ST GREGORYS PRESHOME
On the 23rd of May 1990, St Gregorys Preshome, celebrated the two hundredth
anniversary of its opening for divine worship.
The following notes give an insight into the importance of Preshome in Scottish
You will no doubt be aware that, after the Reformation in 1531, practising the
Catholic Religion in Scotland could be carried out only in a comparatively secret manner.
Nevertheless, especially in country areas like ours, it was very definitely practised.
Thanks to the influence of the Duke of Gordon, the Enzie area was a stout
bastion of the old religion, but for many years was without any
formal spiritual leadership.So when a Catholic Hierarchy was
being re-introduced, the first Vicar Apostolic for Scotland, Bishop
Thomas Nicholson, made his home on the Gordon Estates near Preshome.
His "Headquarters"was, in fact, a single-storied, heather-thatched cottage,
and this "but and ben" was to remain the strategic centre of Scottish
Catholicism for more than a Century, and only ended with the death
of Bishop James Kyle in 1869.
For many years, divine worship was conducted in a room at Preshome or in one of the
"secret" " chapels in the area. By 1788
however, John Reid, the priest in charge of the eastern Enzie, felt that it was possible
to build a place of worship which actually looked like a Church so, the site was chosen with-the distinct aim of avoiding much publicity and
a too conspicous situation.
It was proposed to build a Church of stone and lime, and to hold 700 persons. The
estimated cost was £3.50, but, as is so often the case, the actual cost was nearly
double. The Baronet of Letterfourie and his brother took a lively interest in the project
and were to supervise the the work and contribute very liberally to the cost.
The foundation stone was laid by the two brothers on the 29th May 1788 and the Chapel
opened on Whit Sunday 23rd May 1790, but unfortunately the
Baronet did not live long enough to see this auspicious day, for he was found dead in bed
on April 30th.
The Chapel has been described as being wide, and of rectangular plan with, round
headed windows, freestone dressings, and harled walls.
The west facade is a charming product of eighteenth century taste, in which the
Italian Baroque style has been skillfi.illy naturalised into a Banfishire setting, with
flanking staircase pavilions and a pedimented gable, which features a plain stone panel
bearing the simple dedication "DEO 1788", that is "To God 1788"
The Church is adorned with stone finials in the form and style of classical urns. Fr
Reid, was himself a product of the Scots College in Rome, and it would
appear that he was largely his own Architect for the work.
In the opinion of many not only was it the first Catholic Church since the Reformation to look like a Church, it remains to this
day, surpassed by no other Chapel in Scotland with regard to spaciousness
and in the elegance of its internal proportions.
The Dedication to St Gregory the Great comes from the presentation to
the Church by the last Earl of Findlater of a fine painting (some would say a copy) of St
Gregory, by Annibale Caracci. This remarkable picture has formed the
gem of the Church until the present day.
The ceiling is quite distinctive and panelled with timber tracery.
Mother feature of the Church is the use of coloured and patterned clay tiles to the floor
of the Sanctuary. The holy water stoups in the porch are made from local Portsoy Marble
and were the gift of the Countess ol Findlater.
Like many Churches there have been changes over the years. In 1896, under the
direction of Peter Paul Pugin, the Sanctuary was enlarged to the east, thereby taking away
the original Sacristy.
Part of plans included the relocation of the painting of St Gregory, but its retention
as the altar piece was insisted upon, and it remains there to this
day, commanding the attention of all who visit the Church.
The existing altar was the gift of Canon John J. Kyle, and at the ends
of the altar rails are brass plaques, one to Bishop James F Kyle, the other to his nephew
Canon J. .I Kyle.
In 1990, on the Feast of St.Gregory,an extensive refurbishment and
redecoration was completed, at a cost in excess
ofl 100,000, and which has brought this important Church
back into the condition that it so rightly deserves, thanks largely to a grant from the
Historic Buildings Council.
Preshome has an important place in Scottish Catholic History for
another reason. It was here that Bishop James Kyle amassed a vast collection of books,
letters and manuscripts from past ages, and after his death in 1869 at Preshome, the
Scottish Bishops felt that these important archives should be held in a less remote
location than at Preshome, and were transferred to Blairs College, near Aberdeen, to form
part of the "Blairs Collection", and now housed with the Scottish Catholic
Archives, at Columba House, Edinburgh.
The final transfer of material from Preshome was as recent as 1973.
This included some 25,000 letters, known as the "Preshome Letters", now
deposited with the Scottish Catholic Archives in Edinburgh. and
the 4,750 books forming the "Preshome Chapel Library", currently on a 30 year
loan to the National Library of Scotland.
St.Gregorys Church is served from St.Peters Buckie by Rev E. P. Traynor.
Mass Times are as announced.