Exploring Dunblane Cathedral

When I was visiting the town of Dunblane last month, one of the highlights was a visit to the Cathedral. I decided that rather than incorporating the visit information into the post about the town, the Cathedral deserved to be featured in its own post – and here it is.

Dunblane is in Central Scotland, near Stirling which was the seat of the Scottish Monarchy long before Edinburgh. As such, despite having a history as a poor cathedral in the middle ages which struggled financially, I did wonder if there’s a connection between the cathedral and the Scottish crown. Certainly today, the Cathedral is Crown property rather than being owned by the Church or Historic Scotland who do have responsibility for the maintenance of the property.

Celtic stone cross

Cathedral and neighbouring Manse with a path leading through the Cathedral Grounds up to the cathedral.  At both sides of the path is grassy lawn and various gravestones.

The Cathedral itself was erected in the 12th Century but its bell tower is all that remains of an earlier church from the 11th Century. There is evidence of religious settlement/worship at Dunblane dating back to the 9th Century as can be seen in a couple of stone carvings found in the cathedral during excavations. The stones are now on display within the cathedral. It is suggested that a religious settlement may date back further, to around 602 and the time of St Blane.

The History

It seems likely that Dunblane town is so-named after St Blane who settled on the Isle of Bute, coming across from Ireland and set up a religious settlement in the 7th Century. In the 9th Century, the name was brought to central scotland with religious people travelling from Bute to the central belt seeking to protect and save their relics of St Blane against Norse/Viking raids taking place along the West Coast of Scotland.

Approval to build the Cathedral was obtained in 1237 from the Pope by Bishop Clement, who then became the first Bishop of Dunblane Cathedral.

Bishop Clement (First Bishop of Dunblane)

The tower we see in the middle of the cathedral was originally free standing but when the later cathedral building was erected, the tower was incorporated into the new building. The tower was also built in stages, with the top two levels being added between 1487-1526, this can be seen as the stone is a different colour and a different style.

The restauration of the cathedral took place from the late 19th century, into the early 20th century and it was taken into State care in 1889.

The Reformation

Cathedrals in Scotland are sometimes considered to be dour/austere, so I wanted to say something about this so that you look at the photographs of Dunblane with this in mind. During The Reformation in Scotland all of the colour we would have seen previously in Scottish churches and cathedrals were removed. In the case of Dunblane Cathedral, this included the stained glass windows. After the Reformation, Scottish cathedrals were not restored to their previous splendor, the way their English equivalents were. Also, generally the cathedrals in Scotland are smaller than cathedrals in England. MomentousBritain provides more detail.

The Scottish Reformation (the process of replacing the Catholic church in Scotland with a Calvinist, Presbyterian church) took place in 1650.

Robert Leighton was the first protestant Bishop of Dunblane Cathedral and was appointed in 1661. He requested the appointment to Dunblane. The Leighton Library, which is near to the Cathedral, was founded by Robert’s sister.

The Roof

The image shows an arched wooden roof with little shields at the joists along the centre line of the roof and stained glass windows at the bottom of the Cathedral

Around 1662 the Cathedral lost its roof and the local community worshiped in the choir and chancery and the locals started to use the nave as a burial ground, rather than the graveyard.

The Cathedral stood without a roof for 300 years, which was restored in 1893. Its not clear from the photo but as well as the shields we can see in the centre of the roof, there are also shields on the sides of the roof. The ones at the sides show the Heraldry of the Earls of Strathearn and those in the centre are the Scottish Royal Arms from James II of Scotland through to Queen Victoria, who was on the throne at the time the roof was restored.

With its restored roof, the Cathedral is a working church of the Church of Scotland as a parish church (as indicated below, the title of Cathedral is a nod to the building’s historic significance).

Stained Glass Windows

As the stained glass of the cathedral was destroyed during the Reformation, there is little indication of what the glass would have looked like. The Cathedral now boasts some beautiful stained glass (claimed to be some of the best modern glass in the country), it was all created between 1915-1926. The images below share some of the beautiful stained glass to be seen today. Unfortunately I couldn’t see the full brilliance of some of the colours as the day was dull and damp, but the windows are lovely. The blue ones are my favourites.

Cathedrals, High Kirks and the Church of Scotland

When the Cathedral was first consecrated, it was a Catholic establishment but this changed with the Reformation and is now an active Church of Scotland kirk. Although it retains its name as a Cathedral because the Church of Scotland does not have Bishops, it does not actually have Cathedrals – the church at Dunblane is technically a parish Church of the Church of Scotland. The title of Cathedral is “retained in recognition of its role in the development of Christian witness throughout Scotland’s history”. (Historic Scotland, 2014)

Scandal of Murder

There are 3 plaques on the floor of the Cathedral, near the altar, which you can see in the first photo of the windows above. The story is that the plaques commemorate the murders of 3 sisters (Margaret, Euphemia and Sibilla Drummond). Margaret was apparently the mistress of King James IV and she and her sisters were allegedly murdered after the King and Margaret secretly married. The plaques were provided by The Earl of Perth in 1873 but despite this story remaining there is no evidence that the murders ever happened and that it is more likely that the sisters are buried in the Drummond Ailse of the Cathedral. (Historic Scotland, 2014). My reading would indicate its likely the sisters, along with their household were victim of some poisoning – which would be deliberate or simple food poisoning.

You can read more about this case here.

The Dunblane Massacre

On 13th March, 1996 43 year old Thomas Hamilton walked into Dunblane Primary School opening fire on a Primary 1 class (5-6 year olds) and shooting and killing 16 children and their teacher, injuring another 15 children and a couple of teachers. After carrying out his attack, he turned one of his 4 handguns and shot himself. To this day, the authorities have not been able to determine a reason for the attack.

There was outcry about gun laws in the UK after this massacre and gun laws were changed in the UK as a result.

There is a memorial to the victims of the shootings, but I didn’t see it when I was at the Cathedral. (I forgot to look for it). I will update this section when I revisit in the summer.

More detail about the massacre can be found on the Encyclopedia Britannica

The Graveyard

I was surprised that the Cathedral is surrounded on all 4 sides in the grounds by gravestones. I was told by the attendant in the Cathedral that there are over 300 headstones in the graveyard. I’m including a few photographs, but the interesting things I would want to highlight are that Historic Scotland (HS) are currently surveying the headstones in the graveyard to see what is dangerous and need attention/repair. Regrettably so much of the graveyard was cordoned off, so I couldn’t explore as much as I would have liked. I noticed there were many headstones with string tied around them – this was apparently Historic Scotland’s first efforts to identify the gravestones which were dangerous. I was advised, however, that this system didn’t work as HS staff would return in the morning and find some mischevious locals had moved the strings about.

From what I was told, through doing their survey of the graveyard, HS discovered more graves whose headstones were buried under the grass which had preserved the carvings, but to protect them, once they had been catalogued, they were reburied.

I’d never heard of iron headstones – apparently they’re called grave markers. There are a few in the Cathedral Graveyard and would appear to be unusual, at least in Scotland, as the lady from HS seemed surprised to discover them on site. You can see a couple of them in the photos below.

The graveyard seems to have been in constant use since the 1600s and appears to still be in use, as I saw a gravestone from 2003.

I loved the stone gravestone that looked like wood. I also wanted to include the memorial below as it appears to be a commemoration to someone from Dunblane who died fighting in the American Civil War (assuming I’m reading the information correctly).

Some Curiosities

The pews all have carvings on the ends of them which are all animals representing Christian virtues. Unfortunately it looks like the photos I’ve taken don’t show us any animals, but I hope you’ll still enjoy the carvings. It gives me another reason to return to the Cathedral later in the year.

I liked this lamp; I can’t tell you anything about it, but it caught my attention – and the view is back down into Dunblane from the Cathedral. The building covered in the scaffolding is the Leighton Library.

Some additional photos of my visit to the Cathedral

I hope you have enjoyed sharing my visit to Dunblane with me. I had a great time, and as you can see, there’s a lot to learn.


Historic Scotland (2014), Dunblane Cathedral: Official Souvenir Guide, Edinburgh

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  1. Brenda, I am in awe of these pictures. Thank you so much for sharing them, the detailed close-ups and all the history. You might consider becoming a tour guide 🙂 I would so love to visit Scotland, along with other European countries, but Scotland is one that is high on my list. Not sure that will ever happen so I very much appreciate this post and my ability to live vicariously through your pictures and words!

  2. Aw Deb that’s so sweet of you to say, but I think I’ll stick with the day job – perhaps if I became a tour guide I wouldn’t enjoy exploring as much – and I do enjoy sharing with everyone via my blog. I’m glad you enjoyed living vicariously 🙂

  3. A wonderful presentation, Brenda! Wow. I love the detailed photos. The doors and pews look original to the church. I also appreciate how much effort has gone into the cathedral restoration. Thank you for the historical details, I had not heard of iron “grave markers”…fascinating!

  4. Very well written. I remember ages ago, after reading one of Ken Follett’s books, looking at why a place was named a City if it had a cathedral. Why some places with cathedrals are not named as a City. Needless to say, I have now forgotten the explanations. It was based on both monarchy intervention and religious background I seem to vaguely remember. Also a bit about the word City being based on the word citizen and yet a place isn’t a person. Now you have me curiously thinking Brenda! Nope! Not going to look why….Too much to do today. 😊 As Deb replied….Fantastic photographs here too. Look forward to seeing more Dunblane information further down the line. Your travelling about is providing great content. All the best.

    • It’s interesting, but in the Middle Ages, it was referred to as a city, but now its a small town. I think it has about 9,000 inhabitants.

      • After I wrote this I was thinking of lesser numbers of people in specific collective locations back then. Also the aesthetics of towns themselves and other places too. You mentioned citizen numbers in your write up which did sound small for City status. The politics were the most important aspect back then I suppose. A recognition of sorts is a bit like the City of Culture status nowadays. Cheers Brenda.

  5. Wow…thank you so much, Brenda. I loved the travel log…the photos…especially the ornate door. I have a fascination with beautiful old doors and that one? Stunning! Thank you for taking us along, virtually! 😘😎😘

  6. Lovely photos. Bet it has a right atmosphere and can probably feel the history. You should’ve got me some of the stained glass, sure they wouldn’t mind lol

  7. I don’t know what to say after reading this.
    I’m awe strucked.
    I love the pictures and dazzled with the stories behind this.
    I am not pleased to know about murder.
    Too many histories

  8. I am planning to visit Scotland later this year (on a tour); we are going to Edinburgh and some other places but not Dunblane. Thanks for the pics; they are stunning. In our country (the U.S.), mass shottings have occurred so frequently–and we do not have the political will to change gun laws. So sad.

  9. never been come to Dunblane, but now i know from this post. thank you for sharing kind info. beautiful pictures.

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