Aberdeenshire HER - NO39NE0002 - TULLICH CHURCH

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Main Details

Primary ReferenceNO39NE0002
NRHE Card No.NO39NE2
NRHE Numlink 32454
HES SM No. 86
Site Form Standing Structure
Site Condition Incomplete
Details Site of chapel and remains of church, set within a burial enclosure with a low rubble surrounding wall. A Celtic chapel was established by Nathalan (Nachalan / Neachtan) who died in the 7th Century AD (8 January 678 according to the Irish Annals) and St Nathalan is said to be buried somewhere in the churchyard. Two legends are attributed to St Nathalan. According to the first, having given away his own seed grain he sowed his land with sand from which 'a great crop of all kinds of grain grew up'. The second tells how Nathalan, in penitence bound his hand to his leg with an iron lock, throwing the key into the Dee with a vow not to unlock it until he visited the thresholds of the Apostles Peter and Paul in Rome. There he found the unrusted key inside a fish purchased in the market. According to the legend the pope ordained Nathalan a bishop and he only returned to Scotland in later life, there building churches at 'Tullicht, Bothelim, and Colle' (Tullich, Bethelnie (NJ73SE0006) and probably Coull (NJ50SW0004) although the third has also been suggested to be Cowie Chapel (NO88NE0020) which was also dedicated to St Nathalan). Tullich church was subsequently held by the Knights Templars and latterly by the Hospitallers, who built a fort around it in the 13th Century AD, of which traces of a slight ditch around the periphery of the wall (except along the north side) can still be seen. From the crest of the bank to the top of the outer scarp of the ditch measures circa 4.5 m (probably only a minor protective dyke and drainage ditch). The present building is a good example of a medieval parish church, which has been largely reconstructed in post-Reformation times. The rectangular plan church is constructed in granite rubble, measuring 24.3 m by 8.9 m, with walls 1 m thick. A late 14th Century AD doorway remains in the north wall but the precise date of construction is unknown. The old walled circular burial ground measures 51 m by 55 m. Until relatively recently, a stone font, fourteen cross-slabs (NO39NE0016) and one symbol stone (NO39NE0015) stood within the churchyard, but all have now been removed to a purpose built display shelter to the east of the church. According to Michie, St Nachalan's Cross, a cross-inscribed stone, stood some distance to the east of the churchyard, but was destroyed in 1857 for road-metalling. However, Jervise states that St Nachalan's cross, which was 3.65 m high and adorned with steps, was a square unadorned shaft of granite on the site of Nachlan Fair and was removed in 1817 (probably a misprint). The churchyard contains two Commonwealth war graves, of James Alexander Freeland, Royal Navy (died 15 April 1944) and Private M Ewan, Gordon Highlanders (died 19 March 1941), as well as the war graves of three members of the Newfoundland Forestry Unit (NO39NE0070). In 2009 a watching-brief was undertaken on the lifting of a large irregular stone slab lying outside of the southeast corner of the church building and parallel to the wall. No carving was noted on either side of the stone once lifted. A programme of evaluation works (NO39NE0113) was carried out east of the churchyard prior to extension of the burial ground. Geophysical survey and planned excavation in 2013 extended in part into the Scheduled area immediately outside the graveyard wall. The cross-slabs and font have been removed from the site for conservation works. Further geophysical survey was carried out in 2015 within the graveyards, to map anomalies closed to the church walls prior to consolidation work and also to extend the 2013 to cover the whole burial ground. The results were dominated by the large number of burials. Several anomalies within the outer graveyard correlate with a 1790 plan of a croft and associated enclosures on the site. Numerous anomalies in the northeast of the inner graveyard may be archaeologically significant. A small number of test pits were excavated by MAS in 2016 to assess the nature of the foundations as part of stabilisation works. Test pits 1, 2 and 3 gave some indication of earlier walling below the base of the wall of the present building, possibly indicating an earlier construction period. A historic building survey was carried out by AOC Archaeology in July 2018 in advance of consolidation works. During conservation works in 2019, a further 10 carved stones were found within the church. Four of these stones remain in situ while the remainder have been removed for conservation and future display. Another carved stone was found in the graveyard in October 2022 (Tullich 28), currently off site awaiting conservation. To the west of the church a member of the public recovered, while carrying out gardening work an Early Medieval carved rectangular stone (NO39NE0217). The stone has a carving of a cross encompassed within a circle.
Last Update26/04/2024
Updated Bycherbert
Date of Compilation03/07/1992

Google Map for NO39NE0002

National Grid Reference: NO 3906 9754

Event Details

Event DateEvent TypeOASIS ID
2013 Geophysical Survey
2009 Watching-Brief
2015 Geophysical Survey
2016 Excavation mas1-264016
2018 Building Recording

Excavations and Surveys

Date MDate YTypeDurationDirector / OrganisationAuspicesFundExtent
32013 Survey  RGCAC  
 2009 Survey  AAS AAS 
92015 Survey  RGCAC  

Artefact and Ecofact


Ecofact Notes

Monument Types

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