Grandtully Church
Painted Ceiling

This is one of those wonderful hidden gem I mentioned on my homepage - Grandtully church of St. Mary's - a 16th-century parish church, with a finely painted wooden ceiling illustrating heraldic and symbolic subjects, added in the 1630s. Something very rare and precious in Scotland.

Inside St Mary's Chapel, Grandtully
Inside St Mary's Chapel

This former ancient Grandtully church of St. Mary is less well known than it deserves to be. Set rather remotely on higher ground half a mile south-west of the castle, it has a wonderfully scenic position with glorious views. No longer used as a place of worship, it is now in the care of the Historic Scotlnd. Like Weem and others, it is divided into two separate portions. It was endowed by Sir Alexander Stewart of Grandtully in 1533, and restored in 1636 and completely renovated in 1970. Its main southern section is most unusual in having a barrel-vaulted roof, lined with timber, which is brilliantly painted in tempera, with renaissance decoration, heraldic panels and portraits of the evangelists and other Biblical subjects. I shall describe these in more detail later. It commemorates Sir William Stewart who died 1646, and his wife Dame Agnes Moncreiff. Included in the heraldry are the arms of 'the Duik of Lennox and the Earle of Athiol', both Stewarts. This part is now very ill-lit with one small window--though artificial light is provided; but other windows in the west wall have been built up. The door into the northern portion has had a lintel inscribed s.w.s. D.A.M. 1636. A stone circle and a standing-stone are to be found down near the main road.

The whole decorated ceiling is built on one large central panel and twenty-eight smaller ones of different sizes and shapes. The panels are set on highly ornate cartouches and are connected with one another by partially coloured bands. Some contain heraldic achievements, monograms, etc. Four depict the Evangelists, the rest are devoted to what appears to be biblical subjects, with accompanying texts. Some of these texts are legible. The intertwined surfaces are filled with swags of fruit vases of flowers, birds, and nude winged figures holding trumpets and palm fronds. All these images are typical in Renaissance decoration and the scene appears to be derived from the Italian coffered ceiling of this period. The layout the composition is indicated on the plan below.

Grandtully Church Central Panel

This panel takes the form of a niche of classical design, having at either side a column wreathed with leafy tendrils, and above, a moulded pediment with finials and enriched tympanum. The scene depicts the Last Judgment with an angel holding a trumpet in each of the upper corners; in the lower right-hand corner the dead rising from their graves or descending to the depths of hell; in the lower left-hand corner is Death with his Sting and, below him, a block of the Stewart chequering.

The following four panels are from the Scriptures and depict the four Evangelists.

Panels 21/22

Panel 11 - This panel adjoins that of Dame Agnes Moncrieff and is devoted to SANT MATHOV, is shown by the inscription in the upper margin of the cartouche. The evangelist is shown as a robed, bare headed, and bearded figure, seated on the left of the picture holding a book, with his emblem the Angel behind him in the centre. In the right background can be seen some traces of what may have been a distant building.

Panel 12 - Similarly bears the words SANT [M]ARK in the upper margin, is the westernmost of the row on the South haunch of the vault. It is considerably stained, and the painting is consequently obscured. The saint can, however, be seen sitting or reclining, with a book, on the right-hand side of the picture; ashlar masonry, with a window and a pillar, is represented in the background, and in the foreground more ashlar or tiling. N vestige of the Lion can be made out, and it was probably not included in the design.

Panels 19/20

Panel 19 - This panel balances 9 on the North haunch of the vault. The painting is not in good condition, the Lyon in the coat of arms is faded. The inscription around the edge shows it is THE DVIK OF LENNOX.

Panel 20 - Dame Angnes's panel 10 is balanced by that of her husband, on the North haunch of the vault. The shield bearing Sir William Steuart's arms is set in a frame similar to those already described, above which there is a coronet of sixteen points. The shield is charged: Quarterly 1st and 4th, a fess chequy; 2nd and 3rd, a ship in full sail. The ships now appear in outline only, and the chequers are Gules and Argent, as in panel 9. Below the shield is the inscription THE LAIRD OF GRAINTVELIE. The eigth letter of the last word appears to be an E, but it is very indistinct and may have been I or L. In the border of the cartouche, at the nine, twelve and thre o'clock points, appears the initials S(ir) W(illiam) S(teuart).

Panels 9/10

Panel 9 - This is the eastern most of the medium-sized panels on the South haunch of the vault. The shield is set in a frame which had finials at its upper corners consisting of square capitals supporting balls; above is a coronet apparently of sixteen points, and below the legend EARLE OF ATHOIL identiifies the owner of the arms. The shield is charged: Quarterly, 1st and 4th, a fess chequy; 2nd and 3rd, within a double tressure flory-counter-flory, a lion rampant. It is worth notingthat the chequers are Gules and Argent, not Azure and Argent as they are in a Stewart coat.

Panel 10 - This panel adjoins 9 on the W. and resembles it in a general way. The shield is set in a similar frame with finials; a coronet bearing, twenty pellets, of which eleve are shown in profile, appears in a corresponding position; and the ownwer's name is again inscribed below - DAM AGNEIS MONCRIEF, wife of Sir William Steuart (supra). The shield is charged. A chief ermine, a lion rampart.

Stone Monogram

This monogram stone is a stone lintel at the west end, marking the extension of the church in 1636 by Sir William Stewart, and insribed for him "SWS" and "DAM" for Dame Agnes Moncrieff. Their coat of arms, amongst others, feature on the painted ceiling at the east end of Grandtully church, with depictions of the Last Judgement.

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Click on images below to enlarge

Outside St Mary's Chapel
Outside of St Mary's Chapel

Inside St Mary's Chapel, Grandtully
Inside St Mary's Chapel

Ceiling painting St Mary's chapel
Central Panel St Mary's chapel

Central painting St Mary's chapel
Centre scene

Ceiling painting St Mary's chapel
Panels 21/22

Ceiling painting St Mary's chapel
Panels 11/12

Ceiling painting St Mary's chapel
Panels 19/20

Ceiling painting St Mary's chapel
Panels 9/10

Stone monogram St Mary's chapel
Stone Monogram