This evening, I have decided to focus on an important early Christian site in Scotland, namely Abernethy Tower which is located in the village of same name between St. Andrews and Perth in eastern Scotland.

Historically Abernethy was an important Christian site with the primacy of the Church transferring to Abernethy from Dunkeld around AD 865-908 before switching again to modern day St. Andrews. A church (or monastery.nunnery) at Abernethy was founded about AD 460 and dedicated to St. Bridget, perhaps in AD 525.

Although the date of construction is not known, the tower is certainly of great antiquity, dating from around 9th-11th centuries and in turn located on a Christian site dating back to the 5th century. The architecture and differing building materials may indicate that that the tower is an 11th century rebuild of earlier 9th century construction.

Abernethy is representative of a type of tower which is only found in the Isle of Man, Ireland and Scotland. Recently, I visited Ireland and came across the similar Aghagower Tower. These towers may have been influenced by similar buildings in northern Italy. Of course, the local peoples had a long tradition constructing circular buildings so the architecture was not exactly radical. Iron-Age brochs come immediately to mind.

All round towers of this type were free standing and usually situated a short distance from, and with their doors facing towards, the nearby monastic church which in this case would place the church north of the tower.

Ranked against its peers, Abernethy is average in height ( 22 metres or 72 ft.). The wall is 1.07m thick ( 3ft 7″) at bottom and 88cm (2′ 11″) at the top. The interior diameter is a constant 2.515m (8’3″). The walls consist of outer and inner dressed stone layers with rubble in-filling.

The purpose of this type of tower is not known for certain. Speculation includes:

  • Watch Towers
  • Belfries
  • Penitentiary Towers
  • Defensive Structures ( c.f.Vikings)
  • Bell Towers (The Irish name for the towers is ‘cloigtheach’ or ‘house of the bell’.)
  • An aesthetic tribute to God,.

The importance of Abernethy in early medieval Scotland is manifested in the fact that Malcolm III of Scotland met William of Normandy there is 1072 AD. Here the treaty of Abernethy was negotiated which ensured that Scotland did not suffer the same fate as Anglo-Saxon England, i.e. invasion by the Normans.

A very interesting site which I usually include in my tours of the area. There is a pleasant little tea room with books for sale close by.

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