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Kilmartin Parish Church

Church (19th Century)

Site Name Kilmartin Parish Church

Classification Church (19th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Kilmartin Village

Canmore ID 39532

Site Number NR89NW 85

NGR NR 83460 98852

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Argyll And Bute
  • Parish Kilmartin
  • Former Region Strathclyde
  • Former District Argyll And Bute
  • Former County Argyll

Archaeology Notes

NR89NW 85 83449 98852

For adjacent churchyard (including crosses, tombstones and Neil Campbell Tomb), see NR89NW 8.

Architecture Notes

Kilmartin, Kilmartin Parish Church.


James G Davis of Davis & McNab, 1835. Interior recast 1900.

(Undated) information in NMRS.


Field Visit (August 1989)

This church occupies a spur projecting from the gravel terrace on the E side of the Kilmartin valley, overlooking several of the Bronze Age burial-cairns in the valley, and 300m SSW of Kilmartin Castle (No. 134). The churchyard, which contains one of the largest collections of medieval graveslabs in the West Highlands, is roughly rectangular, as shown on an estate map of 1825, and was extended down the slope to the S in 1883-7. The former manse, built in 1789 and subsequently much altered, stands immediately to the NW, with the glebe in the valley to the W (en.1).

The present church, which stands in the N part of the churchyard and probably occupies the position of the earlier ones, was built in 1834-5 to the designs of J Gordon Davis, the London architect who had been employed at Kilmory Castle (No. 169) and elsewhere in the area. Its immediate predecessor was a modest structure built as recently as 1798, which appears on the 1825 estate-map as a square with small extensions, probably porches or stairs against the E and W walls. The only surviving relic of this building is a schist slab lying in the churchyard, inscribed in small letters 'Kilmartin Ch(urch) Built', with the large date '1798' surrounded by incised scrolls.

The church is an aisled rectangle, 19m from E to W by 12m over all, with a projecting W tower measuring 5.8m by 7m, and is built of coursed rubble with dressings of schist ashlar and yellow sandstone. The openings throughout have four-centred arches with moulded hoods and diamond-leaded window-panes; the four windows in each aisle are single lights, while those of the clerestory are of two lights with quatrefoils in the spandrels. The main roof has overhanging eaves but the aisles have low crenellated parapets and stepped eaves, and the E gable is marked by a sandstone moulding with face-masks at the base and a bracket at the apex, supporting the tall crocketed finial of a stepped parapet. The centre bay of the E front contains a tall three-light Perpendicular window, divided by buttresses from the aisles, which have two-leaf doors and small blind lancets above them. The tower has angle-buttresses in the lower half, and windows like those of the clerestory at first-floor and bell-chamber levels, with ground-floor doors to Wand N. In the S wall there is a large blank panel with scrolled surround, and a moulded course with foliations and angle-masks marks the base of the crenellated parapet.

In the interior the aisles are marked by four-bay arcades with wide arches carried on thin rectangular columns without bases or capitals. The angles are double-chamfered, and the springings of a third chamfered order in the archheads are marked by face-masks copied from medieval models. The arcades originally contained galleries, removed in 1900, which resembled the remaining W gallery, filling the tall plain tower-arch (en.2). This belonged to the family of Malcolm of Poltalloch and its timber front, carried on thin metal columns, has a quatrefoil base-course, narrow panels with cusped triangular heads, and a foliated cornice. The original pulpit, of three-decker design, was set under the E window, and a long communion-table occupied the central passage between the pews, but all of these fittings have been replaced. A dais for the communion-table and pulpit has been formed at the E end, enclosed on N and S by timber porches occupying the E bays of the aisles, and the existing timber panelled ceiling also dates from the restoration of 1900. A stone stair gives access to the gallery in the tower, but the upper stages are not accessible. The bell-chamber presumably contains the bell purchased in 1839, while a bell made for the parish minister in 1712 is preserved at Duntrune Castle (No. 128) (en.3*).

The church serves a parish extending some 20km from Loch Crinan along the E shore of Loch Craignish to the head of Gleann Domhain, and whose N part is bounded for 7kmby the NW shore of Loch Awe. This area seems to correspond with the barony of Ardskeodnish, held from the late 13th century by the Campbells of Lochawe, and an agreement referring to the advowson of the church was made between two members of the family in 1323, while the patronage remained in their hands in the post-Reformation period. The names of individual parsons and vicars are recorded from 1361 and 1304 respectively, and some of them were members of the Campbell family. The parsonage was also a prebend of the cathedral church of Argyll from 1443 or earlier (en.4). In the almost total absence of inscriptions on monuments of the Loch Awe school, the social context of the remarkable collection of graves labs is uncertain, but it was recorded that Sir Colin Campbell of Glenorchy was 'honorablie bureit in the Kirk of Kilmertyne' in 1480 (en.5). The chapel of Kilmahumaig (No. 64) with its attached lands was included in the parish until 1651, and the teinds of the chapel of 'Kilbryde at Lochgersyde' (No. 52) were held by the minister in 1617, while a detached block of land lying E of Loch Gair and Loch Glashan, adjoining Kilbride, appears also to have been part of Kilmartin parish until 1651. A chaplainry at the Lady altar in the parish church itself was endowed with lands and these, together with the church's own property, were secularised in the late 16th century, forming the nucleus of the later Kilmartin estate (en.6).

In 1793 it was stated that: 'The church was built in the year 1601. The walls are strong, but the plan is incommodious. It is a long narrow stripe, and has had no reparation or improvement since it was built, except giving it a new roof. The pulpit ... is an old Gothic structure of stones and lime, about 7 feet (2.1m) from the level of the floor, and is coeval with the church' (en.7). No more is known of this building, which was probably an alteration of the medieval church rather than a completely new one, but it dated from the period when Mr Neil Campbell, minister of Kilmartin, was also bishop of Argyll (infra). However, surviving documents indicate the pressure for space in the churchyard, where many medieval monuments remained in use. In 1677 Neil Campbell, sometime of Kilmartin, sold to his namesake, now of Duntrune, 'the two lairs belonging to me and my predicessors... quich Iyes at the uper end of the ould kirk ... with ane lechstone chist (low stone (tomb-)chest)'. In 1731 there was a court-case between Donald MacCallum (Malcolm) of Poltalloch and Alexander Maclsaac, miller at Slockavullin, over the ownership of 'through-stanes' (recumbent graveslabs), and in 1767 Alexander Malcolm sued the same Maclsaac, who was ordered to remove inscriptions added by him to several medieval graveslabs. Similar inscribed family names of 18th- and early 19th-century date are common on many of the slabs described below (en.8).

An estimate of £331 for rebuilding the church was submitted in 1798 by Dugald Mclsaac, a local builder, and George Malcolm, brother of the principal heritor, undertook to supervise it, but the work was still incomplete in March 1801. However, Neil Malcolm was invited to give instructions for the erecting of a family pew shortly thereafter (en.9). Several plans for a new building were submitted in 1833, and that selected was by J G Davis, to contain 550 sittings at an estimated cost of £900. Neil Malcolm of Poltalloch offered to pay for the tower, estimated to cost a further £200, on condition that he had exclusive use of the seats in the tower, but the final cost of the building, which was opened in 1835, exceeded £1300. The alteration of the interior, first proposed in 1896, was begun three years later to plans by James Edgar, 'architect', clerk of works on the Poltalloch estate, and completed in 1900 at a cost of £758 (en.10). The charge was united with that of Kilmichael Glassary in 1982.

RCAHMS 1992, visited August 1989

Watching Brief (2002)

Archaeological watching brief undertaken by Scotia Archaeology in Kilmartin village, Argyll in 2002. The watching brief was carried out on the instructions of the West of Scotland Archaeology Service (WoSAS), acting on behalf of Argyll & Bute Council, in response to an application by Scottish and Southern Energy to upgrade the power supply to a new housing development on the east side of the village.


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