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Dunkeld Cathedral


Dunkeld - The Bishopric

Every now and then the curtain hiding the past is lifted for a moment. and we are given a brief glimpse of how our familiar surroundings looked five hundred or three hundred or two hundred years ago. For many hundreds of years Dunkeld was a powerful bishopric, many of its
bishops were famous men in their generation, many a time the Cathedral was ravaged by wild clansmen sweeping down from the hills, stormy characters like the Wolf of Badenoch, the wild son of Robert the Second.
were its neighbours, but the clearest picture of the bishopric is given us just before the Catholic power was broken in Scotland. Canon Myln who wrote The Lives of the Bishops of Dunkeld, was well fitted for the work, for he had personal, and even intimate relations with Bishop
Brown and Gavin Douglas, the poet bishop of Dunkeld. Myin was a most competent civil servant, and the accounts of the diocese were scrupulously kept in his time. He became clerk to the diocese in 1500, Dean of Angus in 1505, and Prebend of Moneydie in 1510. He super intended the work on Dunkeld Bridge. Later he was made Abbot of Cambuskeneth, and was the first president of the College of Justice instituted by James V. The memory of Bishop Brown was very dear to him, and in his ‘Life’ he dwells lovingly on all the details of the Bishop's life and works. His account of the earlier bishops is not without value but the scene springs to life when we get to Bishop Brown.

George Brown did not obtain his bishopric without opposition; indeed the appointment of bishops was at that time a knotty question between the Scottish Church and the Pope. Bishop James Livingston died in the August of 1483, and the Chapter got in first with their candidate. Alexander Ynglis, Dean of Dunkeld, Register and Councillor to James III. The Pope, however, appointed George Brown, a Dundee man, Chancellor of Aberdeen and rector of Tyninghame in the diocese of St. Andrews He had to overcome great opposition from the Court; but by payment. by ready wit, and by diplomacy he gained the day. He naturally came to the diocese heavily in debt; but by careful management he contrived to pay off his debts and yet behave liberally to his household and neighbours. As soon as he was solvent he devoted himself and his income to the welfare of his diocese. He divided it into four deaneries, the first Atholl and
Drumalbane, the second Angus, the third Fife, Fothick and Strathearn and the fourth those parts south of the Forth. He arranged that friars minor who knew the Gaelic should preach in all the upper parts of his diocese at least once a year. They won many to confess sins that had been concealed for over thirty years; and open and unrepentant offenders were so sternly dealt with that by the end of the Bishop’s time comparatively few offences were committed. The Bishop would not apply the fines
levied on these men to his own use. He said: ‘The oil of the sinner shall not anoint my head,’ and spent the money on the churches to which the offenders belonged. He did much for church building and endowment. Little Dunkeid Parish was of unwieldy size, and he divided it, and built and consecrated a church at Caputh, with a small vicarage and glebe belonging to it; and later he built the Church of St Anne at Dowally in the upper half of Caputh Parish, to serve the Gaelic-speaking population
there. When the plague broke out at Caputh he consecrated a churchyard there, established a camp for the sick at Spittalfield, and sent them holy water in which a bone of St. Columba’s had been dipped as a cure. It is reported that all who drank it were cured; but one profane fellow who refused it and said that he had rather the Bishop had sent some of his good strong ale perished of the plague. The Bishop rebuilt and einstituted
Tibbermore’s Church of St. Serf, which had long fallen into disuse. He cleared a dangerous nest of robbers out of the Castle on Loch Clunie, and built an episcopal residence there, with houses and a church dedicated to
St. George. He dedicated chantry chapels in the Cathedral, and gave it many gold ornaments and vestments; he built the south side of the Episcopal Palace in Edinburgh, the House of Kinvaid, and the nave of the Carmelite Church at Tullielum near Perth, and he began a bridge over the Tay at Dunkeld. He lived to see the first arch finished in 1513. His zeal for the temporal as well as the spiritual welfare of the Church in his
diocese had involved him in a great deal of litigation; and his last days were troubled by the lawless incursions of a freebooting highlander, William McPatrick McAllister McRobert McDonoquchy, otherwise called William Strowan. He was troubled too by the conduct of one Stowick, who (unrebuked by the Earl of Atholl) had carried off the Bishop’s niece. Matilda Johnson, the widow of Sir John Rattray, from the Bishop’s house of Kinvaid. He died in 1515. If we may judge by Myln’s account the
diocese was in his time ocdupied by a set of very pleasant, able incumbents, good Christians and cheerful companions.

Brown’s successor, Gavin Douglas, had even more trouble in obtaining possession of his diocese. Andrew Stewart, the brother of the Earl of Atholl, was the Regent Albany’s candidate for the bishopric; but the Queen Mother secured the Papal appointment for Gavin Douglas, the
uncle of the Earl of Angus, whom she had just married. Local armed force was naturally at Stewart’s disposal, and his adherents seized the Episcopal Palace and the tower of the Cathedral, from which they opened fire upon Gavin Douglas when the unfortunate man came to celebrate his first mass in the Cathedral after being freed from a year’s imprisonment for receiving a Papal Bull. The service had to be held in the Deanery instead. This is one of the two houses which survived the fire of Dunkeld. In a short time, however, he gathered forces to his assistance, and regained the tower and Palace from Stewart’s supporters, who took to the hills. The matter was not over, however; and it was not finally settled until he had ceded Alyth and Cargill to the postulant.
Gavin Douglas finished the building of Dunkeld Bridge, which was a great benefit to the neighbourhood so long as it stood. It was swept away by flooding within two years, but an indulgence was granted for its rebuilding, and in 1551 the bridge still stood. It was, however, only a footbridge. It was not the first bridge to span the Tay at Dunkeld, for in 1461 a stone and wooden bridge had been begun near the Episcopal Palace by Bishop Thomas Lauder and finished by James Levington. In the eighteenth century some of the stone piles on which this earlier bridge was based were still to be seen when the Tay was low.

Gavin Douglas seemed likely to be a good and efficient bishop, but he was not long left to the peaceful performance of his duties. A year after his installation he was sent abroad with Albany on a diplomatic mission,
and when he returned the fued between Angus and Albany’s faction was hotter than ever. In 1530 the Queen Mother divorced Angus, and his friends and connections were forced into exile. Douglas fled to England, where he was well received by both Henry and Cardinal Wolsey. He
died in the house of his old friend Lord Dacre in 1522. The inscription on his tomb describes him as Bishop of Dunkeld and an exile from his country. He was a poet of considerable importance in the Chaucerian tradition, the first man in Europe to make a verse translation of Virgil. He seems to have tried in turbulent times to live at peace with his neighbours and to do his duty as a churchman. He deserved a happier life.

George Crichton who succeeded Douglas was a man of very different tastes. He is said to have thanked God that he knew neither New nor Old Testaments, and yet he had prospered well enough. From this came the proverbial saying, ‘Ye are like the Bishop of Dunkeld, that kent neither the new law nor the auld.’ Bishop Crichton died in 1559, and was succeeded by his nephew, Robert Bishop. Robert was an ardent Roman Catholic, but more solicitous of the worldly revenues of the Church than
its theological position. Seeing the change of times ahead he did his best to secure lands to the Church, though unavailingly. In the attempt to do so he conveyed Clunie Castle and the land adjoining it to a kinsman, Robert Crichton of Nithsdale, to hold for the Church. Its restitution, however, was never demanded. It was this conveyance which gave Dunkeld one of its most notable worthies, the Admirable Crichton.

The Reformation in Scotland was a more gradual affair than in England, and we can give no set date for the abolition of the monasteries. Lay abbots continued to hold many of the monasteries with the monks as
pensioners, and church property was only gradually taken over by the state or absorbed by the nobles. 1560 may be given as the operative date in Dunkeld. In that year Atholl, Argyle and Ruthven, as representatives of the Privy Council, wrote a letter to the lairds of Airntully and Kinvaid telling them ‘to fail not to pass incontinent to the Kyrke of Dunkeld and tak doun the haill imagery thereof, and bring them furth to the kirk-yaird, and burn tham oppenly, and sechligh cast doun the altaris and purge the
kirk of all kinds of manuments of idolatrye’. They enjoined them, how ever, not to hurt desks, windows nor doors, neither glass nor iron work.

They appear to have carried out the first part of their orders thoroughly. but disregarded the last part, for Dunkeld Cathedral was little better than a ruin until the choir was re-roofed and made usable in 1601. So
good an opportunity for plunder and destruction was not to be missed. There was an end of the fourteenth-century stained glass of Bishop Peebles, and of the stained glass and silver plate and seven-branched candlestick of Bishop Lauder; of his high altar with the great panelled reredos showing the twenty-four miracles of St. Columba; of Levingston’s Catherine Chapel
and the seven chapels of Bishop Brown, with all the vestments and candles so lovingly enumerated by Canon MyIn. Stewart’s cannons and the Robertsons of Struan may have accounted for some of them: but the greater part vanished on that August day of 1560, and no trace of them has since been found.

Return To The History of Dunkeld



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