Churches help tell a region’s story and act as a permanent record of an area’s social history. They also often serve as a link between pre-Christian prehistoric communities and the early spread of Christianity, with several churches built on or beside stone circles, standing stones or pictish symbol stones.
Many churches are no longer in ecclesiastical use, but are fascinating sites to visit illustrating the region’s rich architectural heritage. There are many more churches in Aberdeenshire which are still in use, continuing the ecclesiastical architectural tradition of the region, and often historic churches are found adjacent to their 'modern' replacements.
While visiting any of the churches listed on this page, take the chance to explore the surrounding graveyards to learn the stories of the parish, the people and events, their triumphs and tragedies, and to admire the fine work of the region’s highly accomplished stone masons.
For more suggestions of sites to visit in Aberdeenshire, view our guide to 10 of the best Historic Churches in the region (pdf 14.4MB).
The remains of the medieval Tullich Church are set within an unusual subcircular walled graveyard. The church is built on the site of an early chapel said to have been established by local saint St Nathalan (Nachalan / Neachtan) who died in the 7th Century AD.
All that survives of St Drostan’s Church, also known as Insch Old Church, is the west gable complete with an ornate 17th Century pedimented bellcote. The bellcote incorporates carved uprights and finials, dog-tooth detailing and scroll moulding, and the initials 'MIL' for the Leslie family.
Dating from the late medieval period, St Palladius’s Chapel is thought to have been built on the site of a cell built by the saint in the 5th Century AD. The oldest part of the church is said to date to 1244 AD, when a new church was dedicated on this site by Bishop David of St Andrews.
St Talorgan’s Church is thought to have been built in the 13th Century AD, possibly on the site of an earlier church dedicated to St Tarlarican (Talorgan). Only the roofed tower, entrance porch and part of the chancel survive.
St Mary’s Chapel stands at the south end of the Loch of Strathbeg. It is thought to have been built in the early 13th Century AD by the Comyn family as a private chapel for the nearby castle and is all that remains of the medieval burgh of Rattray.
St Congan’s Church has a long history, perhaps beginning in the 7th Century AD. The church is said to have been built at this site in the 11th Century AD by King Malcolm III, and the lands were gifted to Arbroath Abbey in the 13th Century AD by Marjory, Countess of Buchan. The present ruins date from the 15th Century AD.
This former Cathedral is still in use as a Church, and was built on a site which was originally monastic. The Cathedral of the See of Brechin, created c.1150 AD, was altered to serve as a post-Reformation parish church, with a c.1000 AD Irish-type round tower attached to the southwest corner of the nave.
The now ruined Church of Logie dates back to the 13th Century but was abandoned in 1775. Built of sandstone, it features some unusual decorative unusual carved details. It was restored in the 19th Century for use as the burial place for the Carnegies of Craigo.
Eassie Church was dedicated to St Brandon in 1246 by Bishop David of St Andrews, and in 1309 was granted to Newbattle Abbey. The church is thought to have been dedicated to the saints Brandon and Fergus. It was probably partly or wholly rebuilt in the late-16th Century, with later remodelling.
St Vigean’s Parish church, still in ecclesiastical use, occupies nearly the whole of the summit of a regularly shaped mound which has been a site of religious settlement from a very early period. This is shown by a very important group of Pictish carved stones and cross slabs found on this site. The original date of the church is probably the early 12th Century, with remodelling in the 15th, 18th and 19th Centuries.
The now ruined St Peter’s church dates from the 18th Century but is built on the site of an earlier, medieval, church. All that survives of the medieval church are the 14th Century barrel vaulted basement of the west tower, which served as a burial crypt for the Sutherlands of Duffus, and the porch on the south side built in 1524 by Alexander Sutherland, rector of Duffus.
Birnie is one of the oldest places of worship in Moray, having probably been built in the 12th Century. It has since been variously repaired and altered, with the west gable rebuilt and the nave shortened in 1734, followed by major restoration in 1891 by A Marshall Mackenzie.
Elgin Cathedral was founded in 1224 as the seat of the bishopric of Moray and was dedicated to the Holy Trinity. It was damaged by fire in 1270, resulting in much rebuilding. This church was subsequently sacked and burned by Alexander Stewart, the Wolf of Badenoch, in 1390. The west window, nave arcades, and Chapter Houses were all destroyed during the fire.
St Mary’s Church (also known as the Auld Kirk) is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and has been in place since at least 1236 when it is first mentioned in records. Part of this earlier building is incorporated in the present structure, with a blocked Norman arch at the west end of the south wall and the 13th century choir and nave now forming the east and west aisles.
The remains of St Fergus’s church (formerly chapel) likely date to the medieval period, possibly built on the site of an earlier religious centre. Little is known about the early history of the church, and the earliest reference to the chapel being called St Fergus is in 1655.
The now ruined St Fittick’s Church was the former parish church of Nigg, founded between 1189 and 1199. The church formed part of William the Lion’s generous endowments to his newly founded Abbey of Aberbrothoc (or Arbroath, as it is now known), in the late 12th Century. The present church likely dates to the 17th or 18th Centuries, but incorporating earlier architectural details.
The remains of Newmills Parish Church, built in the 17th century, designed by George Davidson of Pettens, a burgess of Aberdeen, who towards the end of his life mortified his estates of Newhills (700 acres) to support a church and minister. Originally a chapel of ease, building began in 1662 and was completed in 1663. Today, the west gable survives to full height and the south elevation remains to the wallhead.
This cathedral is named after St Machar, probably a legendary disciple of Columba. It is thought that the first cathedral on this site dates from between 1125 and 1150, or immediately thereafter. The cathedral that we see today is the result of an ongoing building project through and beyond the medieval period – works were undertaken by a succession of Bishops in the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th Centuries, with later alterations in the 17th Century. The cathedral was restored 1926-9 by renowned Aberdeen architect A. Marshall Mackenzie.