MHG1611 - Chapel - Reay Old Kirk


A mausoleum used by the McKays of Bighouse, formerly part of the parish church which occupied the site until the new church was built in 1739. The former church is said to date from the 16th century but may have earlier origins.

Type and Period (4)

  • CHAPEL (Early Medieval to 18th Century - 561 AD to 1800 AD)
  • BURIAL VAULT (Converted, 17th Century to 18th Century - 1601 AD to 1800 AD)
  • MAUSOLEUM (In use, 17th Century to 20th Century - 1601 AD? to 2000 AD?)
  • PARISH CHURCH (Early Medieval to 18th Century - 561 AD to 1739 AD)

Protected Status

Full Description

The remains of the old church, allegedly a Roman Catholic chapel, are used as the burial place of the MacKays of Bighouse.
Name Book 1873. <1>

Set into W wall of old church is a sculptured rectangular sandstone cross-slab, 6ft 4ins long, 1ft 11ins to 2ft 3.5ins wide and 3 .5ins thick. The upper arm of the cross is defaced by an 18th century inscription. <2>

(NC 9691 6483) Church (NR) (Remains of)
OS 6"map, Caithness, 2nd ed., (1907)

The church was dedicated to Colman, evidently a Celtic foundation. Part of old building, used as parish church until new church was built 1739, may yet be seen in the walls of the house recently renovated in the old burial ground. <3>

The reconstructed remains of old church, measuring internally 16ft 2ins by 11ft 8ins, stand in NE corner of churchyard. One of burial panels is dated 1691. <4>

The burial ground, including the mausoleum, were Scheduled in 1925.

(NC 9690 6438) Burial Vault (NR) (restored) OS 6"map, (1963)

This small 17th or 18th century burial vault in old graveyard of Reay has been modernised and restored. It is reputedly built on remains of 16th century church but no evidence to substantiate this statement could be found. The burial panels mentioned above are still in situ and the cross-slab has been restored.
Visited by OS (R D) 23 November 1964.

The burial ground, including the mausoleum, were listed at category B in 1971.

The cross presumably dates from the latter part of the 9th century (see also NC96SE 1). <5>

No change. Visited by OS (J M) 20 August 1981.

Visited 21/11/00 by DML at the request of Miss P Richards.
Graveyard in a generally fair condition, although many of the grave slabs are covered in moss. This however would probably need specialist removal to avoid damaging the stones, many of which are laminating. The burial vault/chapel remains are also in a fair condition. Problems of damp within the building appear to have decreased, judging by the growth of algae on the cross slab which appears to be in much better condition than is evidenced in the thumbnail photograph. Miss Richards was concerned about the level of damp entering the building through its walls, and also about the cement type mix which was used on the interior of the chapel some years ago. She wondered if guttering could be added to the building to take rain water away, and if the cement type mix could be removed. As the building is Listed, I am passing these requests to John Duncan for attention. As I was unable to actually enter the burial vault the photograph (hyperlinked) is of poor quality, but does demonstrate that the cross slab appears dryer. <6>

An architect's report has been prepared by Historic Scotland detailing the findings of a ground level inspection. The report includes a comprehensive scheme of repairs required to prevent a rapid deterioration of the building. <7>

A condition report for the cross slab, also prepared by Historic Scotland, notes that a further four monuments within the mausoleum are suffering from similar problems resulting from damp conditions. The recommendations made in respect of the cross slab may also be relevant to them. <8>

It was proposed that the burial ground and mausoleum be removed from the statutory list in September 2016 as part of a Historic Environment Scotland project looking at dual designations of sites in the Highlands, though they would remain a scheduled monument. <9>

The mausoleum and burial ground were removed from the statutory list by Historic Environment Scotland on 22/09/2016. <10>

See also:
NC96SE0122 Graveyard
NC96SE0110 Reay Old Church, cross slab

Sources/Archives (21)



Grid reference Centred NC 96907 64830 (7m by 8m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NC96SE
Civil Parish REAY
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (2)

Related Investigations/Events (0)

External Links (2)

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