Leaving the city of Dufftown, and proceeding south­ ward for about a quarter of a mile, we come upon the manse and church of Mortlach, situated in a delightful hollow, which the Dullan at some remote period had scooped out from the adjoining hills. The manse is an ele­gant modern structure of the Elizabethan style of archi­tecture, embowered amid stately trees that almost con­ceal it from view, and with the ground and garden around it, under the tasteful care of Mrs Cruickshank, is one of the finest residences in the parish. The church is only about a couple of hundred yards distant from it, and is surrounded by the graves and gravestones of many gene­ rations who successively worshipped within its walls. The form of the church Is irregular, and may be de­scribed as forming three sides of a cross, or as having a wing or aisle built near the middle of the north side of the larger part of the building, and at right angles to it. It is altogether destitute of external ornament, and re­sembles in all things the rigid and unadorned Presbyterian edifices of a century or two ago. It is, however, very old. So old, indeed, that according to tradition, it was the second church that was built in Scotland, though who its founder was, or at what period it was erected, has never been ascertained.


The patron saint of the church was St. Molock. This Molock, while in the flesh, was a great friend and companion of Bonifecius, and like that zealous preacher travelled throughout Scotland, lifting up his testimony against the idolatries and superstitions of the Druids, and preaching and instructing the people in the faith of Christ, and erecting in 44 diverse’’ places, churches or houses for the worship of the true God. The portions of the country which were more particularly the scenes of his labours were what were then designated the pro­vinces of Mar and Argyle (and Hollingshed informs us that Murthlake was a town of Mar.) He lived in the latter part of the sixth or beginning of the seventh cen­tury, and after a long life spent in the apostolic work to which he had devoted himself, he was gathered to his fathers at the good ripe age of 94, and sleeps by the side of his friend and fellow-worker, Bonifacius, at Rosemarkie in Ross-shire. By his eminent virtues and zeal­ous testimony for the cause of Christianity, he had won the esteem and respect of his countrymen, and after his death he was canonized by the church, and saint was added to his name, and he then became the patron saint of Mortlach church.


Whether the church was one of those founded by Mo­lock is uncertain, but supposing it had, its age would thus be about twelve hundred years; while if the tradition be taken that ascribes its foundation to St Columbus, and asserts it to be the second church built at his instigation, then half a century more must be added to its antiquity. We need not, however, be particular about fixing pre­cisely the date of its erection, as sufficient evidence ex­ists to give it the glory of ranking among the first of the churches of Scotland, and to make it nearly, if not al­ together the oldest habitable one in the country. The visitor, however, will find nothing in the appearance of the present building to assist his imagination or fire his enthusiasm in carrying him back to the time when like a pole-star it stood in this quiet vale to guide the bewildered and ignorant mariners of time, am id the prevailing gloom and darkness that everywhere surrounded it ; for the same parsimonious spirit that dictated the shabby extension and patching of the pariah school the Other year, induced the heritors to Lay barbaric hands upon the time-hallowed building, and tinkering at it from time to time, they have robbed it of almost every vestige that can associate it with antiquity, and seem to have rejoiced more in a well tied purse than in a relic of an­tiquity that would have added honour and glory to their extensive domains. At what time these vandalisms be­gan to be perpetrated seems uncertain, but as late as 1798 we find from the “Survey of the Province of Moray” that it had comparatively escaped the modernis­ing tendency, for the author says— “It is venerable merely on account of its age. Tt is the cathedral of the second bishopric of Scotland; its walls are supposed to have stood since the beginning of the eleventh century, and they are still deemed to be more durable than any building of the present day. They have none of that magnificence or elegant decoration of the cathedrals of succeeding ages; the simplicity of the doors and windows and of the whole edifice bears witness to its age; the windows are narrow slits, six feet in height and only ten inches wide on the outside, but sloped so much as to measure twelve feet within. It is ninety feet in length, and twenty-eight in breadth, having twenty-seven feet in the cast end, where, no doubt, the choir and altar were, a few feet higher than the rest of the building.” Even within the memory of some living, a door, called the entrance to the organ loft, was to be seen above this arch, but it, with the narrow windows and simple doors, have passed away, and given place to the more Common­ place things that have been substituted for them. At that time the windows were widened we cannot say, but the wing which projects to the north was added in 1824 or 1825, at which time the finishing touch of mis-named improvement took place. But as the history of this Church is largely connected with the battle of Mortlach, it will make our description or narrative more intelligible before proceeding further to give some account of it.


This important and decisive battle was fought in the year 1010 between the Danes and the Scots. In the preceding year the Danes had made a firm lodgment on the coast of Moray, and, according to the historian, “landed in such puissant order that the inhabitants of Morayland fled out of their houses with their wives and children, and such of their goods as they could carry with them and it seems to have been well for such of them as did escape, for these northern hordes, with brutal ferocity, ravaged the country with fire and sword, sparing neither age nor sex, church nor chapel, save the three castles of Elgin, Forres, and Nairn, which offering more resistance to their fury, were left unscathed till the coun­try around them had been Laid in ruins. That done, however, they immediately laid siege to Nairn castle and invested it. At this time the Scottish crown was worn by Malcolm the Second, and that hardy monarch was not of a temper to remain inactive while such an enemy was committing ravages in his territory. He accordingly assembled together such troops as could most readily take the field, and proceeded north to give them battle. The two armies met near Forres, and after a bloody encounter, victory declared for the Danes, and the Scottish monarch was borne from the field stunned and bleeding, with his helmet battered to his head. The defeat and subsequent retreat of the Scots gave the Danes leisure for the subjugation of the castles that had previously held out against them, and the garrison of Nairn castle capitulated, the others were evacuated, and nearly the whole province of Moray became subject to the Danish rule.


But though Malcolm was defeated, he was by no means subdued, and next summer, having assembled a large army, he once more proceeded northwards to rid his kingdom from the pollution of a foreign invader. The Danes having early notice of the King’s march, again collected their forces, and with military prudence determined to go and meet, him. After their first day’s march, they encamped near Carron at Bellendien, and next night, according to tradition, took up their posi­tion in the hollow around the church—so many on either side of the river—and not suspecting the proximity of the Scots, laid themselves down upon the green sward in perfect security. Malcolm had, however, the same night reached Auchindown, and had taken up his position “upon a piece of rising ground over against Aulnacreich,” which to this day bears his name, (Tullochallum, or Malcolm’s Knowe). Here his scouts brought him information of the position of the enemy, and being further admonished by the friendly intelligence of the inhabitants of the narrow defile where the Dullan runs before reaching the valley where they were encamped, and of the possibility of damming up the water at what is termed the Giant’s Chair, until a sufficient quantity had collected to separate, if not sweep away the sleepers in the plain, he determined to put the stratagem into execution; and collecting a number of bull’s hides, he despatched a detachment of his men to the chair for the purpose ; and as the river there runs through a narrow opening cut from the rocks of only a few feet in width, but rising on either side to a height of twenty to thirty feet, their purpose was not difficult to accomplish, and the water thus dammed up accumu­lating in a natural basin above this chair, soon acquired the proportions of a lake, and became fit for the pur­poses of the King. Meantime, the Scots had raised their encampment at Tullochalum, and had silently reached the Kirkton brae, at the bottom of which the enemy were lying, and the signal being given, the dam was let loose, and the water pouring down with irresistable force, carrying trees and everything before it, soon reached the camp of the Danes and, penetrating its centre, swept away a number of them down the stream. At the same time they were fiercely assailed by the Scots from the adjoining brae with such wild and savage shouts that, together with the darkness and the roaring flood, would have put any modern army into irretrievable confusion; but the soldiers of those days were more accustomed to trust to the prowess of their own arms than to stragetical movements, and though the Danes for a time were panic struck, their daring courage soon revived, and, the water shortly subsiding, a fierce and bloody battle ensued. After the momentary success of the Scots, the hand of victory seemed once more to be extended to the enemy, for Kenneth, thane of the Isles, Dunbar, thane of Laudian, and Graeme, thane of Strathern, three of the Scottish generals, having rushed too impetuously upon the foe, were slain, and their followers losing courage meditated a retreat, and were only pre­ vented from actually fleeing from the field by the nar­rowness of the defile and the steepness of its banks, which made it difficult for them to carry their base purpose into execution. Malcolm, reluctantly borne backward with his discouraged soldiers, endeavoured in vain to rally them, till these impediments coming in their path, enabled him to get a halt and an opportunity of addressing them. After having revived their courage by a stirring oration, he uttered a prayer to the God of battles, and solemnly vowed, if victory was accorded to his arms, to add three lengths of his spear to the chapel of St Molock, which was then standing over against him. And as if conscious of an answer to his prayer, he rushed upon the enemy and slew with his own hand their general, Enetus. The soldiers, following so noble an example, renewed the battle with redoubled energy, and after a long and desperate struggle—during which they had beaten back the enemy to the hill of Tomnamuid, near to the castle of Balvenie, (which is mentioned as a fort then standing), and there slaying another general named Magnus—they completely routed them and put them to flight, and such of them as escaped the avenging sword of the Scotch, were gathered together beyond the Spey by their surviving general, Olanus, and conducted back to Morayshire.


There seems, however, to be some error in this account of the battle of Mortlach, and it is very likely that the stories of two different engagements have been jumbled together and committed to the stream of time, by tradi­tion in that form, for it may be urged against the sup­position that the Danes would have encamped in such an unusual and unsuitable place, that even when the approach of an enemy was not apprehended, their ordi­nary places of encampment were on the tops of knolls or hills, as the camp of the Conval and many other places clearly show. But a yet stronger argument is found from the fact that it was only when the heroic King was borne reluctantly back by his retreating soldiers that according to historians “he espied the chapel,” and the probability therefore is that the engagement began at the hill of Tomnamuid, and that the Haugh below the chapel only became the battleground when the retreat of the Scots was checked by the nature of the ground, and their drooping courage revived by the oration and vow of the King. The damming of the river, then, with the bulls hides must therefore, we think, be attributed to some of the many minor engagements that had taken place thereabout in ancient times.


Besides the graves referred to and other memorials of the fight, numbers of pieces of broken weapons and armour have from time to time been found, and only about 300 years ago a massive gold chain was turned up in the glebe, which is supposed to have belonged to some of the slaughtered generals. Where it is now is un­known. But the most enduring memorial of the victory is the 24 feet added to the church by the king, in fulfil­ment of his vow (and by which we learn that his spear at the battle must have been eight feet long), which has ever been religiously marked off in all the renovations the church has undergone, and into which three of the skulls of the enemy were built, and where, within the memory of some still living, they were still to be seen.


There is also a sculptured stone immediately below the church, which, according to some, was erected to commemorate this victory; but much uncertainty pre­ vails whether it ought not to be referred to a higher antiquity. It is between five and six feet in height and about two broad. On the one side, there are in grooves rude figures of a dove, below it a serpent, under that a bull’s head, and still lower down a man on horseback, accompanied by a dog, and apparently engaged in the chase. The other side has on its upper compartment two figures that are either intended as rude pictures of priests, or to represent two dolphins or fishes, standing perpendicularly with their mouths turned towards each other. Below them is a cross indented with four holes where the arms cross each other, and under it is a lamb. It is also to be remarked, that the first mentioned figures are much ruder, and merely outlined in grooves, and are on the sun side of the stone, while the obverse side has the figures in relief and of better workmanship; and it I may not be far wrong to suppose that the stone and more simple figures on its sunny side represented some his­torical event prior to the introduction of Christianity, and that the more finished figures on the other are of Christian origin, and are intended to symbolise the differ­ence between the happy and peaceful life enjoyed by the light of the cross and that of the times commemorated on the other side. But whatever the cause or purpose of its erection it must clearly be set down as belonging to the same era and people as the Runic obelisks of Forres, Elgin, Altyre, and Dyke, and the same class of causes or events be taken to account for its erection.  


The very name of the parish, too, is claimed by not a few as referring to the battle, but so little is known of its early orthography that this supposition cannot easily be verified. Shaw’s rendering of it Mor-lag, i.e. Great Hollow, is evidently incorrect, fur the hollow is much smaller than others that adjoin it; nor has it anything about it to warrant a people so accurate in their descrip­tive nomenclature as the ancient inhabitants were, to give it such a name. The Rev. Mr Kemp says that according to some spellings it would be “The tide turn­ing field”, or “Field that turned back the seamen” or” Mary turn them;” while another authority reads it “The slaughtered heroes,” and certainly the not least improbable reading of it is “The slaughter of Laichie,” Laichie being the ancient name of a hamlet and tract of country at and around where Dufftown now stands.