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St Connel's Church and graveyard

A Scheduled Monument in Mid and Upper Nithsdale, Dumfries and Galloway

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Latitude: 55.4124 / 55°24'44"N

Longitude: -4.0178 / 4°1'4"W

OS Eastings: 272355

OS Northings: 615014

OS Grid: NS723150

Mapcode National: GBR 05CV.YM

Mapcode Global: WH4SN.8704

Entry Name: St Connel's Church and graveyard

Scheduled Date: 23 November 2021

Source: Historic Environment Scotland

Source ID: SM13747

Schedule Class: Cultural

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

Location: Kirkconnel/Kirkconnel

County: Dumfries and Galloway

Electoral Ward: Mid and Upper Nithsdale

Traditional County: Dumfriesshire


The monument comprises the remains of the medieval parish church of St Connel, graveyard and associated collection of carved stones. The church is visible as turf-covered low walls and the carved stones are within a modern shelter located within the graveyard. The site is situated northwest of Kirkconnel, around 245m above sea level at the foot of the southern slopes of Kirkland Hill. 

The church is rectangular on plan, aligned east-west and measures around 19.8m by 5.4m with walls of roughly dressed masonry around 1m thick and up to 1.3m high internally. An entrance is on the south side, around 4m from the west gable, with steps leading down into the interior. Internally, two steps distinguish the chancel from the nave. The fabric  of the church suggests that the building dates to the 12th or 13th centuries. The sub-square walled graveyard measures up to 50m by 50m and the walls are drystone construction. Early Medieval carved stones and architectural mouldings have been found within and around the church and within the graveyard walls, some dating to the 9th century. Most of the recorded carved stones are now housed in a modern display shelter within the graveyard.

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 above-ground elements of all fencing and gates; active burial lairs; all grave markers and memorials post-dating 1850; the above ground elements of the modern "Miner's Cairn" and; the  above-ground elements of 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 Medieval ecclesiastical site and later medieval parish church. It adds to our understanding of 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 and burials.

d.   The monument is a good example of a likely multi-period ecclesiastical site. St Connel's appears to have been a significant church in medieval Nithsdale and was in use over an extended 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 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 north of the River Nith, which would have been an important routeway in the past. The church is also at the foot of a valley with routes heading northwest and northeast. The monument is therefore important in our understanding of the location and positioning of medieval churches in southwest Scotland.

g.  The monument has associations with the figure of St Connel, perhaps a missionary active in the late 6th/ early 7th century. A number of sites and dedications suggest St Connel was active in the southwest of Scotland. The monument therefore contributes to our understanding of the development of Christianity and the cult of the saints in the southwest 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 low, long rectangular structure built of roughly dressed stone with some surviving architectural features such as an entrance and two steps that lead to the chancel from the nave. Although excavated and partly reconstructed in the 1920s, the  dimensions of the church and the cubical nature of the masonry suggests  a late 12th or early 13th century date. A church is recorded in 1274 when the parsonage was annexed to Holywood Premonstratensian Abbey, but the vicarage remained unappropriated, being usually served by one of the abbey's canons.  The church appears to have been abandoned around 1681 and was replaced by a new parish church in the village of Kirkconnel in 1729.

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. Work on the church ruins in 1926, during the General Strike by unemployed miners and paid for by the local minister,  uncovered and partly reconstructed the walls of the church. The graveyard walls are of drystone dyke construction and the plan form is similar to what is typical of medieval graveyards associated with a church. Most of the surviving fabric of the church is late 12th/ early 13th century or later in date, but examples of fragmented carved crosses and gravestones from the site indicate that it had been a religious site for several centuries before its construction.

The site has produced many carved stones, some Early Medieval in origin and Anglo-Scandinavian in style. The carved stones featuring interlaced cross-shafts are the earliest examples from the site and of greatest significance. The discovery of such stones on a site with early ecclesiastical building remains, indicates this site may have been important in the spread of Christianity in the southwest of Scotland. The Consolidation work in 2005-6 uncovered more carved stones from the 9th to 15th centuries. Many carved stones and architectural fragments are displayed on a wooden shelter close to the church within the graveyard.

The monument has potential to contribute to our understanding of early and 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.

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

The church is located around 100m above the River Nith, at the foot of the steep south slopes of Kirkland Hill. The church is a feature in the local landscape and is positioned in a higher, more exposed location than is typical for Early Medieval churches. The location of the site is significant as it would have been on a historic routeway along the River Nith and with routes through the valley to the north of the church. Such a position on routeways would have strengthened the use of the site as a possible ecclesiastical base to help spread Christianity and for general ease of access for pilgrims and worshippers.

There are no other confirmed early ecclesiastical sites or monuments of medieval origin in the locality (5km radius) of St Connel's Church, although 2km to the west northwest a modern cross marks the supposed site St Connel's grave (Canmore ID 45461).The nearest record of medieval ecclesiastical remains in the area is Orchard Cross Socket (scheduled monument reference SM679) located around 6.8km east-southeast. The church may be contemporary with this monument and these sites can potentially inform us of medieval religious activity and interaction between other ecclesiastical sites within the wider landscape.

The carved stones found on the site can be compared to other similar and contemporary examples found in the wider region and across Scotland. Within Nithsdale there are churches and ecclesiastical sites with examples of Anglian carved stones such as at Closeburn (Canmore ID 319020) Penpont (Canmore ID 65335) and Durisdeer (Canmore ID 319028). 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 St Connel's on a historic routeway indicates the site may have been important in the wider establishment of Christianity and its influence in southwest Scotland.

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

The church is dedicated to St Connel and suggests that the site may have been in use earlier than the 9th century carved stones suggest. Little is known about the St Connel that this church was dedicated to, and there are a number of possible candidates. There are also a number of dedications and place names to St Connel in west and southwest Scotland including Dercongal Abbey (more commonly known as Holywood Abbey). Dercongal means the oak-wood of Congall, from which Connel may be derived. In the later medieval period, St Connel's was a benefice of Holywood Abbey, perhaps suggesting some longstanding connection.

Within the graveyard, stands the Miner's Cairn erected in 1926 during the General Strike. The cairn was constructed by the miners that uncovered the church ruins and is built from roughly dressed stone cleared from the ruins. Although excluded from the schedule, this cairn is a physical reminder of the early 20th century history of the church and is a link between 20th century socio-economic issues and this early parish church site which is both unusual and interesting. It is evidence that the church, even when ruinous and out of use, was still a focal point for the local community.

Source: Historic Environment Scotland



Historic Environment Scotland reference number CANMORE ID 45459 (accessed on 17/09/2021).

Local Authority HER/SMR Reference MDG75 (accessed on 17/09/2021).

Charleson, C.F. (1929). 'Fragments from old Kirkconnel', Transactions of Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquities Society, 3rd, vol. 15. Pages: 119-37.

Gifford, J (1996) Dumfries and Galloway, The Buildings of Scotland Trust. Page: 362.

RCAHMS (1920). The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Scotland. Seventh report with inventory of monuments and constructions in the county of Dumfries. Edinburgh. Page: 120, No.332.

Truckell, A.E. (1964). 'The archaeological collections of the Society', Transactions of Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquities Society, 3rd, vol. 41. Pages: 62

Williams, J. (1967). 'Kirkconnel old churchyard', Discovery and Excavation Scotland. Page: 18.

Williams, J. (1969). 'Kirkconnel old churchyard', Discovery and Excavation Scotland. Pages: 20.


HER/SMR Reference


Source: Historic Environment Scotland

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