Fearn Abbey

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This is the most northerly abbey in Scotland, which seemed a good excuse to visit it. It is signed off the B9156 road to Balintore in the middle of nowhere and surrounded by fertile farmland.

Don't be confused by the name. It's no longer and abbey, just a small parish church. There is little left of the abbey, although the church is still used and has a very large car park. There is little settlement around and people have to travel quite a distance for the services.

The original abbey was built at Edderton, about 15 miles away but after a few years was moved here in 1238, possibly because it was better agricultural land. It was a small community of seven or eight canons ruled over by an abbot. The abbey was rebuilt in the 14thC when St Michael’s aisle was added on the south side of the church. After the Reformation, the abbey buildings fell into disrepair while the church became the parish church.

In 1742, the church was struck by lightning during a service and the roof collapsed killing many of the congregation. The minister had been saved by the pulpit and insisted a new church be built to the south using stone from the remains of the dormitory and cloisters as well as the west end of the church. This was in a very poor state by 1770 and had to be rebuilt in 1772. This is the church we see today.

The church is surrounded by a walled kirkyard with many old grave slabs as well as table graves. It is a long, low stone building with a small bell cot at the west end. On the south wall is the remains of St Michael’s aisle.This looks more like a lean-to than a chapel as sometime in the 1790s, a stone ‘skin’ was wrapped round the outside, either for protection against the elements or to keep it standing. We didn’t bother to look inside, a mistake as we later discovered it contains the tomb of Abbot Finlay McFaed.

On the north wall is the mausoleum chapel built after the Reformation as the burial place for the Ross family and still has their memorial slabs on the walls.

Entry is through a door at the back of the church. This leads into a narrow corridor with two doors into the church. It is unusual as the wooden pews are in the centre of the church, accessed down the sides of the nave. The pews are divided by a wooden bar running down the centre, presumably separating men and women.

There is a small free standing altar at the east end, wooden pulpit, organ and small stone font. On the east wall is a splendid collection of old memorial stones including one with a sailing ship on the top.

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