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Tullich Church, church burial ground and carved stones, 100m ESE of Tullich Cottages

A Scheduled Monument in Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Donside, Aberdeenshire

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Latitude: 57.0649 / 57°3'53"N

Longitude: -3.0065 / 3°0'23"W

OS Eastings: 339064

OS Northings: 797542

OS Grid: NO390975

Mapcode National: GBR WH.8SH4

Mapcode Global: WH7ND.SPKC

Entry Name: Tullich Church, church burial ground and carved stones, 100m ESE of Tullich Cottages

Scheduled Date: 16 November 1923

Last Amended: 31 May 2021

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM86

Schedule Class: Cultural

Category: Crosses and carved stones: cross slab; Ecclesiastical: church

Location: Glenmuick, Tullich and Glengairn

County: Aberdeenshire

Electoral Ward: Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Donside

Traditional County: Aberdeenshire


The monument comprises the remains of a medieval church, burial ground and collection of carved stones on the site of an Early Christian ecclesiastical centre traditionally associated with the 7th century saint, St Nathalan. The monument is situated northeast of Ballater, around 200m above sea level and approximately 750m northwest of the River Dee. 

The church is rectangular on plan, aligned east-west and is constructed from granite rubble. It measures around 24.5m by 9m with walls up to 1m thick. A late 14th/early 15th century doorway is in the north wall, and a number of square-head windows evidence post-reformation alterations. The circular walled burial ground measures 51m by 55m. Remains of a medieval bank and ditch, possibly an ecclesiastical vallum in origin, can be traced outside the burial ground wall. Early Christian carved stones have been found located in and around the church including a Pictish symbol stone and sixteen cross-incised grave markers. Most of the recorded carved stones are now housed in a modern display outside the medieval burial ground. However, at least two carved stones are incorporated within the fabric of the church walls.

The scheduled area is irregular. It includes the remains described above and an area around within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map. The scheduled area excludes the following: all fencing and gates, the surface and to a depth of 15cm below all paths; any active burial lairs; all grave markers and memorials post-dating 1850; the entire structure (not contents) of the modern carved stone display and all signage and interpretation panels. 

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Statement of Scheduling

The national importance of the monument is demonstrated in the following way(s) (see Designations Policy and Selection Guidance, Annex 1, para 17): 

a.  The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past as an Early Christian, medieval and post-Reformation ecclesiastical site. It adds to our understanding of Early Christian ecclesiastical foundations and religious practices and the development of medieval ecclesiastical architecture.  

b.  The monument retains structural, architectural and other physical attributes which make a significant contribution to our understanding or appreciation of the past. In particular, there is potential for the preservation of buried features and deposits, including architectural remains of earlier churches, further carved stones and burials. 

c.   The monument is a rare example of a medieval parish church with evidence for a vallum (ecclesiastical site boundary ditch and bank) which is likely to have been an Early Christian feature.  The collection of Pictish and Early Christian carved stones, found on the site enhance the rarity of Tullich as an Early Christian/medieval church site and indicate that there was a religious community at Tullich between the 7th and 9th centuries.  

d.   The monument is a particularly good example of a multi-period ecclesiastical site. Tullich appears to have been a particularly significant church in medieval Aberdeenshire and was used and developed over a long period of time. It is therefore an important representative of this monument type. 

e.   The monument has research potential which could significantly contribute to our understanding of the past. It can help us understand much about ecclesiastical architecture and the role of the church in medieval and post-Reformation society. It has the potential to make a significant contribution to our knowledge of changing belief and religious practice and the development of places of worship over an extended time period. It can add to our understanding of the origins and development of places of worship in Scotland and the role of the church in wider medieval and post-Reformation life. 

f.   The monument makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the historic landscape by standing as a reminder of the medieval parochial administration. The church is located on a slight knoll overlooking the River Dee, an important routeway for missionaries from the west. This is significant as the parallels for the incised crosses and the layout of the site can be found in the west of Scotland. The monument is therefore critical in our understanding of the process of conversion of the northeast of Scotland. 

g.  The monument has significant associations with historical and traditional events. It is traditionally associated with the 7th century St Nathalan (Nachalan or Neachtan) who died on 8 January 678 (according to the Irish Annals). St Nathalan is said to have founded the church at Tullich where he was later buried. The monument therefore contributes to our understanding of the development of Christianity and the cult of the saints in the northeast of Scotland.

 Assessment of Cultural Significance

This statement of national importance has been informed by the following assessment of cultural significance:

Intrinsic characteristics (how the remains of a site or place contribute to our knowledge of the past)

The church is visible as a long rectangular structure built of granite rubble with some surviving architectural features such as window surrounds, a doorway and gable with flat skews. Excavations at other medieval church sites in Scotland have revealed varied and often rich archaeological remains. The site has potential for buried archaeological remains of the church and other possible earlier structures. Excavations in 2016 revealed stonework below the existing church wall, indicative of the remains of a structure pre-dating or contemporary with the church. The south and west portions of the relatively modern circular graveyard wall are built upon traces of a stony bank, up to 1m high. Immediately beyond the graveyard wall are traces of a slight ditch which can be traced around portions of the edge of the wall. This ditch and bank could be the remains of an early vallum. 

The site has produced many carved stones, some Pictish in origin and style. The majority of these are now within a modern display but there are also some examples built into the church. The carved stones featuring incised crosses are of great significance. The discovery of such stones on a site with early ecclesiastical building remains, along with historical accounts to Pictish Christianity, indicates this site was pivotal in the spread of Christianity in the northeast of Scotland. It is widely accepted that Christianity came from the west and spread generally eastwards across Scotland. The incised cross carved stones provide physical evidence that this was an Early Christian site and likely acted as a base for introducing Christianity to the area.

The monument has potential to contribute to our understanding of early medieval/medieval church construction, ecclesiastical architectural details and features, burial practices and the origins, nature and duration of use of early and medieval ecclesiastical sites. Any skeletal remains could reveal evidence for health, diet, illness, cause of death, local demography and possibly occupational activities. There is also potential for the survival of further carved stones within buried deposits. These could help us to refine the dating of the site, as well as contribute towards our understanding of early Christian and medieval art and sculpture.

Geophysical survey (ground penetrating radar) of the site carried out in 2013 and 2015 has allowed plans of the buried features to be created. The results of the surveys clearly show the line and dimensions of the possible vallum around the graveyard. This can enhance our knowledge of ecclesiastical activity and the nature of defences around early and medieval churches.

Contextual characteristics (how a site or place relates to its surroundings and/or to our existing knowledge of the past)

The church is located near the valley floor and is a feature in the local landscape. The location of the site is significant as it was on a historic west-east routeway. Early Christianity spread from the west and missionaries are likely to have used established routes to reach non-Christian populations. The location of Tullich on a major west-east route strengthens the argument that it was a significant Early Christian site.

There are no confirmed early ecclesiastical sites or monuments of medieval origin within in the locality (2.5km radius) of Tullich Church. There are other records of churches in the area including Chapel of Inchmarnock, located approximately 3.5km east-southeast and is the site of a medieval chapel and graveyard (Canmore ID 33985).  Glengairn, Old Parish Church (Canmore ID 32457; listed building reference LB 9300) is located approximately 4km west-southwest and is the ruins of a post-Reformation church supposedly built upon an earlier chapel. St Mary's Church near Cowie (Canmore ID 36901; scheduled monument reference SM5584) is located around 55km east of Tullich, on the Aberdeenshire coast. St Mary's is a great distance from Tullich but is recorded as being another ecclesiastical site founded by St Nathalan. The church may be contemporary with such monuments and these sites can potentially inform us of early religious activity and interaction between other ecclesiastical sites and centres of power within the wider landscape. There is potential to compare this monument, with other churches known in the vicinity, looking at changes in worship and burial over time, increasing the significance of the site.

The carved stones found on the site can be compared to other similar and contemporary examples found in the wider region and across Scotland. Such comparisons can help identify possible regional artistic styles or themes and assist with relative dating of the monument and the context in which they were discovered. The location of Tullich on an historic west-east routeway indicates the site was key in the spread of Christianity into northeast Scotland. The existence of these Early Christian carved stones on the site provides further evidence of this.

Associative characteristics (how a site or place relates to people, events, and/or historic and social movements)

The site is associated with the 7th century St Nathalan (Nachalan or Neachtan) who died on 8 January 678 (according to the Irish Annals). The Aberdeen Breviary notes that Nathalan was born into a noble family and generously shared the produce of his estate with the poor. He was made a bishop by the Pope during a pilgrimage to Rome and founded several other religious sites in Aberdeenshire including chapels at Coull and Cowie. St Nathalan is said to be buried within Tullich churchyard and the site continued to be a place of pilgrimage until the reformation. 

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 32454 (accessed on 26/04/2021).

Local Authority HER/SMR Reference NO39NE0002 (accessed on 26/04/2021).

Allen and Anderson, J R and J. (1903). The early Christian monuments of Scotland: a classified illustrated descriptive list of the monuments with an analysis of their symbolism and ornamentation. Edinburgh.

Cowan and Easson, I B and D E. (1976). Medieval religious houses in Scotland: with an appendix on the houses in the Isle of Man. 2nd Edition. London.

Geddes, Murray & Murray, J, H K & J C. (2015). 'Tullich, Aberdeenshire: a reappraisal of an early ecclesiastical site and its carved stones in the light of recent excavations', in Proceeding of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 145. Edinburgh.

Jackson, A. (1984). The symbol stones of Scotland: a social anthropological resolution to the problem of the Picts. Kirkwall.

Jervise, A. (1875-9). Epitaphs and inscriptions from burial grounds and old buildings in the north-east of Scotland with historical, biographical, genealogical and antiquarian notes, 2v. Edinburgh.

MacKie, E W. (1975). Scotland: an archaeological guide: from the earliest times to the twelfth century. London.

Mack, A. (1997). Field guide to the Pictish symbol stones. Balgavies, Angus.

McConnochie, A I. (1898). Royal Deeside.

Michie, J G. (1910). Loch Kinnord: its history and antiquities, New and revised. Aberdeen.

Murray Archaeological Services (2016). Tullich Kirk, Aberdeenshire: Test Pits. Reference MAS 2016-21.

Murray, H and C. (2017). 'Tullich Kirk, Aberdeenshire', in Discovery and Excavation Scotland, New, vol. 17, 2016. Cathedral Communications Limited, Wiltshire, England.

OSA. (1791-9). The statistical account of Scotland, drawn up from the communications of the ministers of the different parishes. Edinburgh.

RCAHMS. (1994). The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland. Pictish symbol stones: a handlist 1994. Edinburgh.

Ritchie, J. (1911). 'Some old crosses and unlettered sepulchral monuments in Aberdeenshire', in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 45, Edinburgh.

Ritchie, J N G. (1985). Pictish symbol stones: a handlist 1985. Edinburgh.

Rose Geophysical Consultants (2013). Geophysical Survey Report: Tullich Burial Ground, Ballater. Reference RGC1273TBG.

Rose Geophysical Consultants (2015). Geophysical Survey Report: Tullich Burial Ground, Ballater. Reference RGC15160TBG

Scott, H et al (1915-61) Fasti ecclesiae Scoticanae: the succession of ministers in the Church of Scotland from the Reformation, Revision. Edinburgh.

Shepherd and Ralston, I A G and I B M. (1979). Early Grampian: a guide to the archaeology. Aberdeen.

Simpson, W D. (1922). 'Tullich and Saint Nathalan', in The Deeside Field, 1st, vol. 1, 1922.

Sproat, D. (2019). 'Tullich Church, Milton of Tullich, Standing building recording', in Discovery and Excavation Scotland, New, vol. 19, 2018. Cathedral Communications Limited, Wiltshire, England.


HER/SMR Reference


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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