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Latitude: 56.3803 / 56°22'49"N
Longitude: -3.3919 / 3°23'30"W
OS Eastings: 314144
OS Northings: 721759
OS Grid: NO141217
Mapcode National: GBR 20.1ZYK
Mapcode Global: WH6QC.WW0N
Entry Name: Grange of Elcho, nunnery 180m ENE of Tay View
Scheduled Date: 12 July 1972
Last Amended: 21 April 2017
Source: Historic Environment Scotland
Source ID: SM3232
Schedule Class: Cultural
Category: Ecclesiastical: nunnery
County: Perth and Kinross
Electoral Ward: Almond and Earn
Traditional County: Perthshire
The monument is the remains of a medieval Cistercian nunnery, founded in the early 13th century and abandoned during the Reformation. It consists of the nunnery church visible as the foundations of a rectangular building, along with further structures visible as grass grown walling and spreads of rubble. Two ditches have been recorded as cropmarks to the north and south of the nunnery remains. The monument lies on a raised terrace above the south bank of the River Tay, at about 10m above sea level.
Excavation between 1968 and 1973 uncovered the nunnery church at the north of the site. The church is aligned east-west, and appears to have been built in two distinct phases. In its first phase it measured around 7m wide by at least 15m long. The walls had been heavily robbed in places and fragmentary human remains were recovered from the structure. The church was then rebuilt. This second phase church is defined by the remains of substantial buttressed walls of dressed stone with a rubble core. These survive up to five courses high. The church measures at least 8m wide and 21m long with an entrance in the west wall. Substantial quantities of glass were recovered from the church building, along with the remains of paved flooring, roofing slates and human burials. Further evidence of the nunnery's building platform and other, unexcavated buildings extend to the south of the church, and two ditches have been recorded as cropmarks on aerial photographs to the north and south of the nunnery remains.
The scheduled area is irregular in plan, to include the remains described above and an area around them within which evidence relating to the monument's construction, use and abandonment is expected to survive, as shown in red on the accompanying map.
Source: Historic Environment Scotland
The cultural significance of the monument has been assessed as follows:
The monument consists of the buried and upstanding remains of a medieval nunnery, comprising a partially excavated church and the unexcavated remains of associated buildings. Two ditches have been recorded as cropmarks to the north and south of the nunnery, indicating they survive as buried deposits below the plough soil, and the southern ditch is also faintly visible as a slight linear depression. The ditches likely formed part of an enclosure around the nunnery buildings, though their slightly eccentric layout relative to the nunnery may suggest they were dug at a different date, perhaps earlier.
Although the nunnery has been subject to limited excavation, this has not had a significant impact on the archaeological potential of the site and the majority of it remains unexcavated. Limited excavation of the church has demonstrated two phases of construction and evidence for post-reformation re-use of the site. The recovery of substantial quantities of glass, roofing slates and paved flooring provide evidence for the structure and architecture of the church, while human remains indicate the presence of burials. Therefore there is good potential for the survival of further structural remains and archaeological deposits, including occupation and abandonment debris, artefacts and environmental remains such as charcoal and pollen within, beneath and around the remains of the nunnery and within the ditches. The buried archaeological deposits, artefacts and ecofacts have the potential to add to our understanding of ecclesiastical structure, land-use and environment during the medieval period, to clarify the chronology of the site and to provide information about the layout and economy of a medieval nunnery.
Documentary evidence indicates that the nunnery was founded in the early 13th century, before around 1247, and was occupied until 1559. Limited excavation of the church has demonstrated two phases of construction, with evidence for post-abandonment re-use, showing the monument had an extended sequence of development. Scientific study of the form and construction of the nunnery has the potential to clarify the date of the remains and the development sequence at this site, and to provide information about the design, construction and development of a medieval nunnery.
Nunneries were rare institutions in medieval Scotland. Elcho was one of seven Cistercian nunneries in Scotland listed in a document written around 1516, the others being Haddington, Eccles, Coldstream, St Bothans, Manuel and North Berwick. Two other Cistercian nunneries had ceased to exist by this time, and one further nunnery (at Iona) was not Cistercian. The nunnery at Elcho is of particular importance as the only Cistercian nunnery north of the Forth, and as a surviving example of one of a small number of medieval nunneries.
The nunnery was one of four religious foundations along the River Tay, including the Augustinian Priory of Scone (Canmore ID 28192), the Tironensian Abbey at Lindores (scheduled monument number SM836; Canmore ID 30109) and Balmerino (scheduled monument number SM827; Canmore ID 31747), another Cistercian house. The proximity of these religious houses can give important insights into the medieval landscape and add to our understanding of monastic organisation, the development of Scotland's monastic tradition and connections between religious foundations.
The nunnery at Elcho has the potential to broaden our understanding of the nature and chronology of medieval ecclesiastical foundations and the role of women in medieval religious life in Scotland, particularly in relation to monasticism.
The majority of Scottish Cistercian nunneries were founded in the second half of the 12th century and only had a loose connection to the Cistercian Order centred on Cîteaux in France, as the Order did not give formal recognition to such houses until early in the 13th century. The foundation of such houses demonstrates the powerful influence of the monastic reform movement as promulgated by the Cistercian Order, and the desire of some women in the medieval period to live an austere, enclosed, religious life. Elcho is of particular significant as one of the last Cistercian nunneries to be founded.
The significance of the site is enhanced by our knowledge of the site from the historical record. Records suggest that the nunnery was founded by David Lindsay of Glenesk and his mother Lady Marjory, before 1247. A David Lindsay of Glenesk is recorded as having died in Egypt on the 7th crusade around 1279. If, as seems likely, this was the same man, this provides an insight into medieval religiosity, particularly how European-wide movements, such as monasticism and crusading, impacted on Scotland.
Historic documents record the names of six of the prioresses of Elcho are, largely as a result of legal disputes; Agnes of Arroch (1282), Elizabeth of Aberlady (1405), Isabella (1445), Margaret Swinton (1493-1511), Elizabeth Swinton (1511-1529) and Eufame Leslie (1529 – 1559). Other notable events include the death of Ranald MacRuaridh in 1346 along with seven of his men at the nunnery as a result of a quarrel with the Earl of Ross. The nunnery was burnt by the English in 1547, after which Sir John Wemyss lent the nuns money to help with the rebuilding of their church and other buildings. The nunnery was attacked by reformers in 1559 and subsequently abandoned.
The testament of Eufame Leslie, the last prioress of Elcho, provides an important insight into the fate of the inhabitants of such institutions after the reformation. At the time of her death in 1570 Eufame Leslie was lodged in a property in Perth with two of her servants, one of the nuns had married a burgess of Perth and was in receipt of a pension from the prioress, while three others were owed a similar pension but their whereabouts are unknown. Such information is rare, particularly for nunneries.
The nunnery was described as lying in waste in 1570 when Andrew Moncreiff was granted the perpetual Commendatorship by the Crown and conveyed the nunnery along with its orchards and precincts to his brother William. The nunnery was erected into a temporal lordship for Lord Scone, later Viscount Stormont, in 1606 and confirmed by a charter in 1610. Sometime after the 17th century the property was acquired by the 1st Earl of Wemyss. When touring Scotland in 1760 Bishop Pocock visited the remains of the nunnery and described it as comprising 'the tower of the church and the foundations of the buildings'.
Statement of national importance
The monument is of national importance because it makes a significant addition to our understanding of medieval ecclesiastical foundations, specifically the Cistercian Order and medieval nunneries. The monument is a rare survival with good potential for the preservation of buried features and deposits, including architectural remains and burials. It can help us understand much about ecclesiastical architecture and the role of the church within medieval society. It makes a significant contribution to our knowledge of the role of women in monastic religious life in Scotland, which is not well understood. This importance is enhanced by the documentary records associated with the site. The loss or damage of the monument would diminish our ability to appreciate and understand medieval nunneries and religious houses in Scotland, the development of monasticism in Scotland and the role of the church in wider medieval life.
Source: Historic Environment Scotland
Historic Environment Scotland http://www.canmore.org.uk reference number CANMORE ID 28389 (accessed on 17/11/2016).
Ballingal, J. (1905) The Rhynd and Elcho: a parish history. Edinburgh. p87, 93
Cowan and Easson, I B and D E. (1976) Medieval religious houses, Scotland: with an appendix on the houses in the Isle of Man . 2nd. London. P123, 146-7
Dowen, J. 1903 (ed) Chartulary of the Abbey of Lindores. Edinburgh. No. CXXV, p158-163.
Easson, D E. (1957) Medieval religious houses in Scotland: with an appendix on the houses in the Isle of Man. London. p123
Reid and Lye, A G and D M. (1988) Elcho Nunnery , Pitmiddle Village and Elcho Nunnery: research and excavation on Tayside. Perth.
Wilson and Hurst, D M and D G. (1971) Medieval Britain in 1969 , Medieval Archaeol, vol. 14, 1970. p171.
Wilson and Moorhouse, D M and S. (1972) Medieval Britain in 1970 , Medieval Archaeol, vol. 15, 1971. p142
Sortie Series 106G/SCOT/UK0067 Images 5261, 5262
Source: Historic Environment Scotland
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