Anson Article on Tynet
St Ninian's Chapel and Churchyard
THE CHURCH of ST.NINIANS TYNET
Situated within a short distance from the main Elgin to Banff road, a quarter of a
mile north of The Mill of Tynet, lies the oldest Post-Reformation Catholic Church in
Scotland still used for regular worship.
Nobody glancing at this long low building with its harled walls, slated roof and
square headed windows, would ever guess that it is a Church, far less that it is a
Catholic Church. Tynet lies in the heart of the Enzie district of the former Banffshire,
an area which with the support of the Gordons of Gordon Castle over the years, had
remained faithful to the Catholic religion, after the Reformation. This small area has
produced over two centuries, some eleven Bishops and many more Priests.
The Catholics of Bellie parish, having been deprived of the use of the
Chapel at St Ninians Churchyard in 1725, gathered for mass when possible in a barn
belonging to the Laird , which was later enlarged at the expense of the congregation, and
remained in use till 1746, when it, along with many Chapels, was gutted by the English
soldiers returning from Culloden.
In the eighteenth century, the practise of the Catholic Religion still
had to be carried out more or less in secret, and in 1755, The Laird of Tynet built
an addition to a small house at "Newlands" Tynet, ostensibly to be a sheepcote,
but in effect for use as a Church..
This was the modest beginning of the "Long Chapel" at
The Rev. Godsman, who had suffered much persecution after Culloden,
saying mass in barns at night, often disguised as a farmer, became priest in charge at
Tynet until his death in 1769. He was suceeded by Rev. Alexander Geddes, a cleric
described as "incontestably a man of great learning and independance of mind"
and often at odds with the Hierarchy of the Church. He was however responsible for the
repair of many Chapels in the area, and had the unique honour for a Catholic Priest at
that time, of having the Degree of Doctor of Laws conferred upon him by the University of
Tynet Chapel however, did not assume its present shape until Fr Mathieson, who was
appointed Priest in 1779, enlarged and repaired it early in 1787. Slates from the ruined
Chapel at St Ninians Church Yard were used to cover as much of the roof as possible, but
the rest was still thatched in 1803.
A proper floor was laid, the windows were enlarged and eventually
At this time, the gilt dove, which had belonged to the old Church in
St.Ninians Cemetery, was hung over the altar.
Instead of a Cross, a ball of stone was placed on top of the
west gable,a reminder of the dark days of persecution, during which the Chapel arose. In
1857 the doorway was re-located, a wall built behind the altar, and new seating installed.
In 1859, the Rev. Loggie made a number of alterations to the Chapel
including building up the original door at the west end, and forming the existing entrance
on the south wall. The choir loft was moved to the west end and a wall built immediately
behind the altar, forming the present Sacristy.
Over the years the weight of the heavy roof slates has had a serious
effect on both rafters and walls, and strengthening has been carried out on more than one
During the early part of this century, a partition at the west end was
erected, just east of the present door, thus forming an entrance porch, within which a
baptismal font was located.
By the early 1930s it was decided to abandon St Ninians due to
its poor condition, and build a new Church. Had not the Second World War broken out, it is
possible that the appeal for funds would have raised enough to build a new Church, but
under the current conditions of increasing costs and the difficulty of obtaining building
licences for anything other than essential housing, this idea was abandoned.
The only action was to ensure the preservation of the old Chapel, and
Tynet was indeed restored, and is now the oldest post reformation Church in Scotland,
still in use today.
The Church is 121 ft. long by 20ft. wide externally, with an internal
width of loft. 3 ins. The ceiling height is only 13ft. 3ins.
That then is St Ninians Chapel, Tynet. While it may
not be able to boast of architectural beauty, this quiet, peaceful building with its
pristine simplicity, has perhaps far greater claim to the title "House of
Prayer" than many more pretentious buildings.
St. Ninians Tynet is served from
St. Peters Buckie by Rev. E. P. Traynor
Sunday Mass at 8.30 am.