The Old Kirk of Weem stands in the small village of Weem, near Aberfeldy, between the Weem Inn and the more noticeable parish church that replaced the Old Kirk in 1839. There is a good parking area near the parish church, and from there it is a short walk alongside the road to the gate giving access to the kirkyard. The Old Kirk is locked, and the key can be borrowed from the reception at Castle Menzies by those touring the castle.
Tradition has it that a church was founded at Weem by a monk from the first monastery at Melrose called Cuthbert at some time in the years after AD 650. It is said he lived in a cave in nearby Chapel Rock while on a mission to convert the Picts, and the church was established soon afterwards. Cuthbert later became intimately involved in the story of Christianity on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne and is now better known as Saint Cuthbert.
The first record of a church in Weem can be dated back as far as 1235, and Weem was described as a parish in a taxation record dating from 1275. At this time the church here was dedicated, perhaps unsurprisingly, to Saint Cuthbert.
In 1488 Sir Robert Menzies, 11th Baron Menzies, began work on a fortified mansion known as "The Place of Weem" on a site half a mile to the west of the church. This was destroyed in 1502, but later that century was replaced by Castle Menzies. It is thought that what is now known as the Old Kirk of Weem was built in 1488 at the same time as "The Place of Weem", on the site of the earlier church. We've seen no suggestion that any part of the structure you can see at the Old Kirk of Weem today can be dated back beyond 1488, but it is an attractive idea that parts of the earlier building might still survive within its successor.
In 1609 the church was significantly altered by Sir Alexander Menzies to bring it more into line with post-Reformation forms of Protestant worship. The changes appear to have included turning the original oblong building into a T-plan church by the addition of a north aisle, and the insertion in the aisle of a gallery. If the changes here followed those being applied elsewhere at the time, the interior would have been rearranged to focus on a pulpit erected mid-way along the south wall of the church. We've seen no mention of them, but it is possible that galleries would have been inserted at the east and west ends too, with all seating facing inwards towards the centre of the church.
Further modifications were made in the 1700s, and in 1839 the church was made redundant by the building of a replacement in the form of the nearby parish church. The Old Kirk was presented to the then Chief of the Clan "in all time coming" for use as a family mausoleum. The building was re-roofed in 1936, and in 1996 the building was passed into the care of the Menzies Charitable Trust.
It would have to be said that the kirk does not at first sight appear particularly exceptional. The surrounding kirkyard is home to a few interesting old stones, and what seems to be a sanctuary cross, and it is only when you come round to the north side of the kirk that you realise it is not a simple oblong.
The main external sign of the amazing treasures you will find within is in the form of the intricately carved stone panels above the two doors on the south wall. You enter via the more westerly of the two doors, and the immediate impression of the interior is breathtaking. The walls are adorned with a series of beautifully restored funerary hatchments. These representations of a deceased Clan Chief's coat of arms would have been displayed in the kirk, perhaps after an initial period on display at Castle Menzies following the death.
Also on display in the church is "St. Cuthbert's Cross", said to have come from near the cave Cuthbert is believe to have lived in, as well as two sanctuary crosses that originally stood near the Celtic monastery at nearby Dull, which was founded in the 700s. There are also some very fine early gravestones on display, including one that appears to carry the carvings of figures of a knight, his wife, and eight other people (children and grandchildren?) plus a recumbent skeleton. Set within the floor of the kirk are a number of graves of members of the family from the 1800s and 1900s.
The true highlight of the kirk is The Menzies Memorial, a stone cenotaph carved in 1616 and placed against the north wall at the east end. This really is a stunning structure, with a huge amount of intricate detail it takes some time to fully appreciate. The flanking statues are particularly impressive, as is the recumbent marble bust of a woman in a slightly smaller structure next to the main memorial.