Dornoch Cathedral was established in 1224 by Gilbert Murray, Bishop of Caithness who funded the work himself. For a variety of reasons, both political and personal, Bishop Gilbert thought it wise to move the centre of church power in Caithness from Halkirk (in the north of his territory) to Dornoch. Some parts of the building are original, but the cathedral has undergone many changes over the centuries. These include the building of the nave somewhere between the early fifteenth and sixteenth centuries and attacks which included setting the cathedral alight, resulting in the roof caving in. Although money was put into rebuilding sporadically over the years Dornoch Cathedral was sometimes in a ruinous state.
Dornoch’s fortunes turned in the nineteenth century when the Countess of Sutherland made a commitment to renovating the cathedral. Massive building work commenced, resulting in a building which has survived to the present day. The Countess believed that she had a hereditary claim to the cathedral, and established the family stamp on the building, including placing a statue of her late husband in the chancel (this being the lesser of two evils, for she had originally wanted to have a stained glass window commemorating her husband – this idea created such strong opposition from the local people that she backed down).
Singer Madonna’s son Rocco was christened in Dornoch Cathedral in 2000 the night before her wedding to Guy Ritchie.
Dornoch Cathedral’s windows are the building’s most stunning feature. Three windows – depicting learning, music and peace - were gifted by Andrew Carnegie, a Scot who made his fortune in America. Other subjects addressed in the cathedral windows include faith, hope and love. There are commemorative windows which celebrate local people.
The window ‘Praise’, commissioned in memory of Dornoch Cathedral’s organist Stuart Anderson, was designed and engraved by Alison Kinnaird who is both a gifted stained glass artist and authority on the clarsach (traditional harp). The window is magnificent, filtering light through layers of colour; it depicts a figure with arms reaching to the sky with faint forms of singers in the background.
Despite a colourful history Dornoch Cathedral exudes peace – a majestic building in a beautiful town which lies about an hour’s drive from Inverness.
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