Churches of the Strath - a Way of Life


Fowlis Wester Kirk 
Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence,

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new-
Cleaned or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence .

Religion is an intensely personal thing and indeed  traditionally it is passed  down  through the generations . I come  from a long line of non conformist Presbyterians . My four times great grandfather John McPhorich Lamont was born about the time of the Jacobite  Rising that was to end so tragically at Culloden . John was a Seceder - followers of the ministers  who broke away from the  Established Presbyterian Church of Scotland in 1732 . He lived  in that beautiful part of Argyll  called Cowal bounded  by the  waters of the Firth of Clyde  to the  south  and  the rolling hills  and mountains of Argyll to the north . He and his brother Neil  were herring curers and lived a nd worked  on the shores of the aptly named Holy Loch to the east of Dunoon . The  brothers and  their  families  travelled on foot  each Sunday to Toward Nuilt a round trip of some 14 miles . The driving force  behind  this small congregation  was an eminent Scotsman called Dr John Jamieson . Jamieson was  to gain fame in later years as a lexicographer  who wrote Jamieson’s Scottish Dictionary in 1808 . The church  is described  in a  Memoir  to the Doctor as follows : “ Mr Jamieson passed over to Cowal ( he had been on Bute prior to this  ) in the depths of a severe winter  and was lodged in a  wretched smoky hovel without even glass  to the aperture  through which light was received  and in which  he had  to eat , sleep and study  “ .John and Neil were evicted  from their  crofts on account of their beliefs  and  made their  way  with their families to  Port Bannatyne  on the Isle of Bute  in the early part of the  19th century . Such was the extreme conditions experienced en route on the desolate moors  above the Firth that Neil  died of  exposure . Whether or not one believes in the deep convictions of my ancestors, it is clear that something drove them on against adversity.

The arrival of the Reformation in Europe and indeed in Scotland in the 16th century was undoubtedly an inevitable occurrence. A Church that had stagnated for decades was out of touch with the people .and was administered by an uneducated clergy unable to communicate with their congregation in a dead language. This was a language which to this end, failed in its basic purpose. Indulgences were being sold to rescue individuals from purgatory and corruption was rife. This moribund set up laid itself wide open to radical intervention. This unsurprisingly  came from  within  as  many of the clergy realised all was  not well with the establishment .
The best known of the reformers  was in fact an ordained Catholic priest – namely John Knox . The enthusiasm of Knox and his followers was blighted by the unnecessary destruction of churches, icons and indeed anything which could  be attributed to the old faith . Despite being a card  carrying member of the Presbyterian Kirk  ,I distance myself  from such behaviour . Ineptitude seems to have been replaced with a brand of intolerance I find unacceptable. In the 1970s I lived and worked in Iran when the Khomeini Revolution erupted. The violence and destruction personally witnessed draws a parallel with the Reformation centuries earlier. In nearby Perth the Dominican Friary ended its existence in a violent way. In St John's Kirk, John Knox's sermon against idolatry, preached on 11th May 1559 ignited the wrath of congregation. Some of them (Knox called them "the rascal multitude") took him at his word, stoned the priest, stripped the church of all its fittings and ornaments, then ran to the Greyfriars, Blackfriars and Charterhouse monasteries and stripped them down to bare walls. The ancient Abbey of Inchaffray at Madderty was targeted and we in the Strath lost forever a gem which was never to be replaced.

It is  somewhat  strange that despite the genetics of  my  past , I have always admired and enjoyed  the beauties of  ecclesiastical architecture . I worked many years ago in Northern France in a place called Dreux – refuge of the “ pied noir “ – French colonialists of a strong right  wing disposition  who had  been ejected  from Algeria  when it gained its  independence . I  had  the  good  fortune  to stay  some  kilometres  south of the town in that most  incredible of places , the town of Chartres . Chartres is a charming town built on a hill on the left bank of the Eure river . Its medieval cathedral escaped  destruction in the Second World War for  which we must be eternally grateful . Regarded  by many as  perhaps the finest Gothic cathedral in France, it is  renowned for its  beautiful  stained glass windows or vitrages in French  . It was  a wonderful experience to sit  quietly in this  so beautiful of buildings enjoying the atmosphere and presence . It  is  not age or  size that really grabs  me but the ability of these man made  structures to allow  you to escape however briefly from the hustle and bustle  of the outside world .

 Chartres Cathedral with its magnificent stained glass
In my many travels  over the years I recall two more great buildings  of beauty – Norwich Cathedral and Canterbury Cathedral – both in the same category as Chartres – suberb  monuments  created by man to the glory of a greater power . My visit to Canterbury in a hot July day some two years ago is  etched in my  mind . Perchance a  choir of  Italian school girls  were occupying the central nave area and the music echoing through the buildings  was quite , quite superb .

The beauty  and attraction of church buildings  is not  dependent on size or indeed  their grandeur . Here in the Strath we have  countless small country  kirks a number whose history extends  back in time  to around  about the Reformation . I blogged recently that  gem of gems Tullibardine Chapel near Gleneagles . But there are others – many others – scattered across the parishes . Fowlis Wester shown in the opening  page is undoubtedly one of the most attractive and historic  claimants around . Although the site of the present  church dates  back to late medieval times and was endowed to nearby Inchaffray Abbey , it underwent  numerous  changes in the  18th and 19th centuries culminating in extensive  remodelling  by architect J Jeffrey Waddell in 1927 . The  above picture  shows the kirk’s bird cage bell cote or bell tower dating back to the 17th century .  

Another little gem is the Catholic Church in Ford Road Crieff  designed in 1871 by architect Andrew Heaton who is better known  for his  design of Keillour Castle  near Methven . The town’s episcopal Church was originally in Lodge Street but moved to Perth Road  where a substantial stone  church was erected  with a large Rectory adjoining . Sadly  this  demolished and  this somewhat utilitarian alternative  was erected in 1987 , Below  we show a selection , old and new  of church buildings  in the Strath. Some  have gone as living patterns  change and the larger  stone monuments find  themselves sadly redundant .


"New " Episcopal Church Perth Road
Former Episcopal Church in Lodge Street Crieff
( above )




The Black Watch in full military splendour march down Perth Road and the old Episcopal St Columba's  can be seen in the back ground behind the Taylor Institute School ( now the British Legion Clubrooms )  This  would  be shortly before the First World War .
This believe it or not is all that remains of the Relief CongregationChurch - land locked between High Street and Addison Terrace It ceased to be a church in the 1850 when they amalgamated with the UP Congregation  and  built a new Church opposite Penny Lane .Now demolished with flats in  its place .

Madderty Kirk - another gem built in 1668 ( date on east gable ).
My family connections go back in Muthill to the 17th century . The ministers perpetuate a continuing line of genuine , good guys . Nice Church - nice place !Church built in 1825  by Gillespie Graham . The original parish church near by dates back to the 12th century .




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