Loch Leven, St Serf's Island, St Serf's Priory Church


Site Name Loch Leven, St Serf's Island, St Serf's Priory Church

Classification Priory

Alternative Name(s) Culdee Monastery

Canmore ID 27872

Site Number NO10SE 3

NGR NO 16156 00260

Datum OSGB36 - NGR

Ordnance Survey licence number 100020548. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Perth And Kinross
  • Parish Portmoak (perth And Kinross)
  • Former Region Tayside
  • Former District Perth And Kinross
  • Former County Kinross-shire

Archaeology Notes

NO10SE 3 16156 00260

(NO 1615 0025) Priory (NR) (Ruins)

OS 6" map (1920)

St Serf's Priory was originally a Culdee establishment, supposedly founded before AD 843. About AD 1150 King David granted the island to the Augustinian Canons and the Culdees were absorbed or expelled. In 1580 the priory was given to St Leonard's College, St Andrews.

The remains represent the oblong chamber of a 12th century church, measuring 27 by 19 1/4 feet over walls 2 1/2 feet thick. There are traces of an archway in each end wall, the one to the east giving access to a chancel, proved by excavation to have been rectangular, and the one to the west to a tower or nave. The building has been converted into a fishing hut or bothy.

About 25 yards westward of the church are the foundations of a large rectangular structure, measuring 83 feet 2 inches by 22 feet 8 inches within walls over 5 feet thick. Excavation revealed burials to the south and west of the chapel and within the chancel.

Upon the northern side of the island there is an excavation about 100 yards long and 10 feet deep containing ruins and the stones of a small house. This may have been the site of the separate cells of the Culdee community.

A Kerr 1882; RCAHMS 1933; W D Simpson 1935; D E Easson 1957.

Under guardianship in 1961.

(Undated) information in NMRS.

There are traces of other features visible on aerial photographs (RCAHMSAP 1991) lying approx. 80m to the S of the priory. These appear to be later than the cultivation marks.

Information from RCAHMS (RHM) 29 March 1994.


Excavation (1 August 2011 - 13 April 2011)

NO 16156 00260 A walkover survey, geophysical surveys and an excavation of two trial trenches were undertaken, 1–13 August 2011, at the site of St Serf’s Priory. The work formed part of a programme of community-based fieldwork by the Culdee Archaeology Project.

The gradiometer survey revealed a series of large concentric oval enclosures centred on the surviving priory chapel at the SE side of the island. The largest enclosure was 200 x 110m and has been interpreted as the remains of the possible vallum or sanctuary enclosure for the Pictish monastery of St Serf’s, thought to have been established during the late 7th century AD. These findings were corroborated by data from the resistance survey, which showed a curvilinear anomaly defined by a band of high and low resistance. Linear anomalies and areas of magnetic disturbance within the enclosures may be remains of historic roads, light industry or occupation areas within the monastery. The general outline of the high medieval priory buildings were also traced, as were suggestions of the N and S range, which are no longer apparent on the surface and were probably extensively robbed out.

Trench A was opened to investigate a visible earthwork 63m NW of the priory. This ditch/cutting, which measures 70m long by 10m wide and 1.5m deep, was initially identified during a site visit in April 2011. A 2 x 15m trench was excavated at the E end of the feature and a half section taken of the S side. The excavation recorded a small mound of dumped fine white sand, containing sherds of medieval pottery, overlying thin compacted layers of highly organic material, which were considered indicative of periods of standing water. The feature was man-made, with several re-cuts on the S side, and had a roughly flat base. A fish pond is recorded on the island during the 16th century and this feature could have been adapted for this purpose, before the loch water level was lowered in 1830.

Trench B (2 x 10m) was positioned to evaluate a section of the large enclosure and possible vallum identified by the geophysical surveys at the E end of the island. The remains of a low and c3m wide earth bank were recorded in the trench. The bank was buried to the S by a medieval field soil, which contained pottery, corroded iron nails and a possible knife blade.

The S edge of a cut feature, identified as an outer ditch, was revealed (in plan) in the middle of the trench, below 0.6m of sand and gravel subsoils. The ditch appeared as bands of dark silty sand, charcoal and sandy gravel, which ran perpendicular to the trench. The S edge of the feature was partially investigated, to confirm the cut profile and obtain charcoal samples for radiocarbon dating. A fragment of a possible ceramic crucible was found in the upper fill of this feature. The possible ditch was preserved in situ for future investigation and the trench backfilled.

A walkover survey across the island located several small earthwork features to the S and E of the priory remains. These may be turf-built cellular buildings, of possible Early Historic date, and the remains of corn-drying kilns. Several shooting hides were also found across the island, with a concentration at the W end.

Local volunteers assisted with the excavation and surveys. An open day was held with information and finds on display. The Scottish Glider Centre also recorded new aerial photographs of the site during excavation. Thanks to members of Kinross-shire Historical Society and Kinross Marshall Museum for voluntary help with the fieldwork. More information can be found on the project’s Facebook community forum page.

Archive: RCAHMS (intended). Report: Historic Scotland and PKHT

Funder: Historic Scotland and Society of Antiquaries of Scotland

OJT Surveys, 2011

Excavation (1 August 2012 - 15 August 2012)

NO 16156 00260 The final season of the Culdee Archaeology Project involved further geophysical survey and trial excavation, 1–15 August 2012, at St Serf’s Priory. The work formed part of a pilot research and community project, which aimed to reveal more about the layout and function of early medieval monasteries in Perth and Kinross.

Trench B which had been opened in 2011 (DES 2011, 156) to investigate the line of a large enclosure identified by geophysical survey was reopened in 2012. The remains of a ditch and bank, a possible posthole and pit were excavated to natural. These appear to represent partial settlement remains within what may be a monastic vallum. Medieval pottery sherds and fragmentary copper-alloy artefacts were recovered from the ditch fills. A Neolithic tanged flint arrowhead was recovered during sieving of the spoil heap. Further post-excavation analysis will help to establish the sequence of the ditch and settlement remains.

The resistance survey was expanded SE of the priory remains and recorded the continuation of the possible vallum enclosure. Low altitude aerial photography was taken of the excavation and priory remains. An online digital tour of the site has been developed based on this imagery. On request, the Scottish Glider Centre recorded new oblique aerial photographs of the island.

Archive: PKHT and RCAHMS (intended)

Funder: Historic Scotland and Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership

Oliver J T O’Grady, OJT Heritage



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