Ancient Monuments

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Tarves, Tolquhon Tomb, south of Parish Church

A Scheduled Monument in Mid Formartine, Aberdeenshire

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Latitude: 57.3709 / 57°22'15"N

Longitude: -2.2194 / 2°13'9"W

OS Eastings: 386904

OS Northings: 831180

OS Grid: NJ869311

Mapcode National: GBR N9W7.FYH

Mapcode Global: WH9PH.WZBS

Entry Name: Tarves, Tolquhon Tomb, S of Parish Church

Scheduled Date: 30 November 1981

Last Amended: 3 July 2000

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM90296

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Crosses and carved stones: tombstone; Ecclesiastical: church

Location: Tarves

County: Aberdeenshire

Electoral Ward: Mid Formartine

Traditional County: Aberdeenshire


The monument comprises the altar tomb that was erected in 1589 in memory of William Forbes, 7th laird of Tolquhon, and his wife Elizabeth Gordon, in the south aisle of the former parish church of Tarves.

According the the Martyrology of Oengus, the Celtic founder of the church at Tarves was St Murdebar or Muirdebar, who came from Leinster around AD 600. It was later granted by King William I the Lion to the abbey of Arbroath. A description of the medieval church building written in 1732 indicates that it had a choir and two aisles (or transepts): one for the Gordons of Haddo and the other for the Forbeses of Tolquhon. The latter aisle evidently lay to the south of the nave. All that now remains of it is its south wall, incorporating the Forbes tomb and surmounted by a pediment of pink granite, added when the rest of the aisle was demolished around 1798.

The tomb is carved from red sandstone, contrasting with the rubble masonry of the aisle wall. It consists of a tomb chest with arcaded front, recessed into the wall and enclosed by a richly moulded semi-circular arcosolium with heavy gothic cusping. At the apex of the arch is a projecting royal crown flanked by unicorns. The whole is framed by renaissance baluster shafts, incorporating portrait statuettes of the laird and his lady and supporting a heavily embattled cornice. The left-hand spandrel contains the Forbes arms quartered with those of the Prestons, from whom they had inherited the estate.

The shield is surmounted by an esquire's helmet and is flanked by the initials W.F. Below is a scroll dated 1589, and extending into the apex of the spandrel is another bearing the Forbes motto: SALVS PER CHRISTVM. A shield in the right-hand spandrel shows the Forbes arms impaled with those of Gordon, surmounted by a plumed hat. The shield is flanked by the initials E.G. and a scroll in the apex reads: DOCHTER.TO.LESMOR.

The monument to be scheduled represents an area measuring from 9.06m to 8.75m E-W by 8.35m N-S, including the tomb, the wall into which it is built, the modern shelter containing it and a strip 2m wide surrounding it, lying 9.5m south of the S wall of the parish church, as shown in red on the accompanying map extract.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The monument is of national importance because it represents an extremely fine and well-preserved example of Scottish renaissance sculpture, set in a remaining fragment of the medieval parish church. The tomb's importance is enhanced by its close comparison with other pieces, notably the tomb of Bishop Gavin Dunbar in St Machar's cathedral, Aberdeen, and by its association, both architectural and historical, with nearby Tolquhon Castle.

Not only was the tomb built to contain the remains of William Forbes, the builder of the castle, but it also appears probable that the mason responsible for it was Thomas Leper, who had worked on the castle for William Forbes from 1584 until the latter's death in 1586 and was still in his son William's employment in 1600. The monument's importance is reflected by its status, since 1953, as a property in the care of Secretary of State.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



RCAHMS records the monument as NJ 83 SE 32.


Cross, M. (1994) Bibliography of Monument in the Care of the Secretary of State for Scotland, Glasgow, 573.

Simpson, W. D. (1945-6) 'The Tolquhon Aisle, and other monuments in Tarves Kirkyard; with some further notes on Tolquhon', Proc Soc Antiq Scot, vol. 80, 117-26.
Historic Environment Scotland Properties
Tarves Tomb
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Related Designations

Designation TypeListed Building (A)StatusRemoved

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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