The history of St. Finnbarr’s
Sometime before the establishment of the Diocese of Caithness in 1146 a stone church dedicated to Saint Finnbarr was built at the east end of the present Dornoch Cathedral’s burial ground. It served as Cathedral of the Diocese until Saint Gilbert began to build the new Cathedral in the thirteenth century. At that time the old Saint Finnbarr’s became the parish church. It fell into disuse in the ﬁfteenth century.
At the time of the Reformation in Scotland, Domoch Cathedral passed from the Roman Catholic Church into the hands of the newly established Episcopalian Church. In 1689 Domoch Cathedral passed to the Presbyterian Church when the Church of Scotland’s system of government was changed from Episcopalian to Presbyterian. From the time of the establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland and during the Penal Laws which followed, there are no records of Episcopalian services being held in Dornoch.
In 1903 an Episcopal Church Mission was established in Dornoch which met in private houses and in 1909 a fund was set up to raise money to fund the building of an Episcopalian church in Dornoch on land gifted for the purpose. This new church, designed by Alexander Ross, was used for the ﬁrst time on August 4th, 1912 and the Benediction (blessing) took place on August 28th of the same year. When the church was free of debt it was consecrated on August 24th 1913. The register shows that there were 14 communicants on that day. In 2013 we celebrated our 100th anniversary of being an episcopal community with a consecrated church building. On 1st September, Bishop Mark, in spiritual communion with St. Gilbert, presided at the anniversary service.
In the intervening years the church has been furnished with the generous gifts of many people — the chairs, altar silverware, altar frontals, pulpit and pulpit falls, lectem and many other items. The stained glass window is by Percy Bacon. It was gifted to the church in 1926 by Archibald and Elizabeth Barrow of New York in memory of their son born in July 1906 and who died in April 1914. The child depicted in the centre panel may be a likeness of the boy. A Vestry was added in 1932 and the porch in 1969. The organ came from St Paul’s. Strathnairn andthe font and bell from St Mary’s Church, Highﬁeld (near Dingwall), when it closed in 1966. There are seventy tapestry kneelers with highland themes which were designed and made over twelve years from 1981 by fourteen members of the congregation. Since the 1990s an area of the church grounds has been set aside as a wild ﬂower meadow which provides ahaven for insects and birds.
From the beginning up to the 1950‘s services were nomally held only in the summer months of July, August and September. Visiting priests, from many parts of England, Wales and Scotland, some of whom were probably retired. seem to have spent their summers here and conducted services, often three per Sunday. Between February 1918 and April 1919 the register records two Canadian Chaplains as taking services,one from Nova Scotia, the other from Saskatchewan. These may have been chaplains to Canadian troops stationed around Dornoch. Canadian forces were certainly present in the area as members of the Canadian Forestry Corps. who were organised at the request of the UK government to set up logging camps in various places throughout Scotland, including Sutherland, to assist in the production of timber in the war effort.
In the 80′s and 90’s Father Alex Gordon looked after St Finnbarr’s, St Columba’s in Brora (which still uses the ‘tin tabernacle’ which originally came from Tain) and Lairg Mission, combining that with being the full time pharmacist at Lairg. The first full time stipendary Priest in Charge was Father Mel Langille who came to us from Canada in 2003 and moved on to Fortrose in 2009. Father Chris Mayo was licensed as Priest in Charge of East Sutherland and of Tain in July 2012. From July 2017, Rev James Currall took over from Fr Chris as Priest in Charge of St Finnbarr’s Dornoch, St Andrew’s Tain and St Maelrubha’s Lairg.