments and archaeological sites of national importance as set out in the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979.

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Scheduled monument records provide an indication of the national importance of the scheduled monument which has been identified by the description and map. The description and map (see ‘legal documents’ above) showing the scheduled area is the designation of the monument under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979. The statement of national importance and additional information provided are supplementary and provided for general information purposes only. Historic Environment Scotland accepts no liability for any loss or damages arising from reliance on any inaccuracies within the statement of national importance or additional information. These records are not definitive historical or archaeological accounts or a complete description of the monument(s).

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Printed: 01/03/2024 08:56