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The Birnie Kirk History

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.

We highly recommend a visit to “our” Kirk




Kirk Photos

 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.

BIRNIE KIRK AN ACCOUNT OF ITS RECENT RESTORATION  THE REV. JAMES COOPER,  1891


Virginia Birnie B.Sc.N, M.Sc.N., R.N.

Historical Notes: Elgin Public Library, (Book 74 L7285.241223 BIR) Transcribed K.W.Birnie

The Church of Birnie


    “This Church,” says Rev. Dr. Cooper, University of Glasgow, “is now I imagine the most Beautiful and most Comfortable, as it is certainly the most ancient and interesting, in all the wide regions formerly included in the diocese of Moray”

   The late Dr Gordon, minister of the parish, was of the opinion that it must have been built not later than 1140, and Dr Cooper is inclined to assign its erection to the reign of David I. (1124-1153).

   The fourth Bishop of Moray was Simon de Toeny, who before his election to Moray was Abbot of Coggeshall in Essex. He died in 1184, and it is frequently asserted that he was buried at Birnie. Bricius was the sixth Bishop. He ruled the diocese probably from 1203, was a great benefactor to the church, and, as his great charter shows, procured that the Cathedral, which was formally undefined and held at Birnie, Spynie, and Kineddar be fixed at Spynie. Bishop Bricius died in 1222 and in his successor’s time was definitely fixed at Elgin.

   Brennath was originally one of the common churches of the Chapter, but the church of Birnie was afterwards given along with other churches towards the endowment of chaplainries in the Cathedral. In 1550 the Pope confirmed the churches of Lochalveth, Bruneth and Altre given for the support of seventeen chaplains. In a list of taxation of about that time of the Bishopric of Moray occurs the church of Brynnath taxed at 11 marks, Urquhart and Duffus being being 60, and Spynie 24 marks, while the procurations due to the Bishop of Moray from Elgyne, Spinie, and Bryneth amounted to 40p.

On 24th January 1547, The Bishop granted a charter to Patrick Kynnard and Elizabeth Gordon, his spouse, of the lands of Middil Tillebardin, Gedloch, Glenlatroquhy, and Blairahay in the barony of Birneth. Reddendo annually for Middil Tullebardin: 5pounds 6s 8d, one mart, four sheep stc., For Gedloch: 3 pounds 6s 8d one sheep, etc.

1606-1623 The Bishop granted in fue farm to James, Earl of Moray, the land which he and his predecessors formerly held under the Bishops, viz. . . .  Birneth, the lands of the Hiltoun of Birneth, Alehouse thereof, Smidy croft, thereof, the lands of Medder Birneth, Mill of Birneth, with the multures astricted to the barony of Birny and services of the tenants. See end notes.

  In 1734 the west gable of the church was rebuilt - the belfry bears the date “1734” and the three south windows were enlarged and other repairs executed at an outlay of 905 pounds 6d. The repairs included building the west gable from the foundation, building the bellhouse, Repairing the two sidewalls of the kirk and choir, repairing the mid gable and the east gable, inserting a sash window of 24 lights in the west gable. For the roof 42 trees, 21.5 ft long and 7 inches square at one end and 5.5 at the other, also slates for 6.75 roods.

The wall of the chancel is now a foot higher that that of the nave, but the roof is not so high. The nave was probable once higher than it is now. The old door on the north side of the church was nearly exactly opposite the large south door and was 51 in. wide and about 8 ft 4 in high. The height of The door on the south side  is 7 ft 8n. On the outside wall 32 inches cast of that door is an iron ring as if intended for the jougs.

An old sculptured stone lies at the entrance gate of the churchyard. There is a sundial on the south wall inscribed “ Gift of the Parish 1753”. It is difficult to assign a precise date to the stone baptismal font which now has an honoured place within the church. It date perhaps from Episcopal times in the seventeenth century.

The Church was restored by the Heritors in 1891. The Architect was Mr. A. Marshall MacKenzie of Aberdeen, who provided “The  NORTHERN SCOT”  (Newspaper) with a description of the Church. Mr Hippolyte Blane provided further details in “THE BUILDER”, 20th November, 1886. (Both available from Birnie.Org).


You have need to be Prayed for thrice in the Church of Birnie that you may either end or Mend!”


Indeed, burials at Birnie became popular and soil from Birnie was distributed at funerals, placed beneath the coffin, throughout the Highlands.