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Dornoch, Church of Scotland

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Dornoch, Sutherland
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Church of Scotland,
Dornoch Cathedral,
St Gilbert Street,
Dornoch

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Church History

Alexander Maitland and Sons of Tain 1911-13.

Rectangular plan Gothic church with nave aisles and transepts and tower. Squared granite rubble with tooled dressings in contrasting stone; slate roof. Tower at SW with entrance in pointed arched opening; set-off angle buttresses; paired louvred belfrey lights, corbelled crenellated parapet and stumpy lucarned spire. 3 paired lancets to aisles, taller versions in transepts. Large 4 light cusp and mouchette traceried window in W gable. Low session room to E.

Interior: Cast-iron aisle arcades; collar beam roof with decorated brackets original fittings, including pulpit. Stained glass in 4-light window and 12-light by Percy Bacon before 1930. Window in N aisle by Roland Milton of Glasgow.

In 1222, Gilbert de Moravia, a relation of the Earls of Moray and the first Earl of Sutherland, was elected to Bishopric of Caithness. The seat of the diocese of Caithness was originally at Halkirk, but owing to the brutal murder at this location of the two bishops who proceeded Gilbert, his first decision was to transfer the seat of the diocese to Dornoch; here Gilbert built Dornoch Cathedral at his own expense. It is uncertain how long it took to fully complete the Cathedral, but by 1239 the building was far enough along for the first service to be held. Gilbert died in 1245. He was later recognised as "one of the noblest and wisest ecclesiastics the mediaeval church produced" and was the last Scotsman to whom a place was given in the Calendar of Saints.

From the time of its completion until the Reformation some 340 years later, Gilbert's Cathedral stood in its original state. In 1570 it was set on fire and Gilbert's tomb was desecrated during a clan feud between the Murrays of Dornoch and the Mackays of Strathnaver. Almost totally destroyed, except for the chancel and transept walls, the Cathedral was partially restored in 1616 by Sir Robert Gordon. Between 1835 and 1837, through the generosity of Elizabeth, Duchess-Countess of Sutherland, the restoration was completed and the Sutherland burial vault, which is now sealed off, was built under the chancel floor.

The Cathedral has many other interesting features: on the outside of the Cathedral, gargoyles have been set in the eaves. At one time they were thought to be evil spirits which the ringing of the tower bells had driven from the Cathedral and turned to stone. Of interest inside the Cathedral is the piscina, a small basin from which a pipe leads to the cemetery outside. Any wine remaining after the Catholic mass would have been poured into the piscina (after the reformation, Dornoch was no longer a Roman Catholic church - the name "Cathedral", which means seat of a bishop, has been retained as a reminder of the church's history). Also of interest, especially to Americans, are the stained glass windows on the north side of the chancel. These windows were donated in memory of Andrew Carnegie, who was born in Dumfermline and often summered at his estate Skibo, located four miles from Dornoch. The three windows represent music, peace and literacy, three of Carnegie's concerns.

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Maps

It is located at NH7971789680 (Lat/Lon 57.880311, -4.02997). You can see this on maps provided by:

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