MHG31349 - Cemetery - Reay Old Kirk


A graveyard which includes the remains of the old medieval parish church, which was restored for use as a mausoleum in the 17th or 18th century.

Type and Period (2)

  • CEMETERY (In use, Early Medieval to 19th Century - 561 AD to 1900 AD)
  • BURIAL GROUND (In use, Early Medieval to 19th Century - 561 AD to 1900 AD)

Protected Status

Full Description

(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 the old building, used as the parish church until the new church was built in 1739, may yet be seen in the walls of the house recently renovated in the old burial ground. <1>

The remains of the old church, allegedly a Roman Catholic chapel, are used as the burial place of the MacKays of Bighouse. <2>

The reconstructed remains of the old church, measuring internally 16ft 2ins by 11ft 8ins, stand in the NE corner of the churchyard. One of the burial panels is dated 1691.
RCAHMS 1911. <3>

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

The burial ground and mausoleum were scheduled in 1925.

This small 17th or 18th century burial vault in the old graveyard of Reay has been modernised and restored. It is reputedly built on the remains of a 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 cross presumably dates from the latter part of the 9th century (see also NC96SE 1). <5>

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

The burial ground and mausoleum were listed at category B in 1971.

No change to the previous field report.
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>

'Caithness 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 omissions and inacuracies. Published 1992. <7>

NB this graveyard is a very strange shape, cannot reflect old shape (whether larger or smaller). It may have been extended in part over old village area as far as the stream. NB the Norse cemetery lies on the other side of the stream a little to the NE. <8>

The graveyard has numerous table tombs and recumbent grave slabs, interspersed with a smaller number of 19th-century headstones, and is enclosed by a stone wall. There have been few interments since the 18th century and the graveyard is now closed to further interments. <9>

A descriptive list of the headstones in the graveyard has been supplied by P Richards. <10>

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. <11>

The mausoleum and burial ground were removed from the statutory list by Historic Environment Scotland on 22/09/2016. <12>

With regard to <8>, it has been reported that human remains were apparently encountered during works in the past in the garden of Cavendish Cottage on the other side of the road to the north of the present graveyard [IS-L 15/05/2017]

See also:
NC96SE0003 Reay Old Church
NC96SE0110 Reay Old Church, cross slab

Sources/Archives (14)



Grid reference Centred NC 96905 64822 (46m by 59m) (2 map features)
Map sheet NC96SE
Civil Parish REAY
Geographical Area CAITHNESS

Finds (0)

Related Monuments/Buildings (1)

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External Links (2)

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