After the Revolution, the church of Mortlach seems either to have been vacant, or have remained in the possession of the Catholic party for a considerable time, for the first Protestant minister was not in­ stalled until 1615. He was named John Maxwell, and seems to have ministered there for about twenty-five years. He was succeeded by the Rev. Wm. Forbes in 1640, who was again succeeded by the Rev. Alexander Seaton in 1650, who was in his turn followed by the Rev. Arthur Strachan, who was again succeeded about 1700 by the Rev. Hugh Innes. But we are afraid some of these clergymen, if they did not altogether return to the Church of Rome, had so far conformed to what Cuddie Headrig’s mother called “the black indul­gence,” that their reputation as Protestants became con­siderably sullied; for tradition persists in calling Innes the first Protestant minister who filled the Mortlach pulpit, though in reality he was the fifth. There seems also to have been a decided hostility to his induction, for we learn that a large body of the inhabitants met on the Sunday morning when he was expected at the church, with the purpose of keeping him from entering, and when he arrived were employed at “throwing the stone.” The clergyman had, however, been apprised of the hosti­lity he was likely to meet with, and doffing his ministe­rial garments, he donned those of a Highland chief of the period, and being a man of gigantic proportions, he, after witnessing for a time the sport they were engaged in, took a cast himself of the stone, and succeeded in throwing it beyond the farthest mark attained by the throwers; and then, while they were exerting themselves to reach the mark, he sauntered away in the direction of the church, and after going round it with an uninte­rested and unmeaning stare, he was allowed unsuspectedly to saunter into it; and proceeding at once to the pulpit, he drew forth his bible, and laying a pistol on either side, called upon the people to come in and join for a while with him now, since he had done so with them. A few, who had their sympathies enlisted by his resolute and manly bearing, entered; but the greater proportion returned home, displeased with themselves for being so easily duped, and vowing to resort to not very pleasant measures with the divine, when opportunity should occur; and though Mr Innes lived to be a popu­lar minister among them, it is said that his stalwart and almost Herculian figure often stood him in more stead than his clerical character, in protecting him from his enemies. He died in March, 1733, and there is a marble tablet on the church wall to his memory.


We have already said that the church has been so tinkered and modernised, both outside and inside, as to have lost all traces of its ancient appearance; and the only antique relics which it possesses are the effigies of a knight in armour and two other diminutive looking figures, that do not very clearly speak their origin or tell whom they represent, and the old hand-bell, which in days of yore played so conspicuous a part at all the funerals of the parish. The first of these is said to re­present one of the Leslies of Kininvie; and some idea may be had of the elegant taste and venerative faculties of the reformers of the church, when it is stated that this figure—which is full-length and intended by its sculp­tor to lie flat over a tomb—is placed upright in a niche of the wall, and the stair leading to the gallery runs past its centre, so that the legs of the mailed knight are seen by those sitting under the gallery, while the head and shoulders are visible only to the occupants of the gallery as they ascend the stair. Which of the knights of Kininvie it represents, tradition saith not very distinctly, Some consider it probable that it is intended for Field- Marshal Leslie (the Earl of Leven), while others call it Davie Duncottie Lesley; but we have serious doubts whether it represents either of these worthies, for the Farl of Leven was a little man, and deformed to boot, and this statue is over the middle height, while the hands and face, betokening the attitude of prayer, give a strong presumption that Davie Duncottie was never intended to have his memory so perpetuated, for his talents certainly lay in another way. But as we will probably have something to say of Davie and his gallan­tries when we visit the house of Kininvie, we shall pass him for the present. The other effigies are rude figures, which have been designated Creely Duff and his wife, from the circumstance of standing in two recesses under the stone which stands in the wall in memory of Mr Duff of Keithmore and his spouse, who were the founders of the Fife family. There is good reason, however, for supposing that these figures have been honoured with several names, and have occupied more than one niche of the church, though they are so comfortably housed for the present in the dark “boles” in which they are placed, and so screened from view by the wooden belt which forms the back of the seat, that they have little chance of being again removed for some time. 


The cavities where the Danes’ heads were built into the wall is covered over, but the place is still pointed out; and the bell, though not very ancient, is nevertheless worthy of notice. It is a somewhat clumsy hand bell, and tracked to the bargain, and is usually to be found in the bole at the back of the eastern door. It was at one time a far more important piece of church furniture than it is now, for there seems to have been a custom— and that, too, not long since renounced—of employing the parish bellman to precede all funeral processions with this bell in hand, tolling the coronach of the de­parted one from the moment the coffin was lifted till the first shovel of earth had fallen upon its lid; and the different bellmen seem to have prided themselves greatly upon the tone of their bells, and the nicety with which they rung them. One of the Mortlach bellmen, who prided himself in being one of the most expert at his profession, had heavy odds to contend with in maintaining his reputation with his Skir Drustan or Aberlour brother of the bell, in consequence of the superior tone of his rival’s instrument, and after he had spent all his art upon his own bell, and yet could do little more than come up to his competitor, the thought struck him that if he could but succeed in getting the Skir Drustan bell, he would astonish the world and dumfounder his rival at the first extensive funeral to which he might be called. With this ambitious thought prying upon his mind, and no prospect appearing of getting his plan carried out by fair means, he resolved upon desperate measures; and one night, when the clouds of evening had begun to gather around the brow of Benrinnes, he set for Charlestown, and when the good folks of that village had gone to rest, he got access to the church. And possessing himself of the coveted bell, he hied him away back as he had come through the Betchach, and rested not till he came to the well-known Ronnach stone, which had used to lie at the south-west corner of the middle Conval, in what is termed Gleack-en-ronnach, until goth McKinon cut it up for lintels to the tower of Dufftown. Here the bellman rested, and laying down the stolen bell upon the stone until he would strike a light for his cuttie, what was his consternation to find that it clung to it with such pertinacity that all his efforts were ineffectual to move it. It was in vain that spells and charms were tried. The line-toned bell refused to be moved, and the disappointed bellman was compelled to return with feelings much akin to that of a tiger, from whose fangs the prey had been taken after its blood had been tasted and the jungle almost gained. The bell, however, was not deemed to remain long a fixture, for some people belonging to Aberlour having passed that way the following day, the sensible bell knew its own folk, and cheerfully went along with them!


But while we are so precise about other things connected with the church, we must not forget the prophecy, for among its many other claims of our attention, it is the subject of one of Thomas the Rhymer’s prophecies, which has invested it with an interest to those worshiping within its walls, beyond what any other can be supposed to feel. The prophecy ran something like the following:

“ A tod shall be slain this kirk within;

A boon the graveyard burn Gallie run;

A rose bush grow near the kirk stane stair;

And a calf one day come to join in the prayer,

Till the fleckit doo and the Easter day

That’s to see this biggin’ a’ melt away!”

Such a list of improbabilities one would think need not have excited much apprehension in the minds of the parishioners of Mortlach, and probably for a long time after the prophecy had been spoken by the celebrated seer, it was deemed extremely unlikely, and at worst the final catastrophe far removed; but as years rolled on one after another of the things predicted have been verified, till one only, and that the final one, that is to precede the church’s downfall, has to appear. Burn Gallie ran along the hollow before the houses of the Kirkton, and some thirty feet below the level of the grave-yard, but Mr Gordon, distiller, either ignorant of the prophecy or no believer in it, turned the water at a higher level, and brought it “aboon the grave-yard.” So many other unlikely things, however, were to follow, that this was little noticed as affecting the stability of the church, nor were many, save the most sensitive, much alarmed at the appearance of a wild rose or hippin bush, that budded and blossomed luxuriantly in the place indicated by the permitted to stand; but there is no accounting for the taste of calves any more than for that of individuals, and a pretty “ Branit,” or reddish calf, that had tired of the grass at Pittyvaich, daundered over the way of the church, and finding the door open, and the people en­gaged in prayer, it stepped in, and some say intimated its presence by a rather unmusical bray, which for a time interfered with the devotions; but the latter statement wants confirmation. Nothing now was looked for but the appearance of the “fleckit doo,” and the downfall of the church on the first Pace Sunday. But Pace Sunday came and went, and came again, but brought no fleckit doo, and the church continued to stand as firmly as before, so that the people were beginning to be once more reassured, and were forgetting both Thomas and his prophecy; but not long since their equanimity was again disturbed by a speckled chicken strolling into the church, and that, strangely enough, upon a Pace Sunday too. Its first appearance produced a consternation, and several persons sought refuge from the impending catas­trophe in flight; but more close observers, detecting the intruder to be only a chicken, composed themselves and kept their seats, though we presume the sermon was but indifferently listened to for that day. The “fleckit doo’ has not therefore yet appeared, but those learned in such matters assure us that the doom attending its presence, even though it were to enter the church, has been averted by the “salt having gone aboon the meal,” a commercial state of matters connected with this condi­ment so extraordinary as to have altered the entire order of things, and rendered nugatory the fulfilment of all the prophecies of the great wizard and prophet of Eldersdale. There are those, however, that consider the sinking of the church already accomplished, and in corroboration of their statement they point to the arch alluded to by Mr Gordon when speaking of the place where St Bean was interred, which marked the old back-door of the church; and there can be no doubt but there are from eight to ten feet of the walls underground, but whether the ground has been raised or the church sunk is a different matter. The probability is, that the accumulation of the ground around the church arose partly from the alterations that were made from time to time in the building, and partly from a practice at one time very prevalent of carrying with each body that was to be in­terred in the churchyard as much green turf from his farm or place of death as would cover his grave. In­ deed, to such an extent was this practice carried, and to such an extent did the ground accumulate around churches and in graveyards, that a special statute had to be enacted to put a stop to it, so that unless Mortlach was an exception to the general rule, much of the accu­mulation may be accounted for in this manner.


While speaking of the accumulations, we cannot omit drawing attention to the deplorable state of irregularity and confusion in which the burying-ground is allowed to remain, and that too with a sum of nearly a hundred pounds, if we mistake not, at the disposal of the Kirk Session to have it improved and beautified. Why it has been allowed to lie so long without being employed to its legitimate purpose we cannot tell, but it is surely time that something were done in the matter. When so many improvements present and prospective are being provided for, it is—not to use a harsher word—a pity that the place hallowed to the people by being the last resting place of friends and relations, and sacred to them as in all probability the spot where their own re­mains are to be interred, should be entirely overlooked while funds that may not be otherwise applied are lying unemployed. The wonder is that the members of the Kirk Session are not terrified for the ghost of the bene­volent donor coming upon them and demanding from them an account of their stewardship!

Before concluding our remarks upon the church and churchyard of Mortlach, we may notice that a stone with a square hole in its centre is still to be seen on the road which passes Little Pitglassie, where the market cross had used to stand; and not a few of the old folks proudly tell us that there the cross of Aberdeen should have been.