THE CHURCH IN FORFAR

 

Restenneth Priory

The first building here was possibly a Celtic Christian church dating from 710AD.  Nechtan, then king of the Picts, had converted to Christianity and needed a place of worship. The Abbot of Wearmouth sent Masons and a missionary, Boniface.  From the Tay estuary he began to spread the gospel amongst the Picts.  The church (dedicated to St Peter) fell into disuse after the demise of the Picts and may be part of the present foundations.  

 

In 1153 David I allowed the Augustinians to start a small Priory on an island in Restenneth Loch. During c1200-1560 this was the dominant religious center in the area, and controlled large tracts of local land.  Sometime between 1159 and 1163 the priory became a subordinate cell of the great Abbey of Jedburgh.  It has been said that because of its proximity to England, Jedburgh was constantly being attacked, so many of their valuable books and muniments (deeds and legal records) were brought to Restenneth for safekeeping.  The church is one of the very earliest stone buildings in Scotland. 

 

In 1241 a church, under the auspices of Restenneth, was set up in Forfar, on the site occupied by the Old Parish Kirk and dedicated to St. James.  An 11th century font, now in St John’s Episcopalian church, is said to have been given to this first Forfar Church by St. Margaret, Queen of Scots.  The Reformation (1560-1690) ended the Priory’s importance, when local bishops and lowly paid ministers replaced the Catholic hierarchy, and the Priory’s lands were shared out to local lairds.  Today it is the oldest existing building in the area, with mostly 13th century ruins.

 

Episcopalians

Throughout the Reformation, Forfar was known as a center of Royalist and Jacobite views.  During this period leadership of the church changed often between the Presbyterians and Episcopalians, with finally the Presbyterians dominating this bitter struggle.  

 

At the Revolution of 1688 the Episcopalians were not ejected from the Forfar parish church and the minister (Mr. Small) was allowed to continue communion at Christmas and Easter until 1721. After that, service was uninterruptedly held in the old Priory church of Restenneth and fFrom 1745 in houses in secret (a house in Chapel Street) until 1775, when a church was built. 

 

After the battle of Culloden, the Government came down heavily on all Scottish Episcopacy and Forfar suffered - chapels were plundered and local books/registers burned by Cumberland.  From some time after 1745 until 1793 Episcopalians could not hold local office (e.g. Baillie) or vote as a Burgess.  John Skinner was the Minister of St John’s Episcopal Church from 1797 to 1841.

In 1824 the second Episcopalian Church was built in Forfar (led by Dean John Skinner) and was replaced by the larger present church (St John’s) in 1879.  St John’s is part of the Diocese of St Andrews. Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, was confirmed in this church.

 

Dr. John Skinner

An important figure in the Episcopalian church at the time. He was born in 1769, son of John Skinner, Bishop of Aberdeen.  Dean of Dunkeld.

He was married in 1798 to Elizabeth, daughter of John Ure, (provost of Forfar) - see Ure family, under William Whyte (1793 - 1849). He died in 1841.