Unexpected gem in the Perthshire hills

We saw the sign for St Mary’s as we passed through Grandtully. “Ancient Monument”, the sign said. Intrigued, we turned onto what appeared to be a farm road. The signs became confusing: variously pointing into a farmyard, to continue up the track, and finally, just as we were about to give up and turn back, into a well defined car park at the entrance to a farmstead.

Following the signposts, we walked up a gentle slope to the crown of a small hill where we were presented with a spectacular view:


To the left of the path, we passed various sheds, stores, and buildings of uncertain use. Through two kissing gates, and the buildings appeared to run out. At least there was a burial ground, tucked between the final two buildings, but no sign of a chapel.


A sign on the gate didn’t give any clue regarding what we were about to find: “This chapel served the small settlement of Pitcairn, which extended around the walls of the castle of Grandtully, and which was within the parish of Dull. It was probably built around 1533, when Alexander Stewart, who lived in the castle, provided endowments for a priest to serve here. It was enlarged and refitted in 1636 by Sir William Stewart, who was Sheriff-Principal of Perth under Charles I. In 1883 it briefly became a parish church, but nine years later was abandoned for worship when a new church was built elsewhere, and for a while it was partly used as a byre and farm store…”

It certainly looked more like a byre than any chapel we’d come across.


Stooping through the only opening, save the single window on the eastern gable, our breath was literally taken away by what lay, hidden within.

It wasn’t the hefted rafters that left us slack jawed:


Nor was it the carved and dated lintel from a long gone window or door, now mounted on the west wall:


No. What took our breath away, completely filled the entire eastern half of the ceiling of the building…

Painted vault

Note: Images from here are full resolution. Click on image to view in greater detail.

The painted, barrel-vaulted ceiling is quite breathtaking. Painted in-situ, during Sir William Stewart’s refurbishment in 1636, the colours remain vivid after nearly 400 years. The natural pigments give the entire work an “earthy” feel.

Painted vault2

The centre-piece is a representation of the Last Judgement, which includes death, the trumpet call, and the resurrection of the good and worthy all in a single tableau:


This is flanked by 28 smaller panels, some of which are difficult to interpret as, despite the resilience of tempera, there has been some fading and damage through the centuries.

The sun blazes in the east:


Which is complemented in the west by a ruddy moon:


The four gospels:



Mary – and a very large, bouncing baby Jesus…


… sit alongside various allegorical images, …

By Faith



… mythic beasts, cherubs, angels and foliage fill the areas between the roundels…


Intriguingly, the Union of the Crowns, is represented in not one, but two roundels, which face each other at the east end…

Rampant Unicorn


Monograms, coats of arms, sundry beasts, I appear to have omitted.

Well worth a detour if you are ever in the area.

About Running Elk

My given native name, Running Elk, was bestowed in 2008 as I took my first steps as a fully fledged Medicine Man of the Zuni tradition. A most unlikely candidate for the role, my journey as a healer began some four years prior. The detour onto the shamanic way was most unexpected, yet has been one of the most rewarding challenges to date.
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26 Responses to Unexpected gem in the Perthshire hills

  1. Sue Vincent says:

    *Does impression of goldfish…* xxx

  2. Karin says:

    Breathtaking… I probably would have just cried. I’m easily overwhelmed in places like this – in a good way πŸ™‚

  3. stevetanham says:

    Lovely piece, Allan – thank you.

  4. alienorajt says:

    What a brilliant post. As soon as I saw the first image of the chapel, I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand up – and the images within are, quite simply, breath-taking, and moving too. How amazing to think, in our throw-away world, that these beautiful pictures have survived the tests of time. I must come up and visit! xxx

  5. Dean Powell says:

    Amazing! Next time I drive south brought Perthshire I shall visit

  6. What a find!! You and Sue find real treasures!

  7. blondieaka says:

    Wow what a find, an amazing ceiling and it must have been all the better as it was unexpected. πŸ™‚

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