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Publication Account

Date 1995

Event ID 1016734

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Publication Account


Of the medieval cathedral of the diocese of Ross only the south aisle and chapel and the chapter house now remain as separate buildings, but the plan of the foundations is laid out in the grass.

The bishopric of Ross was originally at Rosemarkie, but Bishop Robert (1214-49) moved to Fortrose and started to build a new cathedral. The choir, chancel and chapter house may have been finished by the end of the 13th century, but work probably ceased during the Wars of Independence,and the building was only completed in the early 15th century. After the Reformation the Regent Moray allowed the lead to be stripped from the roof, while Cromwell is said to have taken the fallen stones, as he did at Beauly, to build his fortress at Inverness.

The cathedral was a long rectangle with heavily buttressed walls and a west tower. The most important surv iving structure is the south nave aisle, added in the late 14th-early 15th century, of which the eastern section was traditionally erected as a chantry chapel and burial aisle for Euphemia, Countess of Ross in her own right, who died in 1395. Her first husband was Sir WaIter Leslie, whose arms appear on a roof boss. Ironically, her second husband was that Alexander Stewart, Wolf of Badenoch, who with 'wild Wykked Heland-men' burnt Elgin cathedral and Burgh in 1390. The tracery of the wi ndows in her chapel at Fortrose is similar to that of the new windows put in th e choir aisles at Elgin after the fire. The ribbed vaulting of the aisle roof is particu larly fine. Between the aisle and the nave are three arched tombs: from east to west, these are traditionally those of Countess Euphemia herself, Bishop Cairncross (1539-45) and Bishop Fraser (1489-1507). It is curious that a bishop's head is carved on the Countess's tomb. Halfway along the south aisle is an octagonal stair tower and bell turret with a Victorian pointed roof. Only the chapter house preserves any portion of the original 13th-century cathedral: the vaulted undercroft of this building, located next to the ha chancel, was probably a combined chapter house and sacristy (where the priests prepared for the services), while the room above may have housed the cathedral library and a treasury.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: The Highlands’, (1995).

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