Restenneth’s impressive tower adds grandeur to the modest simplicity of the structure that albeit many additons still feels very much 12th century. It is certainly one of the oldest churches in Scotland.
Angus is the heart of the land of the Picts. If you know where to look, you’ll find their traces everywhere. On this small knoll might have stood a Pictish place of worship, an earlier church. It is common in Scotland, that Christian buildings were erected at places of ancient worship.
The King of the Picts in the early 8th century was Nechtan mac Derile who soon in his reign lost power and status to the Northumbrians. Their religious influence on this area that is now known as Angus was considerable. Churches were built, all dedicated to Saint Peter. Nechtan sent a letter to the abbot Ceolfrith of Monkwearmouth in Durham asking for masons who could built in the Roman style. The church of Restenneth was dedicated and also to Saint Peter. Many believe that the foundations of the tower are Pictish masonry. No Pictish symbol stone have been found in the grounds.
Restenneth church became a priory after King Malcom IV dedicated it to the Augustinians of Jedburgh Abbey in 1153. It was destroyed during the early days of the Wars of Independence. The victorious Robert the Bruce, who had destroyed Forfar castle and maybe even the Priory itself, now granted money for its restoration. An act of redemption?
Restenneth is the burial place of a prince. And not just any prince but a possible monarch of Scotland. Robert the Bruce, generous patron of the priory, buried is young son John here. John was his second child by his second wife Elisabeth de Burgh. The baby was born in October 1327 and died in infancy, not long before the death of his father. The rest of Robert the Bruce’s family is buried in Dunfermline Abbey. But not John. Why?
Some historians believe that John was the older of two twin sons born to the King. The younger twin David survived and followed his father to the throne. He was the only male heir to a king who was already in his fifties when he was born. Robert the Bruce had several illegitimate sons but by his two wives he had had only daughters.
The son who could have been king was interred here. There are no traces left of his grave.
During and after the Jacobite rebellion the priory was partly destroyed by troops using it as barracks, later it was used to house cattle.
The engraving of a smiley on one of the slab stones is probably even older than the Jacobite Risings. A smile in stone, cheery marker of death.
During the last century open air services were conducted in the ruins, access is free.
Richard Oram: The Kings and Queens of Scotland. The Mill, Tempus; 2004 p. 34 ,132