Great and good reveal favourite Scottish churches

A SCOTTISH chapel built by prisoners of war and the medieval abbey where the earliest surviving Gaelic writing from Scotland is believed to have been composed head a new list of Britain’s favourite churches.

Simon Weston OBE loves the Italian Chapel on Orkney, built by prisoners of war. Picture: Donald MacLeod

Orkney’s Italian Chapel and the 13th-century Deer Abbey in Aberdeenshire are among five Scottish churches in the National Churches Trust’s list of top 60 ecclesiastical buildings which was published yesterday.

The list is based on the choices of 60 public figures, including politicians, celebrities and church leaders. They were asked to nominate their favourite religious building to celebrate the diamond jubilee of the trust.

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First Minister Alex Salmond picked Deer Abbey, the remains of a Cistercian monastery.

Alex Salmond chose 13th-century Deer Abbey. Picture: Contributed

Mr Salmond said: “I am delighted to nominate Deer Abbey in Aberdeenshire as one of my favourite places of worship… The Book of Deer … was written at the abbey in the tenth century, and includes later additions in Gaelic describing the foundation of the original monastery. It thus contains the earliest written Scottish Gaelic, or common Gaelic, common to Scotland and Ireland.”

Falklands War veteran Simon Weston OBE chose the Italian Chapel, built during the Second World War by prisoners captured in North Africa and brought to the islands to help erect new barriers after a German U-boat penetrated defences at Scapa Flow.

The chapel, painstakingly constructed by the Italian prisoners of war from corrugated iron huts, has become one of the island’s most popular tourist attractions.

Broadcaster Kirsty Wark nominated New Laigh Kirk in Kilmarnock, the Ayrshire town where she went to school. She said: “It was an important place in the life of my family, and although I am not religious, it is a building that I associate with my sense of Scottishness.”

The other two Scottish churches in the list were Renfrew North Parish Church, chosen by the Rt Rev Lorna Hood, moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland and minister there; and St John the Evangelist RC Church in Cumnock, picked by Scottish composer James MacMillan CBE, who was baptised there.

He said: “[It was] built in 1882 on commission from John Chrichton Stuart, the 3rd Marquis of Bute who, at the time, was one of the richest men in the world … [and who] wanted the church to be a special focus for music.”

Other churches on the list include St Thomas a Beckett Church in Fairfield, Kent, picked by Ukip leader Nigel Farage; and the 13th-century St Margaret of Antioch Church, in Abbotsley, Cambridgeshire, chosen by comedian and explorer Michael Palin, who was married there.

The National Churches Trust, which funds repairs and refurbishment of churches, chapels and meeting houses, has provided more than 12,000 grants and loans totalling £85 million to help pay for urgent and often costly repairs, such as restoring precious medieval stonework or mending leaking roofs.

Chief executive Claire Walker said: “Over the next 60 years, churches will continue to need help from the National Churches Trust and other funders. As we look to the future, we will remain grateful to our donors and friends for their generosity which allows us to keep more churches in good repair for worship, of benefit to local people and open to visitors wanting to discover their fascinating art, architecture and history.”