History of the Diocese of Brechin

A brief history of the Diocese by Dr David Bertie:

The Diocese of Brechin extends from the Carse of Gowrie in eastern Perthshire northeastwards to the outskirts of Aberdeen. Included within the diocese are Scotland’s fourth city, Dundee, the coastal burghs of Angus plus Brechin, and almost all of Kincardineshire.

Early Christian foundations within the present diocesan boundary have been found at Monifieth and Ecclesgreig (St. Cyrus), while St. Vigeans appears to have been a centre of importance, given the number of carved Pictish stones from that site. Brechin itself is first mentioned during the reign of Kenneth II (971-975). The celebrated round tower which today adjoins Brechin Cathedral dates from the eleventh century. A Community of Céli Dé is recorded from the second half of the twelfth century, which had been transformed by 1249/50 into a chapter of secular canons of Brechin Cathedral.

The Diocese of Brechin was founded about 1150 with the first mention of Bishop Samson. The oldest surviving remains of the Cathedral probably date from the time of Bishop Radulf in the early thirteenth century. The diocese’s present geographical unity, however, is a relatively late development, dating only from the second half of the seventeenth century. The mediaeval Diocese of Brechin existed as a series of some 23 individual parishes scattered about the Angus and Mearns parts of the huge Diocese of St. Andrews (which stretched from the Tweed in the south to the Dee in the North). Dundee, Brechin and Montrose were the only burghs within the mediaeval Diocese of Brechin, the remainder being rural parishes.

The early Bishops

Most of the earlier bishops of Brechin made little impact on history. John de Kininmund (1298 – 1323 x 1327) was elected bishop while William Wallace was Guardian of Scotland and he continued a supporter of Robert the Bruce. John de Crannach (1426-1453) founded the sang schuil at Brechin in 1429. Patrick Graham (1463-1465) was translated to the Diocese of St. Andrews in 1465 and saw that diocese elevated to an archbishopric in 1472.

The small and scattered size of the mediaeval Diocese of Brechin meant that it was never particularly wealthy. The only religious houses within its bounds were houses of Dominican friars, Franciscan friars and Franciscan nuns in Dundee, and a house of Dominican friars in Montrose. (The great Tironensian abbey of Arbroath and the Carmelite friary at Inverbervie were in St. Andrews diocese.) The majority of the parishes were appropriated, their teinds going to support monastic foundations such as Arbroath Abbey, Coupar Abbey or Lindores Abbey, none of which were in the diocese. The appropriations resulted in a neglected and under-financed parish ministry; as a consequence by the fifteenth century many lairds had their own chaplains or patronised local friaries.


Lutheran ideas from Germany and the Low Countries began to infiltrate the Angus and Mearns area during the 1530s through North Sea trading links. Efforts to reform the old Roman Catholic Church led to a politico-religious clash between the church authorities and the lairds of Angus and the Mearns during the 1540s and 1550s. Bishop John Hepburn (1516-1557), however, was a supporter of Cardinal Beaton’s sustained attack on the spread of protestantism. The Protestant lords led a revolt against French and papal domination during 1559-1560. The mass and the authority of the Pope in Scotland were abolished by the Reformation Parliament in 1560.

The office of bishop was not abolished by the Reformation Parliament and was briefly revived in titular form in the Church of Scotland in 1572. Further disputes after 1575 led to the establishment of an explicitly Presbyterian form of church government in 1592, but Episcopacy was restored in 1610. The civil unrest following the introduction of a new Scottish Prayer Book in 1637 led to the abolition of Episcopacy in 1638. The religious wars that followed ended with the Cromwellian occupation of Scotland from 1651 to 1660. The Restoration of Charles II saw the re-establishment of Episcopacy in the Church of Scotland in 1661.

During each of the Episcopal periods up to 1638 the boundaries of the various dioceses in Scotland were those of the mediaeval period. The reformers rejected these often erratic boundaries as a hindrance to effective supervision and various alternative models were proposed between 1560 and 1592. After 1592 a system of kirk sessions, presbyteries and synods was settled by the Presbyterian establishment which formed the basis for administration of the Church of Scotland during the Presbyterian periods. The restored Episcopacy of 1661, however, saw bishops co-existing with kirk sessions, presbyteries and synods. This meant that the Diocese of Brechin henceforth corresponded broadly to the Presbyteries of Brechin, Dundee and Fordoun in the Synod of Angus & Mearns, with a few parishes from the neighbouring Presbyteries of Perth, Aberdeen and Kincardine O’Neil.

Faced with growing discontent with his Roman Catholic policies, James VII fled to France in 1688 during the “Glorious Revolution” and William of Orange was proclaimed King of Scots in April 1689. The Scottish bishops felt they could not renounce their loyalty to the exiled James VII and lost their opportunity for support from the new monarch. Episcopacy was disestablished in July 1689 as the form of church government of the Church of Scotland. Many Episcopal priests north of the Tay, however, continued to hold onto the parish churches, often until their deaths. At that point most Episcopalian congregations had to find alternative places of worship.

From 1678 the Diocese of Brechin had effectively become a starting point for episcopal careers. George Haliburton (1678-1682) was translated to Aberdeen in 1682 and was bishop there at the Revolution. He subsequently resided at his family home at Newtyle, near Dundee. Robert Douglas (1682-1684) was translated to Dunblane in 1684. He retired to Dundee at the Revolution, living at Dudhope Castle and providing assistance to the Episcopal clergy in the town. Alexander Cairncross (1684) was translated to the Archbishopric of Glasgow almost immediately after becoming Bishop of Brechin. He was translated to Raphoe in Ireland in 1687, thereby escaping the rigours of the Revolution. James Drummond (1684-1695) was bishop at the time of the Revolution. He took up residence at Slains Castle, near Peterhead, providing support to the Episcopal incumbent of Cruden.

The 1715 Rising

Until 1712 the Presbyterian establishment used every means it could to urge the civil authorities to oust and bar Episcopal ministry. The Toleration Act of 1712 gave respite to Episcopalians, making Episcopal ministry legal provided they prayed for Queen Anne. The Qualified congregation at Montrose was established in 1712 under this law. The disaster of the 1715 Rising led to the first of a succession of repressive Penal Laws against Episcopacy. A number of congregations ceased to exist about this time, owing to the church’s inability to replace clergy after the death of sitting Episcopal incumbents.

The period 1720 to 1745 was one of relative stability for the Scottish Episcopal Church. There was a certain amount of resurgence during the 1730s as the civil authorities became more tolerant of the existence of Episcopacy. Bishop Thomas Rattray (1727-1731) was a great liturgist, his work on the eastern liturgies strongly influencing the development of the Scottish Liturgy, and was also a great supporter of the Usages. The congregation at Dundee, however, split in 1727 as result of disputes over the Usages. The disaster of the 1745 Rising saw a fresh set of penal legislation enacted against Episcopacy in Scotland. In the winter of 1748-49 the priests from Muchalls, Stonehaven and Drumlithie were imprisoned in Stonehaven Tolbooth for ministering to congregations other than their own families. Some Episcopal congregation members from the landed and merchant classes decided they could no longer continue to be regarded as nonjurors and Qualified chapels, with English or Irish clergymen, were established in Dundee (1749), Brechin (1749), Stonehaven (1751) and Arbroath (1760) (in addition to that founded at Montrose in 1712). Although outright attacks on Episcopalians largely ceased after 1760, the strong downward social pressures led to a steady decline in the Church over most of the country.

The 19th century

The death of Prince Charles in 1788 paved the way for the Scottish Episcopal Church to abandon finally its support for the exiled Stuarts and begin to pray for the Hanoverian monarchy. When the Penal Laws were repealed in 1792 there were still nine Episcopal congregations in the Diocese of Brechin. Most of the Qualified congregations re-united with the Scottish Episcopal Church; Stonehaven in 1803, Arbroath in 1806, Brechin in 1826, and Dundee in 1829. Bishop George Gleig (1810-1840) was the first bishop of Brechin to be Primus (1816-1837). He had been editor of the third edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica in 1797.

The first signs of growth came with the establishment of new congregations at Catterline (1840) and Fasque (1846). The episcopate of Bishop Forbes was a major period of growth for the diocese with three new congregations in Dundee (St. Mary Magdalene’s 1851, St. Salvador’s 1856, and St. Margaret’s 1861, as well as Holy Trinity (a mission of St. Mary Magdalene’s) in 1873), plus Broughty Ferry (1848), Carnoustie (1864), Cove Bay (1864) and Glencarse (1875).

Alexander Penrose Forbes (1847-1875) is the great central figure in the more modern history of the Diocese of Brechin. He carried out a ministry in the Dundee slums, establishing new churches, and was a tireless social reformer. He was the first Tractarian bishop in the United Kingdom and a leading figure of the Oxford Movement, his views, however, leading to an ecclesiastical trial by his fellow bishops in 1860. Bishop Forbes was a stalwart supporter of the Scottish Liturgy, his efforts ensuring that it was only downgraded to a secondary position in the Scottish Episcopal Church in 1863, rather than abolished and replaced by the English Book of Common Prayer. From travels abroad, Forbes acquired a deep understanding of the Roman Catholic Church; his dreams of unity were dashed, however, by the outcome of the First Vatican Council in 1870. In 1870-71 Forbes founded in Dundee the Sisterhood of St. Mary & St. Modwenna, becoming the first Anglican bishop to be the founder of a religious community. Bishop Forbes’s most visible memorial is St. Paul’s in Dundee, which he built in 1855 and which became the diocese’s cathedral in 1905.

Bishop Forbes’s legacy of mission work in Dundee continued with the foundation of St. John’s (1876), St. Martin’s (1876), All Saints (another mission of St. Mary Magdalene’s) (1896), St. Luke’s (1896), St. Roque’s (1896) and St. Columba’s (1897). Rural congregations were founded at Drumtochty (1882) and Invergowrie (1883) (the latter a development from earlier missions at Inchture and Knapp). The congregation founded at Torry (1882) was the northernmost in the diocese. Following the establishment of congregations at Inverbervie (1898) and Monifieth (1903), there was an Episcopal congregation in every burgh in the diocese, in addition to the eleven congregations in Dundee.

The 20th century

In common with most denominations, the Scottish Episcopal Church reached its maximum size in the early part of the twentieth century. St. Mary Magdalene’s in Dundee (with its missions of Holy Trinity and All Saints) was the largest congregation in Scotland. The Second World War proved to be a watershed period. In Dundee, St. Columba’s was closed in 1939 and St. Mary Magdalene’s two missions in 1944. Further inner-city slum clearance led to the closure of St. Roque’s in 1956. A short-lived hope for a reversal of closures was the establishment in 1956 of Holy Cross in Dundee’s largest housing scheme, Fintry, but this was closed in 1966.

The scattered pattern of the other congregations in the city has meant that Dundee has suffered considerably less than Glasgow or Edinburgh from post-Second World War church closures. Despite rural depopulation, none of the rural churches has been closed, although many are now part of linked charges. The growth of suburban Aberdeen saw the churches at Cove Bay and Torry transferred to the Diocese of Aberdeen & Orkney in 1976, leaving Muchalls as the diocese’s northernmost congregation.

The Bishops of Brechin

A list of the Bishops of Brechin:

1 Samson c. 1150 - 1165 x 1169
2 Turpin 1178 - 1189 x 1198
3 Radulf 1198 x 1199 - 1212
4 Hugh 1214 x 1215 - 1218
5 Gregory 1218 - 1242
6 Albin 1246 - 1269
  William 1269 x 1275 probably not consecrated
7 William Comyn 1275 - 1291 x 1296/97
8 Nicholas 1296/97 x 1298
9 John de Kininmund 1298 - 1323 x 1327
10 Adam de Moray 1328 - 1349
11 Philip Wilde 1350 - 1351
12 Patrick de Leuchars 1351 - 1373 x 1383
13 Stephen de Cellario 1383 - 1404 x 1405
14 Walter Forrester 1407 - 1425 x 1426
15 John de Crannach 1426 - 1453 (translated from Caithness)
16 George Schoriswood 1454 - 1462
17 Patrick Graham 1463 - 1465 (translated to St. Andrews)
18 John Balfour 1465 - 1488
19 William Meldrum 1488 - 1514 x 1516
20 John Hepburn 1516 - 1557
  Donald Campbell 1557 - 1559 probably not consecrated
  John Sinclair 1565 - 1566 consecration doubtful
  Alexander Campbell 1566 - 1607 consecration doubtful
21 Andrew Lamb 1607 - 1619 (consecrated 1610) (translated to Galloway)
22 David Lindsay 1619 - 1634 (translated to Edinburgh)
23 Thomas Sydserf 1634 - 1635 (translated to Galloway, later to Orkney)
24 Walter Whiteford 1635 - 1638 (d. 1647)
  See in abeyance 1638 - 1662
25 David Strachan 1662 - 1671
26 Robert Laurie 1671 - 1677
27 George Hallburton 1678 - 1682 (translated to Aberdeen)
28 Robert Douglas 1682 - 1684 (translated to Dunblane)
29 Alexander Cairncross 1684 (translated to Glasgow)
30 James Drummond 1684 - 1695
  See vanact 1695 - 1724
31 Robert Norrie 1724 - 1727
32 Thomas Rattray 1727 - 1731
33 John Ochterlonie 1731 - 1742
34 James Rait 1742 - 1777
35 George Innes 1778 - 1781
  See vacant 1781 - 1787
36 William Abernethy Drummond 1787 - 1788 (translated to Edinburgh)
37 John Strachan 1788 - 1810
38 George Gleig 1810 - 1840 (Primus 1816 - 1837)
39 David Moir 1840 - 1847
40 Alexander Penrose Forbes 1847 - 1875
41 Hugh Willoughby Jermyn 1876 - 1903 (translated from Colombo) (Primus 1886 - 1901)
42 Walter John Forbes Robberds 1904 - 1934 (Primus 1908 - 1934)
43 Kenneth Donald Mackenzie 1935 - 1943
44 Eric Graham 1944 - 1959
45 John Chappell Sprott 1959 - 1975
46 Lawrence Edward Luscombe 1975 - 1990 (Primus 1985 - 1990)
47 Robert Taylor Halliday 1990 - 1996
48 Neville Chamberlain 1997 - 2005
49 John Ambrose Cyril Mantle 2005 - 2010
50 Nigel Peyton 2011 - 2017