Losing Lundie…

Dr DJ Johnston-Smith

Director, Scotland’s Churches Trust

Having read recently of the exceptionally sad news that the historic Lundie Kirk, between Dundee and Coupar Angus, had suffered a devastating fire, I took a short detour while on a trip to Fife last weekend a little further north into Angus to see the damage first-hand.

According to local historians there is documentary evidence for a kirk at Lundie going back to the 12th century. In these early years, it was in the care of the Cistercian monastery at Coupar Angus and was dedicated to St Lawrence the Martyr.

Local tradition has it that a now blocked-up window in the north wall was once a “Leper Window” dating from this era. This opening apparently allowed any poor unfortunate parishioners who had become infected with leprosy to view the Mass from outside the church building, separating them from those who were free from infection inside.

Burned-out shell of Lundie Kirk showing historically blocked-up opening reputed to be a “Leper Window” for those parishioner infected with this disease to watch proceedings at the altar from outside the building.

Image credit: Scotland’s Churches trust

Following the Reformation, Lundie was apparently one of the first parishes in the country to form a Union with another when it merged with neighbouring Fowlis in 1618 and the neighbouring manse was built. As church fashions changed, so did Lundie Kirk – undergoing major rebuilding work in the closing years of the 18th and then again at the end of the 19th centuries.

These significant alterations and additions included the removal of the eastern apse by the Duncans, the local landowning family, and its replacement with a family mausoleum. Their most famous member, Admiral Adam Duncan, 1st Viscount Duncan, who defeated a Dutch fleet off Camperdown in 1797 was interred therein in 1804.

Grave markers of the Duncan family, including the famous Admiral Duncan, in the plot their remains were moved to following exhumation from their family mausoleum, immediately behind, in 1882.

Image credit: Scotland’s Churches Trust

In 1892, Admiral Duncan and other members of his family were removed from their crypt and reinterred in the kirkyard outside. Their former mausoleum was then turned into a vestry as the church building was completely overhauled inside and out. A new porch was added, a belfry installed in the eastern gable and a cross on the west. New furniture was specially commissioned to complement the light pitch pine panelling that now lined the interior. A new stained glass window was also installed shortly thereafter, in memory of a local farmer and his family.

Parish boundaries changed again in 1953, but probably the most significant change of the 20th century came with the introduction of electricity in 1958 and much later in the century a piece of sculpture, representing the Tree of Life, made by a local artist. In the early 21st century the local branch of the Women’s Rural Institute embroidered new falls for the pulpit. But dwindling attendees on Sunday mornings undoubtedly signalled for all that troubled times lay ahead.

“…an all-too stark reminder of just how incredibly fragile these cultural treasures truly are.”

Despite valiant efforts in the late 2010s to plot a sustainable, long-term future for the building by the remaining members of the congregation, the wider local community and also our heritage sector colleagues Historic Churches Scotland, COVID came along and no agreeable solution was ultimately found. In the summer of 2021, Lundie Kirk was listed for sale on the open market by the Church of Scotland at offers over £64,950.

Shortly after its initial sale, the building was soon put up for resale by its new owner, this time by online auction. The Courier reported in November 2021 that it was sold this time around for just £40,000. On 18 November 2022, a little over a year after this beautiful ancient building first passed from the care of its local congregation into private hands, this venerable old kirk was tragically consumed by a fire, its unique interior fabric and fittings turned to nothing more than so many piles of cinders and ash.

The difference a year makes…

Images credits: Church of Scotland and Scotland’s Churches Trust

The fire-ravaged shell of this special place, a site cherished, maintained and invested-in by its local community for the better part of a millennium, is an all-too stark reminder of how just incredibly fragile these cultural treasures truly are. Its upsetting loss is just one of many reasons that our ongoing church recording project is so incredibly necessary.

Interior images taken from the Church of Scotland’s original sales advertisment

Interior images taken from the Church of Scotland’s original sales advertisment

Interior images taken from the Church of Scotland’s original sales advertisment

Stained glass window and exterior image taken from the Church of Scotland’s original sales advertisment

Working with Historic Environment Scotland we hope to locate, support and empower a national network of church recording volunteers. Grouped locally across the country, these volunteers will visit local churches in danger of closing their doors forever and work with their congregations to make a lasting record of these buildings’ contents.

These site records will then be lodged in the Historic Environment Scotland archives. This will ensure that should the building be somehow lost, like Lundie, or when its precious contents are dispersed, future researchers will learn of the social, cultural and spiritual investment our forebears made in these remarkable buildings over many centuries.

Church buildings and their unique and varied contents are part of this nation’s rich cultural heritage, they need our protection now more than ever. If you would like to be added to our mailing list for potential church recorders, or if you would like to find out more about our recording project, please do drop me a line.