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St Mary's Chapel, chapel

A Scheduled Monument in Mid Formartine, Aberdeenshire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 57.36 / 57°21'35"N

Longitude: -2.3131 / 2°18'47"W

OS Eastings: 381259

OS Northings: 829986

OS Grid: NJ812299

Mapcode National: GBR N9N8.F0C

Mapcode Global: WH8NJ.F8QM

Entry Name: St Mary's Chapel, chapel

Scheduled Date: 4 March 2008

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM12147

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Ecclesiastical: chapel

Location: Meldrum

County: Aberdeenshire

Electoral Ward: Mid Formartine

Traditional County: Aberdeenshire

Description

The monument comprises the remains of a chapel dedicated to St Mary. Although the first known mention of the chapel occurs in 1604, it is likely to be pre-Reformation in origin. The monument lies in a copse of deciduous trees on a natural terrace on the E face of an unnamed hill, at around 125m above sea level, and around 900m north of the Meldrum House Hotel.

The chapel survives as a simple, single-cell rectangular structure that measures around 12.5m E-W by around 7m transversely over walls of around 1m in thickness and standing to a height of 0.5m. Inner and outer facing stones are visible on all sides of the structure, but the location of the entrance, which may have been in the S wall, is not visible. In 1845 a baptismal font was noted on the site, but this is no longer visible, either having been buried or removed. Of the two wells associated with this chapel, both marked on the OS 1st Edition mapping, the 'Lady's Well' is believed to be the well located around 9.5m SSE of the chapel and now covered by a modern capping. The OS described it in 1969 as a small natural spring lined with stones. The 'Laird's Well', located to the E of the chapel on 1st Edition mapping, is no longer visible. The area surrounding the chapel is defined by a low bank and wall, which may indicate the boundary of an alleged burial ground; there is no visible evidence of any burials.

The area to be scheduled is irregular on plan, bounded by the edge of the potential burial ground, to include the remains described and an area around them within which related material may be expected to be found, as shown in red on the accompanying map. Specifically excluded is the modern cap of the Lady's Well and the modern pump house 19m to the WSW of the chapel, to allow for their maintenance.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

Cultural Significance

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

Intrinsic characteristics

This well-preserved chapel complex has the potential to tell us about rural ecclesiastical architecture and its development through time. St Mary's Well was still attracting pilgrims for its alleged beneficial properties in the 17th century, when the site is first documented. It is unclear whether the chapel itself was still in use at this time, or if it had been abandoned or destroyed during the Reformation. This monument therefore has the potential to inform us of rural worship and ritual practices in the later medieval period and the impact the Reformation had upon them. The medieval church buried its dead in the parish church, but this site certainly attracted burials in the post-Reformation period, if not in fact before.

Contextual characteristics

This chapel is one of around 50 known chapels in the medieval diocese of Aberdeen, which also includes 100 parish churches. Of these, the parish churches and urban chapels are well attested and documented prior to the Reformation. We know far less about rural chapels. Most Scottish rural chapels appear in documentation from the 18th century onward, despite the high potential that many are pre-Reformation in date. Very few rural chapels appear in documentary sources prior to 1700, and St Mary's is one of these. Of these, even fewer survive as any form of visible remains, increasing the importance of this example.

Associative characteristics

The first reference to the chapel is in 1604, when four women from Craigie of Tarves and one from Newseat of Tolquhoun were accused before the kirk session of idolatry, 'passing in pilgrimage to ane Chapell callit the Lady Chapell of Park'. The kirk similarly accused a second group in 1610. These references presumably refer to visits to the 'Lady's Well', long believed to be a holy well. The site is referred to in 1637 as 'Chapelhouse of Meldrum'. Visits to the well remained popular into the 18th century, with a mention in 1724 stating that the well was 'much frequented in the month of May by the countrey people, especiall for the headach'. Another reference comes in 1732, this time referring to the chapel as 'Our Lady Chapel below Meldrum'. The New Statistical Account of Scotland in 1845 refers to the chapel and the associated features, also stating that two burials had taken place in the graveyard within living memory.

National Importance

The monument is of national importance because it has an inherent potential to contribute to the understanding of the past, in particular pre-Reformation rural chapel sites and ritual practices. Well preserved for its type, it also has early post-Reformation documentation that helps us to understand the part that such chapels played in local pilgrimage and devotion. It therefore forms an important part of the medieval and later remains of the area. Surrounding remains may reveal important information about the society that erected the monument and the role it played in their lives. Spatial analysis between this and other contemporary monuments may reveal valuable information on the layout and patterns of pre-Reformation religious sites within the landscape. The loss of the monument would impede our understanding of the placing of such monuments and the purpose and methods of their construction.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Sources

Bibliography

RCAHMS record the site as NJ82NW 1. It is recorded in the Aberdeenshire council SMR as NJ82NW0001.

References:

Simpson W D 1949, THE EARLDOM OF MAR: BEING A SEQUEL TO THE PROVINCE OF MAR, 1943, Aberdeen.

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

Mackinlay J M 1910, ANCIENT CHURCH DEDICATIONS IN SCOTLAND, Edinburgh, 14, 109-10.

NSA 1845, THE NEW STATISTICAL ACCOUNT OF SCOTLAND BY THE MINISTERS OF THE RESPECTIVE PARISHES UNDER THE SUPERINTENDENCE OF A COMMITTEE OF THE SOCIETY FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE SONS AND DAUGHTERS OF THE CLERGY, Edinburgh, Vol. 15, 477.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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