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History of the Abbey Church Building

Bendochy and Coupar Angus-IMG_2374

Coupar Angus Abbey Church

Church of Scotland : Charity Number SC 014438

The church is on the site of the ancient Coupar Angus Abbey, which was established in 1150 and destroyed in the 17th Century.

It was one of the richest in Scotland, and responsible for the creation of drainage that made farming in the area successful.

A very small fragment of the abbey remains in the form of an arch near the Dundee Road.

Many buildings in the town use the red sandstone of the Abbey (which was not as local as the grey sandstone).

The present building was built in 1865, with a striking hammer-beam roof constructed by workmen from the Dundee shipyards.


The Abbey ruin

The Abbey ruin

The Abbey of Cupar Angus was founded in 1164 by Malcolm IV, the grandson of David I, and peopled with Monks from Melrose. The Monks, controlled from the parent House at Ciieaux (France), were known as Cistercians, and wore white robes

It has been suggested, with some show of probability, that the name is derived from Cuthbert. One of that Saint’s churches in Cornwall overlooking the Bristol Channel, is called Cuthbert, and under that designation Cupar Angus was also known in 1169,

The church of Copra Abbey was dedicated on Ascension Day, May 15th, 1233. What it was like can never be known, for nothing remains of any of the buildings except an archway at the south-west corner of the churchyard, supposed to have belonged to a porter’s lodge, and a few sculptured stones in Early English and decorated styles in the houses and walls of the neighbourhood. (So thoroughly did the returning mob from Perth in 1559 carry out its sacrilegious work, is one theory).

The Monks never exceeded 20 in number, so the building may not have been extensive. Malcolm IV generously endowed his monastery with land al Cupar and certain nights regarding coal and wood.

William the Lion, in addition to landed property, granted exemption to the Monks from all tolls, market and ferry imports and all other Custom dues, with the right of buying and selling in any part of the Kingdom: the same monarch obliged by character the prompt payment of all debts due to the Abbey, and protected its properly from distraint for debt-

Alexander II was also a generous benefactor. He gave property for the sustenance in perpetuity of two monks who were to say Mass in the Chapel of the Holy Trinity on the Island in the Loch of Forfar, and for the: providing of lights for the monastery.

King Robert Bruce granted a charter to the Monks allowing them to fish for salmon in the Tay at times prohibited by law to others.

The Hays of Errol – Earls of Atholl and many other Scottish Nobles were munificent patrons of Cupar Abbey.

Thomas de Lundic is buried in the cloister before the door of the Church. Sir William of Monat granted a fixed sum and a stone of wax yearly out of certain of his lands,

Sir Duncan Sybald in 1286 bestowed yearly “a stone of wax and four shillings for lights” at the Mary Mass.

At the Reformation the revenues amounted to some £8,000 annually.

Besides Lands and privileges, the churches of Airlie, Glenisla and Mathie in Forfarshire; Errol, Bendochy, Fossoway in Perthshire; Alneth in Banffshire, formed a considerable revenue.

No complete chartulary of Cupar is extant.

The M.S. Rental Book and two volumes of leases and charters are preserved in the General Register House, Edinburgh.

The first portion of the abbreviated register is in the library of the Earl of Panmure,

Edward I (of England) carried off much silver plate and gold ornaments which he gave to his daughter, Lady Elizabeth.

The privilege of ‘Pontificalia’ was granted in 1464 to Abbot David Bayn.

In 1607 the property of the Abbey was bestowed upon James Elphinstonet second son of Lord Balmerino, with the title of Baron Coupar. By this date all remaining monks had died.

The abbots possessed two country seals (1) Cupar Grange, 2 miles off; (2) Campsie House, 3 miles south-west of the Abbey, The Abbey owned a Hospital in Dundee, where sick Monks were sent for medical treatment.

Alexander II visited Coupar Angus in 1246.

Ruben the Bruce dated a charter from the Abbey on Christmas Day, 1317,

Robert II paid two visits in 1378.

Mary, Queen of Scots, rested several days m 1562,

The residence of the Commendator utterly disappeared in 1645.

On the death in 1562 of the last Abbot there a rivalry between the Campbells of Argyll and the Ogilvys of Airlie which led to bloodshed and ultimately the Abbey was erected into a temporal lordship for James FJphmstone, with the title of Baron Coupar, in 1607.

Whether destroyed by a ‘reforming mob’ or not it is clear that by the time of the Reformation, Coupar Angus Abbey was in a poor slate of repair and by 1622 that walls were in ruins. The first post Reformation Abbey was dedicated in 1686

Very few relics of the original Abbey remain. However within the Vatican Library there are some works from the Abbey Library not least work done on the Book of Psalms by the Monks. Within the framework of the present Abbey (reconstructed 1860) stones and relics are included. The most significant bring the Abbots Tomb Stones, The Ancient Font. The Medieval ‘Weepers Carving and the Tomb effigy of Sir Thomas Hay, 3rd High Constable of Scotland. Also within the Abbey Precincts there are many well known members of the Scottish Nobility buried, not least thirteen members of the Hay Family (the Earls of Errol).

Since the Reformation, the Communion Plate has been added to and today the Abbey has in trust a magnificent collection of Silver and Pewter Vessels – the most significant being the two silver Communion Cups (1687) made by Robert Gardiner of Perth. Also in the present church there are various memorials in stained glass and memorials to individuals within both vestibules. The War Memorial is situated on the South side of the Church and on the North side a memorial to those men who have ministered in this parish since 1164 up to the present time. The open date on this memorial signifying that the work of preaching the Gospel is ongoing, and that the Abbey, although proud of its ancient past, is part of today’s Christian Community.


The present church building designed by Jolm Carver was started, in 1360 and is proba­bly built on the site of die Abbey’s church: there are old foundation walls running in a rec­tangle under the floor of the nave, roughly un­der the front edge of the gallery, and from its edges forwards to the present raised sanctuary area. The building is listed for its exterior, but the timber interior of the roof is noteworthy. Some of the carpenters involved, are believed to have been from die shipyards in Dundee.

The tombstone sculpture of Sir Robert Hay and die other tombstones (in the North porch) were brought inside from the graveyard to pre­serve them. The Glebe field to the North of the church contains mediaeval graves, but has not been fully excavated

There is a plaque on the North wall listing Abbots at Coupar Angus, and then Ministers, whilst a corresponding plaque on the South wall is a War Memorial to local men. Other memorials are in the South porch, and when the modem Session House extension was built in the 1960s, tombstones from the area used were moved into the vestry by permission of the family.

The original wooden pews which were fitted throughout the ground floor and gallery were removed in 2011.