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Pickings from the Past

It would appear that St Andrew’s, Lhanbryd and Urquhart Churches have their common roots in the mission of St. Moluag in the sixth century. He was a contemporary of St. Columba and came from Bangor in Ireland and established three main mission centres – at Lismore, Rosemarkie and Mortlach. Matheson in his “Place Names of Elginshire” states that the old name for St Andrew’s was “Kil-Ma-Lemnoc” which became “Kil-molymock”. Spelling was not a strong point in these days but from various sources it can be confirmed that Moluag and his missioners were the founders of Christianity in this area. “Kil” means Church which helps us to see how “Kil-molymock” becomes the “Church of Moluag”!

There is a huge gap in our church history between the mission period of St. Moluag and the creation of Gregorius as the 1st Bishop of Moray in the reign of Alexander I (1107-1124). In 1124 David I founded the Priory of Urquhart as a Cell of the Benedictine Abbey of Dunfermline. Cramond in his “The Church and Priory of Urquhart” states that “The Church of Urquhart was dedicated to St. Margaret, and the Priory was a patron of the Church”. This Church was built on land which is now the Churchyard and the Priory stood in a hollow close-by to the east. The Priory appears to have been extremely well endowed by David I and others. On its foundation, it was granted “Urqwhard, the two Finfans, the place of Fochober with pasturage, a fishing on the Spey, an annual grant of 20s from the burgh of Elgin for clothes to the monks” etc.

From a deed of 1237 it appears that the Church of Urquhart had “past memory of man, supplied divine service and the holy sacraments to the inhabitants of Meft, Sallelcot, Byn and Garmauch”.

In the Register of the Bishopric (which extended from Beauly to Huntly) there is an interesting reference to “the arrest of a ship in the water of Lossie on 7th June 1383, by the Lord Bishop Alexander himself while proceeding on Sunday from his castle of Kynnedor towards the Church of Urchard through his water of Lossie by Krannokysford”. The Lord Bishop and the skipper of the farcost, or small trading vessel, had a lively dispute that Sunday morning as to their respective rights to the water, but the skipper was evidently overawed and gave (way¹).

In 1453 the Priory of Urquhart came to an end as the result of a Bull by Pope Nicholas V which incorporated the Priory with Pluscarden. The reasons given being that the monks of Urquhart were reduced to two and those of Pluscarden to six. The Prior of Urquhart, John Benale, became the Prior of Pluscarden and as Pluscarden had the better buildings, Urquhart was left to decay. No doubt stones from that ruined building may be preserved in some neighbouring farmhouses, barns or dykes! The year 1453 was, no doubt, a sad year for the Parish of Urquhart. No more monks were to be seen in the community. Their arts and crafts and black habits were bound to be missed. It is sad to think that nothing remains to remind us of their 300 years of activity in the Parish. However, with modern detectors, something of the buried ruins may yet be brought to light from that field on Clockeasie farm where its foundations are said to rest. On the other hand, it is possible that something from the work of these 300 years may have been taken to Pluscarden and when it ceased to be active were preserved in some Benedictine Monastery. Perhaps this Congregation may produce the student who will discover “The Urquhart Manuscrips”! The farewell to Urquhart took place on 10th June 1454 in the Parish Church when a “transumpt” of two charters was obtained in the presence of “John Bonale, Prior of Urquhart, Bartholomew, a monk, and John, son of Alan, a priest”.

Curiously, there is no material regarding Church affairs from the date of departure of the monks until after the Reformation in 1560. In November 1567 the Rev. Robert Keith was Minister of the united Parishes of Urquhart, Lhanbryde and Essill and in 1574 Urquhart and Lhanbryde formed one charge under the Rev. Patrick Balfour – two years later Rothes was added. Then in 1580 Urquhart became a separate charge and by 1642 there were more than 900 members.

Reverend Dr J.S. Stephen
(See the Spring Newsletter for the history of Urquhart Church 1642 – 1843 – Editor)

¹ This word is cut off in the document … but “way” seems to make sense in the context (ed)