Dornoch Cathedral

Dornoch Cathedral is a former Roman Catholic cathedral and is currently a Church of Scotland parish church serving the small Sutherland town of Dornoch, in the Scottish Highlands. As a congregation of the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, the church is not the seat of a bishop but retains the name due to being, historically, the seat of the Bishop of Caithness. The Cathedral's churchyard is adjoined by Dornoch Castle, the somewhat reconstructed remains of the medieval palace of the Bishops of Caithness.

Dornoch Cathedral
Dornoch Cathedral (11470582694).jpg
Dornoch Cathedral
Dornoch Cathedral is located in Sutherland
Dornoch Cathedral
Dornoch Cathedral
Location within Sutherland
Coordinates: 57°52′52.06″N 4°1′46.64″W / 57.8811278°N 4.0296222°W / 57.8811278; -4.0296222
DenominationChurch of Scotland
Previous denominationRoman Catholic
Founder(s)Gilbert Murray
DedicationSt Mary and St Gilbert
Heritage designationCategory A listed[1]
Designated18 March 1971
Minister(s)Revd. Susan M Brown
Cathedral interior


The cathedral was dedicated to its founder, St. Gilbert and was built in 1224,[3] in the reign of King Alexander II (1214–49) and the episcopate of Gilbert de Moravia (died 1245) (later Saint Gilbert of Dornoch) as the cathedral church of the diocese of Caithness (moved to Dornoch from Halkirk). William de Moravia (later Sutherland), 1st Earl of Sutherland, was buried in the cathedral in 1248.[4]

In 1570, the Cathedral was burnt down by the Mackays of Strathnaver during local feuding. Full renovations were not carried out until 1835-37, by the architect William Burn, funded by Elizabeth the Countess of Sutherland at a cost of £15,000[5] (equivalent to £1,450,000 in 2021).[6] Among the renovations carried out, the ruined but still largely intact aisled medieval nave was demolished and a new narrow nave without pillars built on its site. In the 17th Century, Dornoch ceased to be the seat of the Bishops of Caithness due to the abolition of the episcopate in the Church of Scotland, but the name has remained due to this historical association.[7][8]

On 30 September 1866, the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland were present to welcome the Prince and Princess of Wales, and the Duke of Edinburgh, who attended the morning service.[5]

The interior was reordered between 1924 and 1926 by Rev. Charles Donald Bentinck,[9] with the removal of Victorian plasterwork to reveal the stonework (although the medieval church would have been plastered throughout). The site of the medieval high altar was raised and converted into a burial area for the Sutherland family, who introduced large marble memorials.

The previous minister was the Very Rev Dr James Simpson, who was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1994. As of May 2018, the minister (since 1998) was the Rev Susan Brown.[10] On 9 October 2017, it was announced that she had been nominated as the next Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. She took up the position in May 2018 and served for a year.[11]



The first organ was built by Eustace Ingram and given by Andrew Carnegie and installed in 1893 and opened in January 1894.[12] It was the first organ installed in the county of Sutherland. It was enlarged and hydraulic power introduced in 1909 at a cost of £200 given by Andrew Carnegie.[13] A specification of the organ can be found on the National Pipe Organ Register.[14]


See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Dornoch Cathedral, excluding scheduled monument SM10828, Castle Street, Dornoch (LB24632)". Retrieved 11 October 2021.
  2. ^ "The Church of Scotland. Parish: Dornoch Cathedral" (PDF). The Church of Scotland. The Church of Scotland. Archived from the original (PDF) on 11 May 2018. Retrieved 19 July 2017.
  3. ^ Fasti Ecclesiastae Scotia
  4. ^ Gordon, Robert (1813). A Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland, from its Origin to the Year 1630. Edinburgh: Ramsay. p. 33. Retrieved 14 July 2017.
  5. ^ a b "Royalty in the Highlands - The Service and the Sermon in Dornoch Cathedral". John o’Groat Journal. Scotland. 8 November 1866. Retrieved 23 July 2017 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  6. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 11 June 2022.
  7. ^ "Dornoch Cathedral Feature Page on Undiscovered Scotland". Undiscovered Scotland. Retrieved 20 May 2018. Partial re-roofing followed in 1616. Meanwhile, wider changes were afoot, and the church was for a short period Episcopalian following the Reformation, before subsequently becoming the Presbyterian Church for the area. It is thus no longer, literally, a cathedral, a term alien to the Presbyterian Church: but the name is retained to reflect Dornoch Cathedral's earlier history.
  8. ^ "History". The Church of Scotland. 28 February 2010. Retrieved 20 May 2018.
  9. ^ "Dornoch Cathedral. Work of Restoration". The Scotsman. Scotland. 7 April 1926. Retrieved 23 July 2017 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  10. ^ Morton, Andrew (2 May 2002). Madonna. Macmillan. p. 313. ISBN 978-0-312-98310-9. Retrieved 6 April 2011.
  11. ^ "Madonna minister appointed as Church of Scotland Moderator". BBC News. 9 October 2017. Retrieved 11 October 2017.
  12. ^ "Musical Notes". Falkirk Herald. Scotland. 10 January 1894. Retrieved 23 July 2017 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  13. ^ "Dedication Service in Dornoch Cathedral". John o’Groat Journal. Scotland. 25 June 1909. Retrieved 23 July 2017 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  14. ^ "NPOR [K01287]". National Pipe Organ Register. British Institute of Organ Studies. Retrieved 23 July 2017.

External linksEdit