ARBUTHNOTT CHURCH HISTORY
The building used by Arbuthnott Church is one of the few pre-reformation parish churches in rural Scotland still in use for regular public worship.
The church is dedicated to the memory of St. Ternan who, it is believed, was born to a Pictish family in the Mearns during the first half of the 5th century A.D. After training in his native country, he went to Ireland, took part in missionary work and became abbot of a monastic settlement in Leinster. Thereafter he returned to Kincardineshire and probably settled in Banchory where his religious community was an important missionary centre.
It is not possible to trace the connection between Arbuthnott church and Ternan during his life, but it is known that the church was dedicated to his memory from very early times. There is every indication that a church existed on the present site before the chancel was dedicated on 3rd August 1242 by David de Bernham, Bishop of St. Andrews. Following instruction from the authorities in Rome he carried out services of consecration throughout his wide-spread diocese in the years 1241-1244 and on into 1249. Around 140 of the 234 churches in this diocese received his scrutiny and blessing at that time.
The parish of Arbuthnott was brought into being as a result of the Norman influence that pervaded all Scottish affairs during the reigns of Queen Margaret and her sons. The fact that there was a Church (or "Kirk") at Arbuthnott is established through surviving documents which relate to the long-running dispute between the Thanes of Arbuthnott and successive Bishops of St. Andrews, and was only settled by decree of the Synod of Perth in the year 1206.
The dispute was concerned with the relationship between the Thanes and the Bishops as owners of the Kirkton lands and it was also related to the management of the Kirkton lands as agricultural subjects which is evidence of the long-standing close association between the Church, the land, its people and their daily lives. Arbuthnott was developing as an agricultural community in the latter part of the 12th century and the close ties between the members of the church and the agricultural community can be traced in the mission and ministry of the church up to the present time.
Built in the early English style it contains five small lancet windows with a piscina under the lancet at the southeast of the church building. Since its initial construction, the lancet windows and the top part of the east gable have been considerably altered. From earliest times the chancel served as a burial place for the Norman family of Allardyce to whom the lands of Allardyce were granted in 1165 or thereabouts.
The first nave was built soon after the chancel and then rebuilt on the eve of the Reformation. The existing bell tower at the west end of the nave, and the Lady Chapel, otherwise known as the Arbuthnott Aisle, were constructed by Sir Robert Arbuthnott of that Ilk around the year 1500. The bell tower was dedicated to the church by Sir Robert who also gave two bells to be rung for services and offices.
The Arbuthnott Aisle is a beautiful example of the late Scottish Gothic style with upper and lower floors. The lower floor, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, has a stoup and an aumbry. It contains a tomb, the top of which is believed to be the stone effigy of Hugo le Blond of Arbuthnott. The tomb beneath the effigy is of a later period, probably mid-16th century and contains the remains of James Arbuthnott of that Ilk, son of Sir Robert who built the aisle. The four shields on the coffin are those of the Stewart, Arbuthnott x 2, and Douglas families.
The room above the Lady Chapel was destined for the use of the parish priest and it would have been in this room with its own bell tower, that James Sibbald, vicar of Arbuthnott who died in 1507, completed the famous Missal of Arbuthnott in the year 1492. The missal, which is written on vellum in Gothic illuminated script, is now kept in Paisley Museum. The Arbuthnott Missal is one of three unique volumes, the others being a Prayer Book and a Book of Hours, which are believed to be the last remaining written versions of the Scottish pre-Reformation form of church service.
The long association between the church and the family of Arbuthnott is evident in the construction of the bell tower and the Aisle in the late 15th century, the commissioning of the Missal and the other religious books, the donation of the communion plate and other church vessels throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.
At the Reformation, Alexander Arbuthnott, the first Protestant minister of the church, was a member of the Arbuthnott family, whose memorial stone is seen in the north wall of the church close to the pulpit. He later became the first protestant Principal of King's College, Aberdeen, and was Moderator of the General Assembly in 1573 & 1577. The other large plaque in the north wall above the centre of the nave is a memorial to John Sibbald of Kair who was minister of the parish in the middle of the 17th century. He gave a library to the church which was for many years, housed in the upper part of the Arbuthnott Aisle.
Towards the middle of the 18th and into the 19th century the central part of the Church became decayed. The nave was restored in the middle of the 19th century when galleries were added to three sides and the pulpit was set against the south wall. In 1890, fire destroyed the greater part of the nave and another restoration, which included re-roofing the chancel, was carried-out by the architect Marshall Mackenzie of Aberdeen in 1896. It may have been at this time that the lancet windows were altered.
In the mid-20th century, further attention was given to the church including the installation of heating. The exterior walls of the church and Aisle were pointed and care of the surrounding graveyard became the responsibility of the local authority (now Aberdeenshire Council). Outside the church, to the west, a slight depression in the churchyard marks the original boundary of the burial ground. Beyond this depression and to the west stood the original school of Arbuthnott, which was demolished about the year 1920.
More recently, the organ in the church was completely overhauled, electrified and given a new pedal board. The instrument is regarded as one of the finest church organs in the Grampian region.
Recently an extension has been added to the church on the north wall of the nave. This addition houses an accessible toilet and a small kitchen for the convenience of church users and visitors. The extension was designed by Murray Architects of Laurencekirk and construction was completed in 2020, and officially opened on 24 October 2021. In the year 2022, Aberdeenshire Council opened-up the new burial ground across the road from the church. Its first burials are yet to take place.
Arbuthnott Church was linked to Kinneff Church and Bervie Church in 1987 - 1990. From 2010, Arbuthnott, Bervie and Kinneff were united into a single parish, although retaining both Arbuthnott and Bervie Churches for worship.
Piscina: A stone basin for water always located on the south side of the altar. It would have been used by the priest during and after services when water was needed for cleaning.
Stoup: One of these is situated at the entrance to the nave of the church by the south side door, and the other at the entrance to the Aisle. Each would have contained holy water to cleanse visitors entering the building.
Aumbry: A form of cupboard or wall recess in which the host (the blessed bread, water and wine) would remain until required by the officiating priest.
Missal: A book containing instructions for the celebration of holy Mass.