Birnie Kirk is believed to be built on a site originally occupied by the Celtic Church and was dedicated to Saint Brendan the Navigator. The Church still holds regular services and is a popular venue for visitors.

The Kirk may have been the first cathedral in the diocese, and was built about 1140 c., during the reign of David I. The fourth Bishop of Moray, Simon de Tonci, who died in 1184, is thought to be buried at Birnie. It is a plain building with a Norman Arch between the chancel and the nave. In 1734 the west gable was rebuilt and larger windows were added (south side). In 1890 further repairs were made, but it has retained a similar style of the Early Christian Basilican Churches of southern Italy.

Excerpt starting on page 54, ending on page 55.

       In the Laigh of Moray - the low-lying district between the mouths of the Spey and the Findhorn - there were in those days three churches of more than ordinary importance, all lying close together and none of them more than five miles from the town of Elgin. These were Birnie, Kinneddar, and Spynie. Each of these churches was in turn the cathedral of the early bishops of Moray.

        The Church of Birnie, when it became the cathedral of the newly erected diocese, was probably, like all the early celtic churches, a building of wood and wattle. But the present quaint old parish church, which succeeded it, is undoubtedly a very ancient structure, and is possibly, after that of Mortlach in Banffshire, the oldest place of worship still in use in the north of Scotland. The date of its erection was certainly no later than 1150, and possibly not much earlier. Its walls are built with square of ashlar-work of freestone. It has a nave and a chancel, connected by a handsome Norman arch. And in it is still preserved an old square-sided Celtic alter-bell of malleable iron, riveted and covered with bronze, known as the Ronnell bell, similar in character to that of St Fillian's at Glendrochat, and many others found in different parts of Scotland. The peculiar sanctity of this venerable church is recognized in the old local saying that to be thrice prayed for in the Kirk of Birnie will " either mend ye or end ye". According to Lachan Shaw, the historian of Moray, the word Birnie is derived from brenoth, a brae or high land. Which very accurately describes the nature of the ground on which the church stands. Birnie seems to have been the cathedral of the diocese during the rule of the first four bishops - that is up to the death of the English Bishop Simon de Toeny in 1184.  After that, for a short time, possibly for not more than a quarter of a century, Kinneddar - a name that, according to Shaw, is derived from Cean Edir, "the point between the sea (the Moray Firth) and the lock (the lock at Spynie)" takes its place.

Spynie then replaced Kinneddar as the cathedral of the diocese.

Birnie Kirk

The Church of Birnie


A History of Moray and Nairn

Charles Rampini

London: William Blackwood & Sons. (MDCCCXCVII)      

A transcribed excerpt  December 1999, Ken Birnie

Historical Sermon







 The Birnie Kirk

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