Fortingall's attractive white harled church stands towards the east end of the village, not far from the excellent Fortingall Hotel. Close to the west end of the church is the Fortingall Yew, believed to be 5,000 years old and quite possibly the oldest living thing on earth.
Fortingall appears to have been an important Christian centre from a very early date. Adomnán (or Adamnan), Abbot of Iona from 679 to 704 is believed to have visited Fortingall and crop marks suggest there was an early monastery standing on or close to the site of today's church. A relic of this monastery, in the form of a hand bell dating from the 600s, is on view in a niche near the pulpit of today's church.
Other relics of this distant time are on view in or around the church. Outside the church are a number of gravestones with simple incised crosses, at least one of which is believed to date back to the 600s, while another is medieval. Near the porch giving access to the church is a stone font from around 700 which stood inside the old church here. On display inside the church are fragments of three Pictish cross slabs dating back to around 800. They were discovered during the demolition of the old church in 1901.
The stones are thought to be associated with the early monastery on the site, and the rear of one is carved with figures thought to be monks. The incorporation of the carved stones into the structure of the church was a common medieval practice, and while this led to the fragmentation of the stones, it has also meant they were protected from weathering for a number of centuries, with the result that the carvings are unusually crisp. (Continues below image...)
The early monastery seems to have disappeared some time before the 1100s, with Fortingall becoming the location of a parish church. At some point the presumed early wooden church was replaced by a medieval stone church, and this building may have continued in use up to and beyond the Reformation. In 1768 the existing church had a belfry added: this remains on view in a corner of the churchyard. In 1850 the existing rectangular church was turned into a T-plan church to increase the number of worshippers who could be accommodated, and three galleries were added.
The old church was showing signs of wear by the 1890s. The laird, Sir Donald Currie, commissioned his architects William Dunn and Robert Watson to build a replacement reusing part of the foundations of the earlier structure. The church that emerged, and remains on view today, is superb: simple yet stylish, and obviously built with little regard for cost. The design of the exterior uses the layout and feel of a medieval church, complete with white harling and crowstepped gables. On the roof where the nave meets the narrower chancel is a bellcote which is a copy of the one added to the old church in 1768.
The interior of the church is especially beautiful. The ceiling is a semicircular tunnel vault made from Hungarian oak decorated with carved bosses. The interior walls are of finely dressed stone, which continue through the semicircular chancel arch. The windows carry fine tracery.
At the east end of the chancel is a highly decorated oak screen and stalls designed by the architect Sir Robert Lorimer. This, together with the stone tablets either side bearing the ten commandments and the lord's prayer, were added in 1913 as a memorial to Sir Donald Currie by his three daughters.
The hand bell from the 600s has already been mentioned. A window ledge on the north side of the nave is home to a second bell. This was cast in 1765 by Johannes Sprecht of Rotterdam for the old church: he also cast bells for Paisley Abbey.