A religious centre
The site has been holy ground since about 730AD when Celtic missionaries built the first monastery there. The major development came in 848, when Kenneth MacAlpin, by then King of the Scots and of the Picts, rebuilt the original wattle buildings in red stone. Two years later Dunkeld became the religious centre of Scotland when the relics of St Columba were moved there from Iona in the face of increasing Viking attacks on the west coast.
The Cathedral is dedicated to St Columba. It is said that after their journey from Iona his relics were buried under the chancel steps to keep them safe. The dove motif, symbolic of St Columba’s name, can be seen in both the East Window and on the specially woven chancel carpet.
A long time in the making
Construction of Dunkeld Cathedral took about 250 years, from the mid-1200s to the late 1400s, though little work was carried out in the 1300s.
Dunkeld Cathedral twice suffered desecration and destruction during Scotland’s turbulent history. In 1560 it suffered badly in the Reformation, and anything considered to be remotely “Popish” was destroyed. The chancel was repaired and re-roofed in 1600 to serve as Dunkeld’s parish church.
Worse was to come on 21 August 1689, during the first Jacobite uprising. The Jacobites, fresh from their victory at Killiecrankie to the north, attacked Government forces based in Dunkeld. During the course of a long, bloody and largely inconclusive battle, much of the town, including the repaired parts of the Cathedral, were burned down.
Dunkeld Cathedral is mainly in ruins, although one part of the building is intact and still in use as a church. If it’s a sunny day, the grounds of Dunkeld Cathedral are a lovely place to sit and relax. Especially attractive are the grassy banks of the River Tay, which flows past the Cathedral. Buy an ice cream in the village of Dunkeld and then eat it, lying on the grass beside the river. An idyllic spot…
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