History of St Ninian’s

Situated within a short distance from the main Elgin to Banff road, a quarter of a mile north of The Mill of Tynet, lies the oldest Post-Reformation Catholic Church in Scotland still used for regular worship. Nobody glancing at this long low building with its harled walls, slated roof and square headed windows, would ever guess that it is a Church, far less that it is a Catholic Church. Tynet lies in the heart of the Enzie district of the former Banffshire, an area which with the support of the Gordons of Gordon Castle over the years had remained faithful to the Catholic religion, after the Reformation. This small area has produced over two centuries, some eleven Bishops and many more Priests. The Catholics of Bellie parish, having been deprived of the use of the Chapel at St Ninian’s Churchyard in 1725, gathered for mass when possible in a barn belonging to the Laird of Tynet, which was later enlarged at the expense of the congregation, and remained in use till 1746, when it, along with many Chapels, was gutted by the English soldiers returning from Culloden.

In the eighteenth century, the practise of the Catholic Religion still had to be carried out more or less in secret, and in 1755, The Laird of Tynet built an addition to a small house at “Newlands” Tynet, ostensibly to be a sheepcote, but in effect for use as a Church.

This was the modest beginning of the “Long Chapel” at Tynet.

The Rev. Godsman, who had suffered much persecution after Culloden, saying mass in barns at night, often disguised as a farmer, became priest in charge at Tynet, where he remained until his death in 1769. He was succeeded by Rev. Alexander Geddes, a cleric described as “incontestably a man of great learning and independence of mind” and often at odds with the Hierarchy of the Church. He was however responsible for the repair of many Chapels in the area, and had the unique honour for a Catholic Priest at that time, of having the Degree of Doctor of Laws conferred upon him by the University of Aberdeen.

Tynet Chapel however, did not assume its present shape until Fr Mathieson, who was appointed Priest in 1779, enlarged and repaired it early in 1787. Slates from the ruined Chapel at St Ninian’s Church Yard were used to cover as much of the roof as possible, but the rest was still thatched in 1803. A proper floor was laid; the windows were enlarged and eventually glazed. Prior to this the windows were merely narrow openings in the walls, and filled with straw.

Instead of a Cross, a ball of stone was placed on top of the west gable, a reminder of the dark days of persecution, during which the Chapel arose.

In 1859, the Rev. Loggie made a number of alterations to the Chapel including building up the original entrance door at the west end, and forming the present entrance on the south wall.

The choir loft was moved to the west end of the Chapel and a wall built immediately behind the altar, which forms the present Sacristy.

Over the years the weight of the heavy roof slates has had a serious effect on both rafters and walls, and strengthening has been carried out on more than one occasion.

During the early part of this century, a partition at the west end was erected, just east of the present door, thus forming an entrance porch, within which a baptismal font was located.

By the early 1930’s it was decided to abandon St Ninian’s due to its poor condition, and build a new Church.

Had not the Second World War broken out, it is possible that the appeal for funds would have raised enough to build a new Church, but under the current conditions of increasing costs and the difficulty of obtaining building licences for anything other than essential housing, this idea had to be abandoned.

The only action was to ensure the preservation of the old Chapel, and Tynet was indeed restored, and is now the oldest post reformation Church in Scotland, still in use today.