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St Finian's Chapel, 85m east of Abersnithack Lodge

A Scheduled Monument in Huntly, Strathbogie and Howe of Alford, Aberdeenshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 57.2449 / 57°14'41"N

Longitude: -2.5239 / 2°31'26"W

OS Eastings: 368478

OS Northings: 817252

OS Grid: NJ684172

Mapcode National: GBR X1.DBKP

Mapcode Global: WH8P0.65CB

Entry Name: St Finian's Chapel, 85m E of Abersnithack Lodge

Scheduled Date: 13 March 2008

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM12006

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: chapel

Location: Monymusk

County: Aberdeenshire

Electoral Ward: Huntly, Strathbogie and Howe of Alford

Traditional County: Aberdeenshire

Description

The monument comprises a chapel and enclosure of medieval date, visible as turf-covered stony banks and walls in ungrazed land at the edge of a young broadleaf plantation. It lies towards the base of a gentle S-facing slope in the Don valley, about 400m to the east of the river.

The chapel, named 'St Finan's Chapel' on Ordnance Survey maps, is a rectangular structure, aligned E-W and measuring about 11.3m by 6.9m. Its walls are visible mostly as stony banks measuring about 2m in thickness and up to 0.6m in height. Some inner wall faces are visible on the north and south, indicating that the original interior of the chapel would have been about 4.5m wide and that the coursed granite walls would have been about 0.7m wide. A gap towards the W end of the S wall of the chapel marks the probable position of an entrance. The first written references to the chapel do not appear until the early-18th century, when Keith's View of the Diocese of Aberdeen (1732) mentions a chapel at Abersnithick dedicated to St Finan. But the chapel is the likely site of Egilsmenhythok (later Abersnithick/Abersnithack), a property of the Culdee monastery of Monymusk from at least 1210, and the egles (church) place name suggests an ecclesiastical origin before 800 AD.

The undated chapel building sits within a sub-rectangular raised enclosure measuring some 26m from E to W by about 22m transversely, defined by a bank of boulders and rubble measuring about 2m thick by up to about 1.2m high. The interior of the enclosure rises about 0.5m above the level of the surrounding land. Although no headstones or other indicators of burials are visible, this enclosure is almost certainly a burial ground (the last internment is recorded in 1775).

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, to include the remains described and an area around them in which activities relating to their construction and use may survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

The monument's cultural significance can be expressed as follows:

Intrinsic characteristics

The monument is a well-preserved example of a medieval chapel and burial ground. It appears to be relatively undisturbed, and so is likely to preserve archaeological evidence relating to its function, the people who built and used it, and the date of its construction, use and abandonment. Although the walls of the chapel and burial ground are denuded, they retain sufficient structural integrity to add to our knowledge and understanding of medieval ecclesiastical architecture and religious practices, with a history of use of the site that is likely to extend to the early medieval period, when Christianity was first introduced into this part of Scotland. The burial ground is likely to retain human skeletal remains. Future study of these could provide valuable information on life in the early medieval period, including diet, health, incidence of disease and life expectancy.

Contextual characteristics

This is a relatively poorly documented medieval church site, and so its place within the organisation of the church is also poorly understood. The first written references to the chapel do not appear until the early 18th century, when Keith's View of the Diocese of Aberdeen (1732) mentions a chapel at Abersnithick dedicated to St Finan. Although the precise date of the upstanding chapel is unknown, a number of sources suggest that the site may date to the 13th century or earlier. Groome's Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1884) states that the parish of Monymusk includes '... vestiges of a chapel, which was one of the earliest seats of the Culdee missionaries in the North of Scotland'. This connection to the Culdee community is attested to by Alexander (1952), who argues that the name Abersnithack (a former name of the farm of Braehead, on which the monument sits) is a corruption of the name Eglismenythok, a property of the Culdee community of Monymusk from the early 13th century, and later of the Augustinian monastery of Monymusk. This earlier form of the name appears to comprise the P-Celtic word 'egles' (meaning 'church') and the name of a saint, apparently Neitan. Barrow (1983) has argued that the 'egles' element of the name can be attributed to a period prior to AD 800. If this interpretation is correct, the site may therefore date to the 7th or 8th century, making it one of the earliest ecclesiastical sites in NE Scotland.

Associative characteristics

Through its dedication and earlier place name, the site is associated with at two early medieval saints.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to make a significant addition to the understanding of the past, in particular medieval ecclesiastical architecture, church organisation and religious practices. Its relatively good state of preservation enhances this potential. Place-name evidence and documentary sources suggest that this is one of the earliest ecclesiastical sites in NE Scotland. The loss of this example would affect our ability to understand the introduction of Christianity and evolution of the church in Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

RCAHMS records the monument as NJ61NE 6. Aberdeenshire Council SMR records the monument as NJ61NE0006.

References:

Alexander W M 1952, THE PLACE NAMES OF ABERDEENSHIRE, Aberdeen, 136.

Barrow G W S 1983, 'The childhood of Scottish Christianity: a note on some place-name evidence', SCOTT STUD 27, 8, 12.

Groome F H ed. 1884, ORDNANCE GAZETTEER OF SCOTLAND: A SURVEY OF SCOTTISH TOPOGRAPHY, STATISTICAL, BIOGRAPHICAL AND HISTORICAL, Edinburgh, Vol 4, 58-9.

RCAHMS [Draft], IN THE SHADOW OF BENNACHIE: THE FIELD ARCHAEOLOGY OF DONSIDE, ABERDEENSHIRE, Edinburgh: Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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