Scheduled Monument

Thurso, St Peter's Church and Burial GroundSM618

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
Crosses and carved stones: inscribed stone; tombstone, Ecclesiastical: burial ground, cemetery, graveyard; church
Local Authority
Planning Authority
ND 12030 68615
312030, 968615


The monument consists of the remains of the old parish church of Thurso, originating in the 13th Century at the latest and unroofed since being abandoned for worship in 1832, and its surrounding burial ground. The church is recorded as being founded by Bishop Gilbert Murray (d1245), although it is suggested that it may have been in existence earlier than that. It was replaced by a new church in 1832.

The church consists of nave, vaulted chancel with flanking tower and 2 transeptal aisles. Access to the nave is gained by a S porch and door (originally mirrored by a N door, now blocked). The narrower chancel, which has a chamber (at one time used as a Session House) above a barrel vault, is apsidal internally but square externally. Nave and chancel are separated by a chancel arch, in the wall above which is a runic stone. A fragment of medieval wall-painting remains on the N wall of the chancel. The S aisle (the Bishop's or Murkle Aisle) opens from the nave by a wide segmental arch and has a 5-light transomed window in its crowstepped S wall. The N aisle (the Town Aisle) has a 3-light window in its N wall and blocked windows in its W and E walls. The two aisles are not aligned with one another; both date to the early 17th Century. An external stair by the porch gave access to a W gallery in the nave.

A tower is placed in the angle of the S side of the chancel and E wall of the nave. It is not aligned with the rest of the church, although it appears to be coeval with the construction of the nave and chancel, and it has semi-circular buttresses in the centres of E, S and W walls. The upper part of the tower has been altered subsequent to the Reformation.

The burial ground lies W and S of the church and is surrounded by a stone wall.

The area to be scheduled measures approximately 55m E-W by a maximum of 30m N-S. It includes the church and burial ground and the enclosure wall of the latter and extends 3m out from the walls of the church where these form the boundary of the enclosure. It excludes the surface and uppermost 0.3m of the surface of the modern road and pavement to the E and N of the church.

Statement of National Importance

The monument is of national importance as the ruins of an important medieval church, founded no later than the 13th Century, and which it has been suggested may have acted as a proto-cathedral for the diocese of Caithness. Study of the standing fabric and of its associated below-ground archaeology has the potential to contribute to our understanding of medieval and later ecclesiastical architecture and organisation in Scotland, medieval and later burial practices, and Norse influence in early medieval Scotland.



RCAHMS records the monument as ND16NW 10.


MacGibbon D and Ross T 1891, CASTELLATED AND DOMESTIC ARCHITECTURE, Vol. 5, 188-191.


Slade H Gordon and Watson G 1989, 'St Peter's Kirk, Thurso, Caithness, c. 1150-1832', PROC SOC ANTIQ SCOT 119, 297-325.


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.

We schedule sites and monuments that are found to be of national importance using the selection guidance published in Designation Policy and Selection Guidance (2019)

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).

The format of scheduled monument records has changed over time. Earlier records will usually be brief. Some information will not have been recorded and the map will not be to current standards. Even if what is described and what is mapped has changed, the monument is still scheduled.

Scheduled monument consent is required to carry out certain work, including repairs, to scheduled monuments. Applications for scheduled monument consent are made to us. We are happy to discuss your proposals with you before you apply and we do not charge for advice or consent. More information about consent and how to apply for it can be found on our website at

Find out more about scheduling and our other designations at You can contact us on 0131 668 8914 or at


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Printed: 26/05/2024 21:57