Nestled within the gorgeous Scottish Highlands, on a very minor road about ten miles from Inverness, sits a lovely hidden gem – Dunlichity Church and Cemetery.
Mr. C and I discovered Dunlichity Church by accident in 2019. Dunlichity is an example of “what I call” the real Scotland (any “Miranda” fans out there? 🙂 ) You might be wondering what I mean by that because obviously, it’s all real, of course! What I mean is that Dunlichity isn’t one of the uber-popular and (sshh, dare I say it?) overpromoted sites that draw in people from near and far. It will probably never appear on a list of the “Top 10 Things to Do In Scotland” (well, that is unless someone like Dana Gabaldon makes it famous). I could be completely wrong – but I’d be willing to bet that nearby residents and history enthusiasts are maybe some of the only individuals aware of its existence. A small hidden gem, Dunlcihity Church and its cemetery are a wonderful, authentic, off-the-radar testimony to Scottish lives past and present that only a lucky few curious visitors and residents will ever stumble across.
Dunlichity Church dates to 1759 (repairs were carried out in 1826, at which time portions of both the church’s interior and exterior were remodeled). This 18th-century building was the replacement of an earlier church that was constructed in 1569. In fact, some of the walls of the original building were incorporated into the structure that we see today.
In addition to the church building, a watchtower is positioned by the entrance gate. The small two-story structure was constructed in a simple gabled design. This house would have served as a lookout for anyone brazen enough to try to steal a corpse from the graveyard. Until the Anatomy Act of 1832, when it became legal to donate a deceased person’s body to science, graverobbing was a real problem. Certain opportunists discovered they could make a buck or two by turning over a newly dead body to an anatomy school. If you have been around here for a while, you might remember an article I published about two rather infamous body snatchers – Burke and Hare!
In his, The Devil’s Dictionary, the acerbic lexicographer Ambrose Bierce defined a body snatcher as “one who supplies the young physicians with that which the old physicians have supplied the undertaker.” While Bierce may have been harsh on the physicians of his day, he was correct in linking body snatching to medicine—the demand for fresh bodies in 18th- and 19th-century Britain and the United States was created by anatomy professors, surgeons, and medical students. Because the only bodies legally available for medical dissection were the remains of executed criminals, demand far outpaced supply.” -Brittanica
Though the first church we know of was built in 1569, the site upon which Dunlichity sits had been a gathering place for worshipers long before. There is evidence that the area was the site of any early Christian settlement dedicated to St. Finan, c.575 (Historic Environment Scotland). Some even believe that St. Finan himself preached there.
Exploring the tombstones at Dunlichity Cemetery is a fascinating way to spend a half-hour. Along with the incredibly old, weathered stones, there are two walled enclosures that contain the remains of the MacGillivrays and the Shaws of Tordarroch.
Let’s take a quick peek around the graveyard.
In June 2018, the Rev. Reg Campbell spoke to the community at a celebration to honor the 400-year union between Dunlichity Church and nearby Daviot Church. The Reverend’s talk followed on the heels of a rather sad day for church membership, as just two months prior, Dunlichity was instructed to close, ending its tenure as a Church of Scotland building. The following words were written in a Daviot/Dunlichity newsletter:
“As you all know, April was rather a difficult month for the members of Daviot & Dunlichity Church, as towards the end of the month, we had the final service at Dunlichity church as a Church of Scotland building. It was a very poignant service, but we ended in a spirit of hope for the future, and we sincerely believe that something good will come from this closure – when one door closes, a window opens!”
Hear! Hear! Cheers to Dunlichity’s past and to whatever the future holds.
Have a fantastic week, friends,