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Dunkeld Cathedral, Perthshire

Dunkeld Cathedral Church and grounds by Barbara Ballard Dunkeld Cathedral, a mix of Gothic and Norman style (1312-1501), lies on the banks of the river Tay opposite its junction with the Braan. The 5th century nave is roofless while the 14th century choir, the oldest part of the church, is now used as a parish church.

A place of worship existed here as early as AD 570. The wattle monastery built by Celtic missionaries was rebuilt in stone in 848. Still existing are some of the red stones in the east gable of the choir.

Dunkeld’s name originates from the Celtic "the fort (dun) of the Celts". Relics of St Columba, to whom the cathedral is dedicated, were brought here from Iona by king Kenneth MacAlpin during the rebuilding. Tradition says they were buried under the chancel steps. The site lost its importance to St Andrews but it grew into prominence again in the 12th century.

Dunkeld Cathedral arches by Barbara Ballard The nave’s foundation stones date from 1406. The south porch is from 1460. In 1469 a chapter house was added, while the tower was built in 1501. The west front was remodelled around the same time. The reformation sounded the death knell for the Catholic cathedral and much of it was destroyed.

In 1689 in Dunkeld there was a battle between a Highland army supporting James VII and government troops. The people of the town decamped to the cathedral resulting in its being damaged by fire (along with the town) during a battle. The lead from the roof was taken for use as lead shot.

Dunkeld Cathedral ruins by Barbara Ballard Further changes took place in the early 1800s when the Dukes of Atholl cleared away many of the ecclesiastical buildings surrounding the cathedral. They restored the eastern part of the cathedral for continued use as a church. They also renovated the stained glass window and placed memorials to their family in the sacristy. On the north wall are the family armorial bearings and coat of arms. In the cathedral are a carved oak screen, a Black Watch marble memorial, and the recumbent figure of the ‘Wolf of Badenoch’, Alexander Stewart, son of King Robert II.

A small museum on local history is at the site. In it are an apostles’ stone, an Ionic cross slab from a 9th century monastery, and an old bell.

Visitor Information

Dunkeld Cathedral
Dunkeld, on the A923, off the A9
Perthshire (Perth and Kinross)
Open: open grounds
Historic Scotland property; small shop; red squirrels in the grounds; parking

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