Restored ‘secret’ 13th century chapel opens to visitors

The chapel was discovered in the grounds of Old Churches House in Dunblane. Picture: Contributed
The chapel was discovered in the grounds of Old Churches House in Dunblane. Picture: Contributed
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A ‘secret’ 13th century chapel in Dunblane that lay hidden beneath mud and undergrowth for many years has been painstakingly restored and has opened as a visitor attraction.

Its trappings and church items, from books of worship to communion vessels, had surrendered to time, the identity of the body buried beneath a table alter similarly lost.

The chapel has been brought into the light, and has now opened as a visitor attraction, place of contemplation and even marriage venue.

It’s situated within the grounds of Old Churches House and has been painstakingly restored over a number of years by its owner, Alex McKie.

Volunteers stumbled across the building, then covered in mud and ivy, back in 1961 and while its original purpose was unknown they are said to have referred to it as a chapel.

They erected a wooden cross on the platform outside – which still stands today – and investigated the building further in the months that followed.

Those investigations revealed that a body had been buried in an east west position under the table alter, a position favoured ecclesiastically and one that pointed to the structure’s use for worship and burial.

Other clues were a well at the left hand side of the chapel, sufficient enough to provide a small bowl of water for communion, and small cupboards at the back, thought to have once held communion vessels and prayer books.

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Rebecca Foster from Old Churches House said: “This small and charming chapel is, in many ways, a secret chapel, as it lay undiscovered for so long and has a fascinating story behind it.

“It was visited by the Queen in 1967 and Pope John Paul II gifted a unique spinning wheel in 1982, which we still have on display.

“When Alex took over Old Churches House – which was known as Scottish Churches House and used by church groups of all denominations for holidays, respite and meetings – the chapel was in a state of disrepair.

“We carried out a full renovation, installed new lighting and seating as well as fitting a reclaimed font from a Church in Selkirk.

Entry to the chapel is free and Mr McKie hopes it will join the list of Dunblane’s best known visitor attractions, including the 12th Century Cathedral, Dunblane Museum, the Leighton Library – Scotland’s oldest private library – and Andy Murray’s gold postbox.

He said: “There are always tourists teaming round Andy’s postbox and the cathedral is a huge draw.

“It’s all very accessible and so many visitors come to the area to learn more about Dunblane.

“We are very fortunate to have such a rich history here and we are delighted to be sharing it with the public.”

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