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Fortrose Cathedral Ruins

Fortrose Cathedral was the episcopal seat of the medieval Scottish diocese of Ross. It is probable that the original site of the diocese was at Rosemarkie (as early as AD 700), but by the 13th century the canons had relocated a short distance to the south-west to the site known as Fortrose or Chanonry. The first recorded bishop, from around 1130, was Macbeth. According to Gervase of Canterbury, in the early 13th century the cathedral of Ross was manned by Céli Dé.

The oldest part of the present ruin is north choir range of the late 1300s. This range is now free-standing but was once attached to the choir. The only other part still standing is south aisle and chapel, built in the late 1300s.

The cathedral ceased to function as such at the Protestant Reformation in 1560. The story goes that most of the stonework went to build Cromwell’s citadel in Inverness in the early 1650s.

Only the ground plan survives of the cathedral itself. All that remains above ground are two separate structures that once projected out from it. The older of the two is the two-storey building that projected from the north side of the choir. This housed the sacristy and chapter house at ground level, and perhaps a treasury and library on the more secure upper floor. Though never a wealthy diocese, the chapter comprised 21 senior clergy, called canons.

After the Reformation, the building was retained and fitted out as the burgh’s tollbooth (town hall and prison). The upper floor was adapted as the council chamber and court house, and the lower floor as a prison.

This elegant structure was added to the south wall of the nave in the late 1300s by Countess Euphemia of Ross (d. 1395). It was doubtless intended as a chantry chapel, where prayers were said for the countess’s soul. Her fine canopied tomb, with little left of its effigy, is built into the east arch of the chapel. Two other monumental tombs are of Bishop Fraser (d. 1507) and Bishop Cairncross (d. 1545).

The quality of the structure’s masonry is outstanding. It is evident in the fine stone vaulting and in what remains of the elaborate window tracery. You can also see this quality in the internal fixtures such as the piscina in the chapel, where the vessels used at Mass were ritually cleansed.

As with the north choir aisle, alterations were made after the Reformation. The most obvious of these was the addition of a clock turret above the stair tower.