During the 1200s the whole of the Isle of Bute formed a single parish served by St Blane's Church near the southern end of the island. But in the early 1300s a second parish was formed, covering the north of the island and the increasingly important settlement of Rothesay. This was served by St Mary's Church, Rothesay.
St Mary's can be found half a mile south of the centre of Rothesay. Today it lies slightly detached from the south-east corner of the United Church of Bute, built in 1795. What you find is actually the chancel of the original church. The nave was demolished in 1692 to make way for a Rothesay Parish Church: which was itself demolished to make way for the present church. After many roofless centuries, the chancel of St Mary's has now been re-roofed to protect the remarkable interior from further erosion.
As you approach up the slight hill from Rothesay, the United Church of Bute is visible from quite a distance. First time visitors need to ensure that their attention is not distracted by the interesting Bute Mausoleum, a red stone edifice that stands to the west of the main church and is far more obvious as you approach than St Mary's itself.
The interior of the chancel of St Mary's Church is dominated by two tombs, one in its north wall, the other in its south. These are referred to as the lady's tomb and the knight's tomb, respectively. On the floor of the chancel are several grave slabs, the most notable of which is a figure in full plate armour.
The lady's tomb is thought to have formed an integral part of the chancel when the original church was built in the years following 1300. The identity of the lady entombed here is not certain, though some have said that she is Alice, the first wife of Walter Stewart, the 6th High Steward of Scotland, and father (by his second wife) of Robert II. Whatever her identity, the lady is shown lying alongside a baby dressed in a long robe, and with her feet resting on what some have interpreted as a dog. The panels beneath the tomb are inscribed with a series of figures whose identity and meaning are open to various interpretations.
The knight's tomb was built into the existing wall of the chancel some time at the end of the 1300s. It may have been built by Robert II as his intended resting place: if so it ended up being occupied by someone else, for he is interred at Scone. Investigations in the early 1800s found the remains of three skeletons in the tomb.
The knight's effigy is far more realistic than the lady's. He is shown in full plate armour with his head resting on a helmet. The details of the coats of arms that were described in the early 1800s as part of the decoration of the are now rather eroded, and a series of armed statuettes that filled the alcoves between the panels in the based of the tomb had disappeared by the 1890s.
As you emerge from St Mary's, watch out for the remarkable carving set against the base of the wall of the 1795 church, opposite. This depicts a baptism and has been produced with a superb level of detail: though one that will, doubtless, sadly blur over time.