Seminar – Prof Richard Oram – ‘The Pre-Reformation Church in the Dioceses of Caithness, Ross and Moray’

The SSNS Seminar Series continues on 27 January with a talk by Prof Richard Oram, titled ‘The Pre-Reformation Church in the Dioceses of Caithness, Ross and Moray’.

This is a free, ticketed event; please register below.


Most past discussion of the pre-Reformation church in Scotland draws on the experience within the two largest, wealthiest and most populous sees in the kingdom, the dioceses of St Andrews and Glasgow. With their complex patterns of parishes, numerous monastic houses, mainly urban convents of friars, hospitals, almshouses and, from the fourteenth century, multiple collegiate churches, they offer a vision of a rich and diverse ecclesiastical landscape that has been presented as the medieval norm. For the three northernmost mainland dioceses, however, the picture was significantly different, with sparser obvious provision of major institutions and the wider infrastructure of organised religious life. And yet, much of this region had been the heartland of the dominant Pictish kingdom of Fortriu and the location down to the 9th century of its major episcopal and monastic centres at sites like Rosemarkie, Portmahomack and Kinneddar. This talk will explore the legacy of that early importance and its contribution to the emergence of the dioceses of Caithness, Moray and Ross in the 12th century. Discussion will focus on the role of kings, bishops and regional lay magnates in directing patronage and reviving or founding religious establishments throughout the north, and how their ambitions shaped and possibly limited the growth of such diverse ecclesiastical infrastructure as existed in the southern Scottish dioceses. Population levels and patterns of wealth distribution were major constraints on provision of institutions like friaries, hospitals and almshouses, but this discussion will conclude with consideration of how popular devotion and local saints’ cults created a more informal religious landscape in parallel to the formal frameworks.


Richard Oram is Professor of Medieval and Environmental History at the University of Stirling, where he is currently Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Humanities. He has published widely on the history of medieval Scotland, with his main research on the 12th and 13th centuries but extending down to the present in terms of environmental history. He has written principally on aspects of land and resource use, environmental crisis and change, disease, death and the hereafter, lordship and power, and religion and the Church. His work on the medieval church in Scotland has focused on major institutions, exploring monastic estates and their management, the development of the diocesan and parish system, lay devotional practice, patronage and piety. With Richard Fawcett, he has published on Melrose Abbey and Dryburgh Abbey, and on Elgin Cathedral and the Diocese of Moray for Historic Environment Scotland. He was co-investigator with Richard Fawcett on the Corpus of Scottish Medieval Parish Churches project, covering the dioceses of Brechin, Dunblane, Dunkeld and St Andrews. Most recently, he has worked on the Premonstratensian and Dominican orders in Scotland, and on the development and function of collegiate churches.

Registration below. Details for the Zoom meeting will be emailed in advance of the seminar.

Excavation work at Portmahomack. Source.


Thursday 27 Jan 2022


Times are in GMT
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm




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