St Beans Kirk in Fowlis Wester Strathearn

St Beans Kirk


There has  been a  church  on this  site dating in probability  back to the seventh or eighth century . The present building was reconstructed  to the plans of architect J Jeffrey Waddell in 1927 .To his credit , he retained  much of its historical past in the present fabric . There is a reconstruct leper squint in line with the alter . Leprosy was   a common disease in medieval Scotland and indeed King Robert the Bruce  was sufferer . The association of the Moray / Moray-Stirling family of  nearby Abercairney with the Kirk is clear to see . There is a panel bearing the coat of arms of Colonel William Moray - Stirling and above this  a stone inscribed WsM ( Sir William Moray of Abercairney ) dated  1640 .Externally , Waddell added the crow  stepped  gables  and retained  the18th century bird cage bellcote (bell tower ) above the main entrance door.

Fowlis Wester is a charming little  village which with the changes in the road  system in the 19th century has become  somewhat unique in Streathearn. The Kirk has become  associated with the two Pictish cross slabs dating back to about 800 AD and the larger oft the two is the tallest Pictish symbol stone in Scotland standing some 3.14 metres high . It formerly stood in the village square  opposite the church . It had  been brought there from th demolished St Beans Chapel in Buchanty  some  4 kilometres north of the village . A replica  was created when it was moved into the church and this  is  now the one in the Square . The smaller of the two slabs ( it stands a mere 1.57 metres ) is better  preserved  and was discovered built into the wall during the 1927 reconstruction . On the partition wall of the aisle  are fragments of two more early Christian cross slabs . There is evidence of chains having been attached  to the larger stone .. These  were used  to chain miscreants  and is  recorded that  the good  citizens of Fowlis  were invited  to cast rotten eggs and  other waste  materials at the   poor individuals as a punishment for their indiscretions ! 


Above : 1. Bellcote and  main entrance 2. Taller of the cross slabs  3. Leper Squint 

Below - The cross slab in the Square c 1910

We can gather  from  a variety of sources ( Rev W Marshal's Historic Scenes of Perthshire 1880 and the Statistical Accounts  for Fowlis Wester ) that the pre Christian inhabitants of the Parish were  believed   under the influence of the " Druids " and  that the  stone  circles on the Moor above the village  were the locus for blood  sacrifices amongst other things . Current archaeological insight tends  to point  to the  stone circles   being  more seasonal calculators  than sacrificial alters ! Marshall  quotes in his Historic Scenes

" The druids held assizes on the S'iuns ( mounts of peace ) and kindled large bonfires  called Samhin or the fire of peace . The last Statistical Account  adds that .om Halloween Eve, a druidical festival ,these  fires are still lighted up in this district  and retain the same name . Is druidism , then,  not even yet  altogether extinct in the District ? "

This is a copy of a leaflet transcribed in the Local History Department of the AK Bell Library in Perth . I believe it was probably prepared and available in the kirk in the 1980s / 1990s .

Brief Guide to St Bean’s Kirk Fowlis Wester

“ St Bean was the great grandson of Aedh Dubh , King of Leinster  in Ireland who became Bishop of Feighcullen , Co Kildare . One of seven brothers , who were all ardent Roman Catholic ecclesiastics and founders of Churches .St Bean came over to this part of Scotland and , finding standing stones not far away , began to preach the Gospel to order to eradicate some of the dark pagan practices  associated with the stones . What kind of building existed here before this thirteenth century building was erected , is not known , but in the course of restoration in 1927 , the Pictish Symbol Stone  on your left near the Vestry , was discovered embedded in the wall . This probably dates back to St Bean’s time , and is one of the finest in existence . The figure being swallowed in the top right corner is probably Jonah . St Bean died in 720 AD . In due time , when Inchaffray Abbey was founded , St Bean’s Kirk was “ appropriated “ . This meant that the whole income of the Parish Church
( teinds and other offerings ) was taken by the Abbey for its own use , and a small pittance was given to the vicar or curate to carry out the duties of the parish priest . The resultant neglect of the parish was one of the principal causes of the Reformation . The headstone under which you came as you entered the gate is a copy of a much older stone which lies near the Vestry . There is a trefoil at the top , and below , the Hebrew word for God , JAHWEH . The text , “ Keep thy foot when thou enterest the hows of God “ is from Ecclesiastes 5.1 . When you go to the Chancel at the other end of the Kirk you will see on the right a “ leper squint “ , which allowed lepers , of whom there were many in Scotland

( “ Liberton “ near Edinburgh means “ Leper Town “ ) to watch the celebration of Mass from outside without coming in contact with the people . The recess in the wall on the left of the Communion Table was formerly the “ Sacarium “ where the sacred elements were kept . The pulpit , lectern  , etc ., are modern  , but the carving is of traditional Celtic design . The lamps are old oil lamps  now electrified  , the wrought iron work being made at the Smithy , New Fowlis  , on the main road .

Fowlis Wester is now a tiny village  in a depopulated area  , but was once a very important centre . The road between the Church and the Post Office was the main road to Perth ; the old Inn was a busy hostelry ; the Highlanders drove their cattle through this village to the markets , returning North with coal , etc . In its hey day , this village had a cattle selling tryst as important as that of Falkirk  . For a time after the Reformation , this was one of only four charges in the district which had a permanent minister of its own ( the others being Auchterarder , Strageith  and Tullykettle ) . Crieff was only served by a lay reader . On the window sill on the right you will find a list of ministers since the Reformation . The lovely little prayer on the glass of the window comes from an English Cathedral . The building was the gift of Gilbert , Earl of Strathearn  , and has served a s a parish Kirk for seven centuries . 

Please take one of these guides home with you , after signing the Visitors’ Book . Do not leave without praying for God’s continued blessing on Minister , Session and members  , that the work of God which began here almost 13 centuries ago may continue  to the end of time . “     


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