A collegiate church was a church built by a wealthy nobleman to house a "college" or small community of clerics whose role was to spend their days praying for the health and wellbeing of their benefactor and his family during life and, more importantly, for the salvation of their souls in the afterlife.
Many collegiate churches were built in Scotland, but with the coming of the Reformation in 1560, most either fell into ruin or were converted to serve as parish churches. Very few survived unscathed, and fewer still have remained in their original state over the centuries since.
Tullibardine Chapel stands two miles north-west of Auchterarder on a site that gives few clues to its origins. The odd thing is that although it is regarded as a rare surviving example of a collegiate church, and it almost certainly fulfilled the function of a collegiate church, there is no record of the legal steps being taken that would have formally made it into one.
Tullibardine Chapel was founded in 1446 by Sir David Murray of Dumbarton, an ancestor of the Dukes of Atholl. The Murray family home was at Tullibardine Castle. This stood on a site a short distance to the north of the chapel, though nothing now remains of it. By the time Sir David died in 1452 his church probably formed a simple rectangular structure, divided into a chancel at the eastern end and a nave at the west end. It would have looked very much as nearby Innerpeffray Chapel does today.
Sir David was buried in his church, and is commemorated by an armorial plaque now placed on the north wall of the chancel. This carries the quartered arms of his mother and father, Isobel Stewart and another Sir David Murray.
The chapel as you see it today is largely the work of Sir Andrew Murray, presumably the grandson of the original builder. In about 1500, possibly to celebrate his marriage to Margaret Barclay, he undertook a major expansion of the chapel. He retained the choir at the east end of the existing building, but he replaced the existing nave and built substantial north and south transepts, giving space for more altars. The transepts are so large that the chapel is virtually cruciform in plan. Sir Andrew also built a small tower at the west end of the longer nave.
After the Reformation of 1560 the chapel became a family burial vault for the Murrays. The Murray family were strong supporters of the Jacobite uprisings of 1715 and 1745, and Lord George Murray led part of the Jacobite army to victory over Government troops at the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745. In the aftermath of the '45, Tullibardine Castle was badly damaged. In 1816 the Murray family sold their estates in the area to the Drummonds, later to become Earls of Perth. Tullibardine Chapel has been in state care since 1951.
The bare interior of the church gives little feel for its appearance as a place of worship, though it does allow an appreciation of the considerable scale of the building work undertaken by Sir Andrew Murray. Large slabs in the floor of the church hint at its use into the 1800s as a burial vault, and this may also help explain the unusual way the west end of the nave is raised by two steps from the rest of the church. The transepts are linked to the body of the church by an impressive pair of arches, which carry masons' marks suggesting that the most important stones were mainly the work of two masons.