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Diocese of Dunkeld

Primatial see of the Columban Church by King Kenneth Mac Alpine

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Dunkeld, Diocese of (DUNKELDENSIS), In Scotland, constituted, as far back as the middle of the ninth century, the primatial see of the Columban Church by King Kenneth Mac Alpine, who rebuilt there the church and monastery founded by King Constantine (afterwards destroyed by the Danes), and translated thither St. Columba ‘s relics. The first occupant of the see is styled in the Annals of Ulster (A.D. 865) Bishop of Fortrenn, the name by which the kingdom of the Southern Picts was then known. He was also Abbot of Dunkeld, with jurisdiction, formerly enjoyed by Iona, over the other Columban monasteries in Scotland. The seat of the primacy was, however, subsequently transferred to Abernethy, and then to St. Andrews, and Dunkeld became subject to lay abbots, from one of whom, Crinan, sprang Malcolm III and his successors on the throne of Scotland. In 1127 King Alexander, who had already founded the Diocese of Moray farther north, erected Dunkeld into a cathedral church and replaced the Columban monks by a chapter of secular canons. The new bishopric included a great part of what afterwards became the Dioceses of Argyll and Dunblane, and retained its jurisdiction over various churches representing old Columban foundations. The Abbots of Iona remained, as heretofore, subject to the ancient primatial See of Dunkeld, until Iona became the seat of the Bishop of the Isles at the end of the fifteenth century. About the same time Dunkeld (together with Dunblane, Galloway, and Argyll) became a suffragan of the newly-constituted Archbishopric of Glasgow; but during the primacy of Archbishop Foreman of St. Andrews (1513-1522) it was restored to the metropolitan province. Thirty-five bishops occupied the See of Dunkeld from its foundation in 1107 until the extinction of the ancient hierarchy in the sixteenth century. Of this line of prelates the most distinguished were James Kennedy (1438-1440), illustrious for his birth, learning, and piety, who was translated, after two years at Dunkeld, to the Bishopric of St. Andrews; the famous poet-prelate Gavin Douglas (1516-1521), who died in exile in England; and John Hamilton (1545-1547), who succeeded the murdered Cardinal Beaton at St. Andrews, and closed his troubled career on the scaffold at Stirling in 1571. The last pre-Reformation Bishop of Dunkeld was Robert Crichton (nephew of a former occupant of the see), who survived until 1586.

For close on three centuries, the Diocese of Dunkeld, like the other Scottish bishoprics, remained vacant, until, on March 4, 1878, it was restored by Leo XIII by his Bull, “Ex supremo apostolatus apice”. The diocese, as then reconstituted, is one of the suffragan sees of the archiepiscopal province of St. Andrews, and includes the counties of Perth, Forfar, Clackmannan, Kinross, and the northern part of Fife. Since the revival of the see, it has been held by three bishops: George Rigg (d. 1887); James G. Smith (transferred to St. Andrews in 1900); and the Right Rev. Angus Macfarlane, consecrated 1901. The bishop’s pro-cathedral is in Dundee, the residence of the great majority of the Catholics of the diocese, and the cathedral chapter, erected in 1895, consists of a provost and eight canons. The total number of secular priests in the diocese (1908) is 35; regulars (Redemptorists), 12. The missions and chaplaincies number 17, the churches, chapels, and stations 31, and the parochial schools 15. There are two monasteries of men (Redemptorists and Marists), four convents of women (Sisters of Mercy, Little Sisters of the Poor, Ursulines, and Sisters of Charity), and the Catholic institutions comprise a home for aged poor, a house of mercy for servants, and a working girls’ home. The Catholic population of the diocese is estimated to be rather more than 30,000. The old cathedral of Dunkeld, beautifully situated on the Tay amid wooded hills, was erected between 1220 and 1500. The building was much damaged in the reign of Robert II, and suffered later at the hands of the Earl of Buchan, styled the “Wolf of Badenoch”. It fell partly into ruins in the sixteenth century, since when the choir has been used for Presbyterian worship. The Dukes of Atholl, long the owners of the building, have spent a good deal on its preservation and repair, and an extensive restoration of the choir was carried out in 1908, chiefly at the cost of Sir Donald Currie. There is now no Catholic church or resident priest in the village of Dunkeld.


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