A Brief History of St Ternan’s

A Brief History of St. Ternan’s Church, Muchalls, Kincardineshire

The Episcopal congregation at Muchalls, one of the oldest in the kingdom, were said to be the pre-Reformation descendants of those who worshipped at St, Mary’s, Cowie and at St. Ternan’s, Findon. In about 1624 they joined together to worship in the Chapel which was built in the grounds of Muchalls Castle. John Mylne is the first Priest of Muchalls on record, from 1662 to 1703.

Episcopacy became disestablished in Scotland in favour of Presbyterianism about 1690 but it was not until 1709 that Fetteresso Parish got a Presbyterian Minister – a Mr David Burn, who took over from Mr Gideon Guthrie, the Episcopal Priest favoured by the Earl Marischal. This Mr Gideon Guthrie also officiated at Muchalls from 1703 – 1709 and during his period of office the congregation at Muchalls was enlarged by Episcopalians who had originally worshipped at the Parish Church of Fetteresso.

Mr. Guthrie was succeeded by William Cruickshank from 1709 – 1713 and during this time the Act of Toleration was passed in 1712, giving protection to Episcopalians who were prepared to forsake the House of Stuart. They were then able to worship freely, if they used the English liturgy, and during the 18th century a number of Qualified Congregations were established.

When Queen Anne dies in 1714 and a Hanoverian succeeded the throne, many Episcopalians still supported the Stuart King – James VIII. In 1715 he raised his standard at Fetteresso Castle, and during his stay was presented with a loyal address by the Scottish Episcopalian clergy. In the year 1746, before the Jacobite defeat at Culloden, all Scottish Episcopalian Churches were to be burned to the ground – unless this would cause danger to nearby property, The Chapel at Muchalls suffered the fate of being burned to the ground along with the Registers and Records of the Church, but fortunately some of these were rescued from the blaze.

There was also an Episcopal Church at Elsick, possibly mediaeval in origin, 430 yards from the Mansion House of Elsick. It is believed that it was also burned in 1746 as was a chapel at Portlethen,

Two years later in the winter of 1748-1749 their priest, the Revd. John Troupe, along with the priests of Stonehaven and Drumlithie were imprisoned in the Tollbooth at Stonehaven for six months (this was made famous in the painting by George Washington Brownlow ‘A baptism from a Stonehaven jail’, the original of which belongs to the Bishop of Brechin). Mr. Troup is depicted at the jail window baptising a child brought by its parents from Skateraw or one of the other villages and the original is currently on display in the Stonehaven Tolbooth Museum – www.stonehaventolbooth.co.uk

A simple temporary chapel was built to serve the needs of the Episcopalians in a field above the Castle in 1748 and rebuilt again in 1770. A more substantial structure was built in 1795 by which time the Episcopal church was enjoying greater toleration from the Establishment due to the death of Prince Charles Stuart.

In 1828-1831 the old chapel was abandoned and a new one (which forms the centre section of the existing church) was built on the present site. Later additions were made. Including a gallery (since removed) amd the lengthening of the nave in order to accommodate larger congregations.

The last major change came in 1865 with the building of the chancel. At this time the ‘Episcopal Chapel at Muchalls’ as it had always been known, adopted a new constitution and became St. Ternan’s Church.

During the late 19th and early 20th century, changes in the fishing industry resulted in population shifts from the small coastal villages into the larger towns and cities, By the 1930’s the congregation had declined seriously. Despite this, the small congregations kept the church open and during the several interregnums, Lay Readers, Lay Eucharistic Ministers and Deacons have ensured a continuity of worship and celebration here.

In the early years of the new millennium the villages have repopulated and St. Ternan’s has once again become a vigorous centre for the propagation of the Christian message.

Saint Ternan and St. Ternan’s Church

The Saint to whom this church is dedicated was born in the Mearns and was baptized as a child by St. Palladius. He retained his Christian faith as he grew up and in the course of time became a Priest and then Bishop (in 431 AD). He was thus roughly contemporary with St. Patrick, but unlike the latter, St. Ternan did not leave his native land. He seems to have been based for most of his episcopacy in Abernethy where he died. He was buried in Banchory-Ternan.

Ternan was canonised and continuously venerated for hundreds of years in the North and North East of Scotland. Numerous religious sites are named after him. It is suggested that, thanks to the strong foundations he laid here, there may have been a continuous Christian community in the North East of Scotland simce the Saint’s own times.