In former years the people of the area had four churches: St Ninian’s at Chapelford; the Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Dipple; St Mary’s at Orton and the Chapel at Bog of Gight. The latter was attended by the Gordons who did all they could to keep the Catholic faith alive from 1560-1728.
The Bog of Gight was known as a “Papist Stronghold” where many priests found safety at Gordon Castle in times of persecution. To make it safer for Catholics to worship, eventually a Chapel was opened away from the castle in the old Fochabers village; today there is no indication of where it once stood. Catholic worship continued there until the untimely death of the Duke in 1728. The dowager Duchess was a Protestant and the family, after Duke Alexander’s death attended Protestant Worship. After this time priests worked among the people in secret.
hi 1825 four years before Catholic emancipation the foundation stone of St Mary’s Church was laid by Father George Mathieson, who was born in the old village near the Castle in 1756. After his ordination he lived in Auchinhalrig as the Presbytery was not built until 1848 by Father William Coven who was the first priest to live at the Chapel in Fochabers “New Town”.
In the following year 1826 the Church was completed. Built in early 19th century gothic style, it has a handsome sandstone facade and rubble walls of many coloured stones. It is adorned with pinnacled buttresses, fine traceried windows and a large central door leads into a porch from which one enters the spacious church.
1858 brought Father Peter Weir to St Mary’s where he worked until 1909. He was responsible for having the present sanctuary added of which part of the ceiling at the apex is done in panels of azure blue with a stenciled design in the middle of each, depicting the medieval letter M. At this time the fine beautifully sculptured cream stone altar was installed, which was used by Bishop McDonald for the first time in May 1886 when he visited Fochabers for the sacrament of confirmation. Two small side altars are adorned in the same manner and have magnificent statues of Our Lady and St Joseph. During Father Weir’s long stay in Fochabers he was able to have a stained glass window set in position in memory of the Clapperton family. The subject is the Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John at the foot of the Cross. Border panels include passion flowers, roses and thistles emblematic of the Passion, along with a dove at the top, trefoils at the sides and St Jane Frances de Chantal, St Barbara and St Teresa of Avila below.
A year later another window was added Tins window is six panels illustrative of the Annunciation, Visitation, the Presentation in the Temple, the Assumption, the Seven Dolours of our Lady and the Immaculate Conception. The windows look best when the sun shines on them and picks out the glorious reds, blues and greens. The firm of Mayer and Son, Munich, designed and supplied the order. At this time the fourteen Stations of the Cross were installed; the figures are brightly painted and stand out in relief plaster work with massive oak frames, each having a cross on the top.
St Mary’s underwent little change until the liturgical reform of the 2nd Vatican Council (1962-1965). New pews were fitted giving a centre aisle and carpet tiles were laid on the floor. A new altar was placed in front of the existing one, using the decorated scrolls taken from the altar rails no longer in use, to enable the Priest to celebrate Mass facing the people. The organ was re-built and the front panel of the lectern was put in place. Much later in 1987 a second lectern was placed at the other side of the altar and a new baptismal font is now used. The present Paschal Candle stand was donated in memory of a parishioner.
August 15th 1998 saw the installation of the new elegant Sanctuary Lamp, donated by parishioners to Canon Bernard MacDonald, their parish priest, on the occasion of his Golden Jubilee.
Over the years the long line of dedicated priests and parishioners have worked hard to preserve and enhance the House of God, where all who visit may find and leave with the “Peace of Christ” amidst the beauty of creation in the historic countryside of Strath Spey.