MHG16949 - Dornoch Cathedral Cemetery


The graveyard surrounding Dornoch Cathedral.

Type and Period (1)

  • CEMETERY (Norse to 21st Century - 1224 AD to 2100 AD)

Protected Status

Full Description

The graveyard surrounding Dornoch Cathedral. Judging by chance finds of human remains in the road and documentary references to the 'country road' running through it, it originally extended further than its present boundary walls. It was eventually enclosed in 1814.

The cathedral and its surrounding graveyard were listed at Category A in 1971.

The Rev. John Bethune, minister of Dornoch Cathedral, in his return for the Statistical Account of Scotland in 1791 wrote;

"Around the cathedral is the churchyard without any fence, and in the centre of the burgh. It is the market place. The country road runs through it. Some year's ago, the heritors of the parish and magistrates of the burgh, entered into a resolution to prohibit all further burying there. A piece of ground, without the town, was accordingly marked out for that use. A day was fixed, beyond which no person was to be admitted to the old ground, and public intimations, to that purpose, repeatedly made. But the prejudices of the people prevailed, and the project was relinquished".

Eventually in 1814, the heritors enclosed the ground with a stone dyke and the people continued burials there. Local gentry used part of the cathedral for interments.

A gravestone carries the Scottish 'ell' measure which was used on market days for transactions in homespun cloth. Donald Sage recollects Dornoch fairs in his 'Memorabilia Domestica' written in 1840.

"The market stance was the churchyard. The evening previous to the market was a busy one. The merchants' booths or tents were then set up, made of canvas streched upon poles inserted several feet into the ground, even into graves and deep enough to reach the coffins. The fair lasted for two and a half days."

Fairs and markets were great social as well as commercial ocassions in Scottish life. Some idea of the noise, the bustle, and the commotion of these days comes across to us in the paintings of Scottish artists - Sir David Wilkie's 'Pitlessie Fair', James Howe's 'Stirling Fair', philip's 'A Scotch Fair'.
A S Cowper, 1989

'Northern Times' articles on the Cathedral Churchyard written between 1955-56. See assoc. docs. Files.

'Sutherland Monumental Inscriptions', pre 1855: Monumental inscription survey completed by A.S. Cowper & I.Ross.
The survey may not include inscription information after 1855 and each inscription transcribed does not give the full details that appear on the stones, abbreviations used. Some ommissions and inacuracies. First published 1989, reprinted 1991, 1996 & 1999.

As reported in the Press and Journal of 6th June 1994, workmen cable-laying for street lighting in Cathedral Square uncovered several burials at approximately 2 feet depth outside the present graveyard boundary walls. The works included breaking flagstones under which the remains were found. The site foreman reported that they had found a lot of bones all the way along the road but they had been replaced where they were found. <1>

The Graveyard, including the boundary walls, but excluding the paths to a depth of 0.3m to allow of maintenance, was scheduled by Historic Scotland in 2003. <2>

The graveyard was reviewed by Historic Scotland in 2015 as part of the Dual Designation Project. The site was not visited but it was recommended that the graveyard remain Scheduled but be excluded from the listing of the Cathedral. <3>

The listing was amended by Historic Environment Scotland in 2018. <4>

See also:
NH78NE0005 Dornoch Cathedral (Parent)

Sources/Archives (6)



Grid reference Centred NH 7973 8969 (123m by 42m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NH78NE
Geographical Area SUTHERLAND
Civil Parish DORNOCH

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (1)

Related Investigations/Events (0)

External Links (1)

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