The Site of Alyth’s Oldest Christian Church.
From the south side of the Market Cross, a gateway leads to the ‘Auld Kirk Yaird’. Here you can see three imposing old stone arches which formed part of the old parish church. It was abandoned in 1839 when the present fine new church was erected 200 yards to the west. There are also a number of graves, some of which are of notable local people.
This site is probably where the first Christian church in Alyth was built by a contemporary of the Irish missionary Columba, Moluag, an important figure in the early Celtic Church who evangelised the Picts during the 6thcentury.
This first church would have been a very simple wooden structure, probably replaced more than once, before stone came to be used more generally. A portion of what may have been Alyth’s first stone church still stands to this day at the east end of the Arches, a fragment which is thought to date from the thirteenth century.
The three fine arches were built along the north wall of the original church to support an extension which can be dated to around 1500 and remain a very visible feature overlooking Alyth Burn and the modern lower town.
The graveyard is medieval, with its typical hilltop site and surrounding rounded boundary wall.
There are some notable memorials and monuments which provide a tangible link to past events and people.
The Ramsays of Bamff are a landowning family of long standing whose burial chapel lay in the south aisle, now an un-roofed burial enclosure. A member of that family was one of the last people in Scotland to die in a duel. The notorious duellist James Macrae picked a fight with Sir George Ramsay of Bamff over a dispute about a sedan chair. The confrontation took place on Musselburgh Links and Ramsay was killed. Macrae was prosecuted, but escaped to France.
Unfortunately, the site is currently not open to the public.
In AD563 the Irish missionary Columba came to the then mainly Pictish land of northern Britain out of which modern Scotland grew and it is to him that much of the credit is attributed for the conversion of the Picts to Christianity. However, this is not entirely accurate.
It is his Irish contemporary Moluag, sometimes known as the Patron Saint of the Picts, who was the great evangelist of East and North East Scotland. He built the first church on this site and after whom the town’s main fair was named - the Simmalogue Fair - which took place every year on the 25thJune, a custom that went on well into the 19thcentury.
Indeed, Moluag is known to have founded many churches in Pictland having an advantage over Columba in that he spoke the Pictish tongue, whereas Columba, a Gaelic speaker, needed an interpreter when he addressed the Picts.
Considered to be a very great man in the early Celtic Church, two of his great centres of learning were at Mortlach in Banffshire and at Rosemarkie in the Black Isle and it was on his travels between the years 562 , when he left Ireland, and 592, when he died, that the monastic settlement at Alyth is likely to have come into being.
The church building then would have been simple, wooden and possibly oblong in shape with a thatched roof - a humble style that reflected the ethos of the early Celtic Church.
The first recorded reference to a church can be found in an order from King David II of Scotland prohibiting fairs in churchyards in 1352. At this time the churchyard often functioned as the site of much business and commerce of a materialistic and even sinful nature which David and later monarchs taxed. The church subsequently had the rights to hold a fair or market outside the gates.
'The Arches’ are made up of a three-arched structure with broad octagonal columns in Romanesque style. It formed the north arcade separating the nave from the newer north aisle of the church and dates from around 1500or even earlier. Stylistically, the arcade is similar to work at Holy Trinity Church, St Andrews, built around 1410. Alyth kirk would also have had a matching southern aisle adjoining the body of the old church. The remaining arcade wall of possibly 13th-century date contains a blocked-off doorway from the chancel into the sacristy, probably later converted into a chapel, which would have extended further East.
This eastern section is the oldest surviving part of the church and is notable in having three ‘aumbries’, or cupboards, in which the vessels of the sacraments were kept.
These aumbries are triangular, square and (on the south, or chancel, side of the wall) rectangular niches, respectively, which once would have had doors.
In the kirkyard there was a separate late-medieval chapel dedicated to Saint Ninian. It failed to survivethe Reformation (in 1560 when the church separated from Rome) and there are no obvious traces of this left.
By 1839 the new parish church had been built and the old church was abandoned, becoming the roofless ruin in its churchyard that you can see today.