Strathbogie, Marnoch Kirkyard, Momenti Mori & the Disruption

Straying into bonnie Strathbogie one mild spring day, as you do, we were passing by a wee kirkyard when a tallish grave memorial encouraged us stop to take a closer look.

The kirkyard turned out to be Marnoch cemetery attractively tucked in alongside the trickling River Deveron. The nearest big place is, I suppose, Aberchirder or Foggy Loan is it is better known.

Marnoch took its name from a 7thC saint Marnan from Ireland who lived and died in the area and whose relics encouraged pilgrimages from the time of his death until into the 16th century.

The two main features of the kirkyard are the morthouse or watchhouse and the aforementioned family memorial evidently carved by a hand of real talent.

Watchhouses were built in cemeteries in Scotland so that the family of the deceased could watch over the interred corpse for several days and nights to keep their loved ones safe from grave robbers or insurrectionists, as they were called, exhuming their recently departed. This did occur at Marnoch when a body was stolen from the cemetery in 1831 causing so much consternation that the L-shaped watchhouse was erected, incidentally on the site of an earlier Marnoch church which had been granted to Arbroath Abbey by William the Lion in the 13thC..

Once medical students could lawfully acquire corpses for dissection, following the law of 1832, it was no longer necessary for them to steal the dead. Later then the watchhouse became home to gravediggers and their families.

The ornate grave structure which drew my eye was the Meldrum Enclosure of 1699 made of Moray sandstone by John Faid. And it is quite wonderful.

Very ornate, the carving is exquisite. The burial spot is contained within an elaborate balustrade which forms a shrine with an inset bust niche between two cracking Corinthian columns and above is an ornate pediment decorated with heraldic trumpeter angels and finished off with a classical urn.

The bust is of George Meldrum, the Reverend of Crombie in Marnoch and Minister at Glass who lived from 1616 until 1692.

Several symbols of mortality (memento mori – remember you must die) have been used.

A skeleton beneath the central niche is possibly the best carved I have come across and represents the decaying body.

Skull and crossbones represent the death of the person – here there are four elaborate pairs of crossed bones flanking a skull and entwined with a ribbon.

The hourglass represents time running out on life but as an hourglass can be turned around there is the promise of resurrection.

A coffin.

A pair of tolling bells hanging from chords.

2 pairs of winged death’s heads.

Above the niche is a magnificent mask.

There are other enclosures but of lesser interest.

The cemetery is separate from the Kirk at Marnoch which sits on a small hill opposite.

The Kirk at Marnoch fixed itself as ‘an important battleground connected with religious liberty’.
It was here that a dispute over the selection of a minister led to the Disruption and the breakaway of the Free Kirk from the established Church of Scotland in 1843.

To explain. From 1712 the Patronage Act had given heritors (landowners or their agents) the right to nominate ministers to parishes irrespective of the wishes of parish congregations. This did not go down well with many Presbyterians. In 1834 the General Assembly of the Kirk decided against this secular law and decreed that Scottish congregations should be able to veto any minister they didn’t want.

Then in 1837 the minister at Marnoch died and his nominated replacement was objected to by the congregation.

Local resistance to the new minister was boosted by support from outside the area and while a protracted legal battle ensued the people also took matters into their own hands and the incident attracted national coverage.

Despite deep snows, large numbers of determined members of the congregation and their supporters gathered at the Manse and the Kirk. A stagecoach with four horse from Turriff took hours to travel the 8 miles to Aberchirder but still people came. There was pandemonium with snowballs and coins being hurled around and a clear message sent out that this congregation expected to be able to choose their own minister.

Eventually the Strathbogie Presbytery got their man into the post, in Jan 1841.

In the wake of the dispute parts of the congregation made the decision to break away and build their own more democratic church, free from ties to the state, and to this large sums of money were quickly collected, £300 in Aberdeen on one day, to build their breakaway church. The congregation left the established church on the 21st January 1841 and entered their new church on the 17 March the following year.

During the jubilee celebrations in 1892 several of the main figures associated with the disruption were remembered, along with William Alexander, author of Johnny Gibb of Gushetneuk for spreading knowledge of the proceedings world-wide.

May 1843

The Disruption of 1843 split the established church of Scotland and led to the formation of the Free Kirk of Scotland.

Excellent account of the Home Guard at Aberchirder

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