Rhynie’s Gothic grave and sarcophagus

Rhynie Pictish Symbol StonesRhynie is first and foremost known for its Pictish symbol stones, on display next to the graveyard in the adjacent car park under an open wooden construction.

The graveyard itself is old, too.

The place-name Rhynie or sometimes also spelled Rhyny derives either from the French word roinneau, meaning a small promontory or from the word rig, meaning king.

view from Rhynie graveyardThe church of Rhyny was attached to the see of Moray and the old Parish church St Luag’s (Saint Moluag was a missionary and contemporary of Saint Columba who brought the Christian faith to the Picts) and stood on the ground of today’s graveyard. Nothing is left of the ancient building. The kirk was a ruin in the later 18th century and in 1823 completely demolished, the Duke of Gordon had a new church built closer to the village.

Local history is teeming with Gordons, a powerful family with various branches in the area. One was the Gordons of Muirack and one Alexander Gordon of Muirack died October 6th 1668.

Alexander Gordon’s story remains very much in the haze of history but so much is known, he was a royalist and a catholic, a traditional Scottish noble who lived after the Reformation. One reason may be why his grave and the gabled Gothic recess were built at the other side of the graveyard, furthest away from the now Presbyterian kirk which was later demolished.

It must have been Rev Alexander Youngson who buried Alexander Gordon. The Rev James Gordon took charge of the Parish a few years after Alexander Gordon’s death; he was deposed for supporting the cause of the Pretender and rejecting the authority of the Presbytery. Most likely he would have been a cleric to Alexander Gordon’s taste.

medieval whinstone sarcophagus RhynieHis gravestone can still be seen at the back-end of the churchyard in a Gothic style open vault with a stone sarcophagus placed right next to it. That did not belong to the burial of Alexander Gordon, though. The sarcophagus was found when the graveyard was levelled at the end of the 19th century, a hard whinstone coffin, hollowed out of a single block. Tthere are no inscriptions or clues of any kind on the stone coffin, to give an indication for whom it was made, but it is definitely medieval. Since whinstone is a very hard material to work with, it must have cost money to buy and carve it. Whinstone sarcophagi were also used in ancient Egypt for use in pyramids. (Davey).

Alongside the kirkyard wall lean many 18th grave slabs, their inscriptions mostly unreadable.

Sources and further reading:




John A. Henderson: Aberdeenshire Epitaphs and Inscriptions. The Subscibers, Aberdeen, 1907

Richard Davey: A History of Mourning. Library of Alexandria, 2017, ASIN  B075FD59JQ


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