St Ninian's, Glen Urquhart, is a beautiful little church which stands beside the A831 some five miles west of Drumnadrochit. Its location is idyllic, set deep within the glen and on the sloping north shore of Loch Meiklie.
St Ninian's is part of the Scottish Episcopal Church, a member of the world-wide Anglican Communion which traces its history back to St Columba and the early days of Christianity in Scotland. Like its sister-church south of the border, the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church is governed by Bishops. This is one of the things that distinguishes it from the much larger Church of Scotland, a Presbyterian Church governed by representatives of the congregation.
This may not initially sound like a major difference, but it was King Charles I's efforts to impose government by Bishops on the Presbyterian Church of Scotland which led to a riot in St Giles' Cathedral in Edinburgh on Sunday 23 July 1637. This in turn led directly to the Bishops' Wars; the Wars of the Covenant; the English Civil War; the execution of Charles I; and Cromwell's occupation of Scotland: 23 years of wide-ranging conflict that did not really end until the restoration of Charles II in 1660. Those days are, thankfully, long gone, but it helps to know that differences of opinion about church governance were once, quite literally, a matter of life and death.
St Ninian's owes its existence to the then laird, Archibald Cameron, who in 1853 provided the land for a church and parsonage and paid for them to be built. The church was consecrated on 21 September 1853, and a contemporary photograph shows a structure very similar to the one you see today, albeit with a thatched roof.
Within the church the focus of attention is, as you would expect, on the east end. The beautiful stained glass windows are instantly attractive. They were commissioned by members of the congregation and created in 1986 by Emma Shipton of Alloa. A rather older point of interest is the stone cross set into the altar. This carries the surrounding inscription "From the Knight's Templar Templehouse". The words should be ignored as a complete red herring, but the cross itself is remarkable. It originally came from a chapel on the north side of Urquhart Bay on Loch Ness, near the hamlet of St Ninians. The chapel has long been demolished but was believed to have been established by St Ninian himself, which would date it to the years around 400.
The old chapel's Gaelic name included the word "Teampull", which is simply a word sometimes used for a chapel or church. That has not stopped many modern references to it as a "temple" and, more fancifully still, the author of the inscription taking the name as evidence of a link with the Knights Templar. It is a shame that the link is invented: could you imagine the sensation if it became known that Nessie had a Templar connection?
The surrounds of the church are as charming as the building itself. The graveyard is home to one oddity. A semi cylindrical metal structure over a grave looks for all the world like it served as a mortsafe, albeit of a design we've never seen anywhere else. But the church was only built in the 1850s and before that the site was home to a school. Mortsafes, intended to prevent bodysnatchers, became unnecessary after the passing of the 1832 Anatomy Act which allowed a legitimate supply of cadavers for medical education and research.