A Short History of Cruden Parish Church
The ancient Kirk of Cruden dated back to 1012 AD when there took place a battle between the Danes and the Scots under King Malcolm. After the battle a pact was made and the Kirk of Cruden ( Dedicated to St Olaf, the patron saint of Norway and Denmark) was founded by the Scottish King to mark the spot where the fallen warriors on both sides were buried.
The Church was mentioned in a Papal Bull by Pope Adrian IV in the year 1157; and in 1256 it appears as one of the prebend of the cathedral of St Machar in Aberdeen,with the right to appoint a Deacon to serve as Vicar in the cathedral.
The first church was built on a sandy plain near the sea-
now part of Cruden Bay golf course. It was overblown by sand and another church was built on a slightly higher piece of ground.
Whereas it is no longer possible to locate precisely the site of the first church, Adam Mackay in 1912 wrote-
“ The position of the second church, however, is well known. It stood on a rising knoll about fifty yards to the south of the Water of Cruden, and near to the bridge which leads over it at the village of Port Erroll.”
A relic remains from this period of time. It is an old Baptismal font said to have been dug out of the sands near to the old church when the Episcopalians were ejected from the Parish Church and used by them all the while they worshipped at Sandend. It is now to be seen at St James’ Episcopal Church.
The Present Site
Probably a third church was built upon the site now occupied by the Parish Church sometime prior to the Reformation (1560) or immediately subsequent to it. Presbytery records begin in 1597 and mention an existing church, which was taken down in 1776 to build a new one. Unfortunately we know nothing of this pre-
1776 building, although it is suggested that parts of its walls may have been built into the window arches of the east side of the present building. In contrast to the rest of the building which is of granite, these stones are limestone and show sculptural traces.
The 1776 Building
The Kirk Session record of July 14th, 1776 reads, “This day the minister intimated to the congregation that there would be no more public worship in this church till it be repaired ( It being to be pulled down this week) but that there would be one diet of public worship at the Manse next Sabbath, about the ordinary time, and every Sabbath thereafter (If weather be good) till the church be repaired”.
So in the summer of that year the church was pulled down and rebuilt in the open air. It was a simple but substantial building built entirely out of one huge block of granite. The granite-
known as ‘The grey Stone of Ardenraught’ rested in a field belonging to Aulton farm and was a landmark to fishermen at sea, being on the top of a small hill.
The workmen must have worked hard that summer for the church was opened at the beginning of November that same year.
The kirk Session record of November 3rd, 1776 reads, “ Being the first time that public worship was performed in the church since it was rebuilt, the minister preached from Psalm 84, verse 1 HOW AMICABLE ARE THY TABERNACLES, O LORD OF HOSTS.
In 1834 the north wall –
facing to the Manse was removed and a new wing added. Pillers were inserted to carry the old roof. Round towers, similar to those built about the same time at Slains Castle just over a mile away were added to give access to the galleries. Six years later a Session House was built; this is now the vestry. A new pulpit was erected and the seating was renewed.
A Peterhead mason and an Aberdeen builder were paid respectively £142 and £375 and the pulpit cost an additional £20.00.
In 1915 a major renovation involved the renovation of the chancel and the building out from the south wall of an extension so that an organ might be installed.
In 1972 the back pews were removed to make it possible to enlarge the vestibule. In 1974 the chancel was carpeted and three years later, just after celebrating its bicentenary, the church was redecorated.
All these changes have helped give Cruden Parish Church a distinctive look and have helped create a fine setting for the worship of God.
Between the two doors into the church building, on the outside wall there is a plaque which gives the dates of the building and the two subsequent major alterations.
As with most churches, Cruden Parish Church has several relics of historical interest.
This large flat slab of marble lies inside the east gate and is said to have been sent over from Denmark to mark the grave of a Danish prince slain in the battle of Cruden in 1012. The marble is grooved and it is thought that at some time a plate of copper had been inserted into it with some inscription.
The old bell which used to peak as worshippers walked from miles around to attend church, was taken down at the beginning of the Twentieth century. It is one of the oldest bells in Aberdeenshire, the date inscribed on it is 1519.
Bishops Memorial Tablet. This was erected in 1911 in memory of Bishop Drummond and Bishop Dunbar. Not many Parish Churches will have memorials of Episcopalian Bishops but cruden can be proud of its connection with these two.
On the wall opposite this Bishops Tablet, there are two smaller memorial tablets commemorating two long ministries in Cruden, those of the Rev Robert Ross and the Rev John Mcqueen. The scroll of appreciation presented to Mr Ross to commemorate the 60th anniversary of his becoming Cruden minister can be seen in the vestry. Also in the vestry there hangs a portrait of a former parish schoolmaster.
This ancient font was in use in Cruden kirk from the 12th century until Covenanting times when a large piece was knocked out of the side.
Passageway To The East (Left) Of The Chancel. Stones There are two pieces of stone which were discovered in 1912 when the south was partly taken down to build the extension for the organ. These stones must have formed part of the church previously built on this site. One is carved in a design which suggests the top of an archway or perhaps part of a tombstone, the other has letters carved on it. It is impossible to be sure what the letters stand for although it has been conjectured that they might be the initials of “ Men of God”. These stones had been used in the building of the present church and were only rediscovered when the 1912 renovations got underway. Perhaps more of these very old and decorative stones were used in 1776 and now lie buried in the masonry or some other part of the church.
Tombstone To the east of the chancel (and in front of the stones mentioned above) there is a flat tombstone with the inscription “Heir lyes waiting for a blessed resurrection Patrick Cruickshanks, Lawier in Abd, who departed 22 July 1656”. Patrick Cruickshank was known to have been a tenant in Ardifferie from 1604 to 1617. It is known that Bishop Drummond’s grave was inside the church and the rev Adam Mackay was convinced that the Episcopalians used Cruickshank’s stone to cover Drummond’s tomb and so save it from desecration at the hands of the Presbyterians.
Bishop Drummond was Bishop from 1684 to 1689. He was ejected by the victory of Presbyterianism and retired to stay at Slains Castle until he died in 1695. By his generosity the church was enriched with two silver communion cups, and he initiated the building of the bridge leading to the church which is still known as “The Bishops Bridge”.
Bishop William Dunbar was minister of Cruden from 1691 to 1716. He was very diligent and was liked and nearly all the congregation joined him when he was forced to leave Cruden because of his Episcopalianism. He became Bishop of Moray and Ross (1727-
1733) and then Bishop of Aberdeen (1733- 1745). He died in 1746.
The information relating to Cruden Parish Church was researched and kindly provided by the former Minister of Cruden Parish Church Rev. Rodger Neilson.