The heart of the Perthshire village of Muthill can be defined by the right angled turn the A822 makes as Drummond Road becomes The Cross and then Willoughby Street. A pedestrian gateway on the north side of the road here gives access to the churchyard of Muthill Old Church, an extensive consolidated ruin complete with an impressive tower standing at its western end.
The tower of the Old Church is the most complete part of the ruin, and still stands to its full height and is roofed. It is also, by far, the oldest building in Muthill. It probably dates back to the 1170s and would originally have been a free standing tower designed as much for protection as for worship. The tower has many similarities with others from the same period at St Rules Church in St Andrews and St Serfs in Dunning. The tower at Dunblane Cathedral was probably also very similar to Muthill's before it was enlarged and incorporated into the Cathedral itself.
The site occupied by the Old Parish Church may have been used for Christian worship for much longer, but the first documentary evidence of settlement here was when a group of Culdees established a religious community in the 1170s. They built the tower, possibly on the foundations of an earlier structure, and it seems likely that they also built a church. No evidence of an earlier tower, or of the supposed Culdee church (or any predecessor) has been uncovered, perhaps because of the later arrival on the site of much of the rest of what we now know as Muthill Old Church.
The Culdees, or Céli Dé, were an early, rigorously disciplined, Christian monastic movement found in various parts of Ireland and then Scotland in the middle ages. Their distinctiveness was largely lost in the 1200s, and their presence in Muthill seems to have ended following a dispute during that century over control of the monastery here (and its assets) between Dunblane Cathedral and Lindores Abbey in Fife.
The body of Muthill Old Church was built (or, more likely, rebuilt) in the years around 1425 by Michael Ochiltree, who was Dean, and later Bishop, of Dunblane. The church that emerged from this process, whose ruins are still standing today, enclosed the earlier tower on three sides, and comprises a nave with arcaded aisles to its north and south, plus, beyond a chancel arch, a choir. We've already remarked on the survival of the tower. The nave and aisles survive up to around wallhead height, and the arcades that once separated the nave from the aisles are one of the most striking features of the interior. The choir has been robbed of its stone down to ground level, leaving only foundations.
From the graveyard you can see the Gothic-styled parish church that was built in 1826 by the Presbyterian arm of the church after the site of the Old Church came under the control of the Episcopalians. The designer was James Gillespie Graham, and it is easy to see in Muthill how he came by his nickname of "Pinnacle" Graham. The Episcopalians wanted to build a new church on the site of the old, but faced objections from residents whose relatives were buried there. They chose instead to abandon the old church and build a new one, which explains why Muthill has a third church, almost between the other two. St James, built in 1836, is the oldest Episcopal church in the area.
The graveyard that surrounds the Old Parish Church is fascinating for the use of iron markers on several of the graves. The dates of these are unclear as the detail has corroded away, but it is easy to imagine a salesman in the second half of the 1800s promoting this modern material for a modern era. The traditional gravestones have turned out to be rather more enduring.