Fascinating history of Sutherland church brought to life

An "outstanding" piece of art has been unveiled inside a Sutherland church to commemorate its fascinating history.

Assynt and Stoer Parish Church in Lochinver was originally built 107 miles away in Nairn for the Episcopal Church.

After it became redundant, it was acquired by the Gordon Family in Nairn in response to a request to build a church in Lochinver from James Gordon who had moved to the fishing village to do what he could do to alleviate poverty and support the community.

Rev Iain MacLeod art
Rev Iain MacLeod and the colourful artwork which tells the fascinating story of the history of the church building.

Originally called St Ninians Episcopal Church, the cruciform building was dismantled and transported brick-by-brick to Lochinver by a fleet of schooners at the turn of the 20th century where it was rebuilt and adopted by the Church of Scotland.

Rev Iain MacLeod was so taken by the story when he took up his role as minister of Assynt and Stoer Parish Church that he decided, with the backing of members, to commission a bright and colourful piece of art.

Created by Lizzie McDougall, the central piece is more than 3ft square and depicts the church close to the shoreline, schooners, a lighthouse and wildlife.

Zeal and enterprise

It is surrounded by 16 smaller paintings by pupils at Lochinver Primary School who attended a special ceremony along with the artist last week.

The artwork was unveiled by Ronald Gordon, a great nephew of James Gordon.

Mr MacLeod said: "Since I first came to Assynt and Stoer Parish Church I was fascinated by the fact that the church had been built in Nairn, dismantled and rebuilt on its present site in Lochinver.

"The journey that the church took up the east coast, across the Pentland Firth, the treacherous waters of Cape Wrath all the way down to the village is incredible and required great determination and commitment.

"We are indebted to the Gordon family who undertook and accomplished what must have been a monumental enterprise in its day."

Ronald Gordon Lizzie McDougall
Artist Lizzie McDougall, Ronald Gordon, an ancestor of the man who oversaw the shipping of the building from Nairn and pupils from Lochinver Primary School.

Formerly based in Glasgow, Mr MacLeod took up his charge in May 2020 during the first COVID-19 lockdown, transferring from Ordained Local Ministry (OLM) to Ministry of Word and Sacrament.

Talented pupils

He explained: "I wanted to commemorate the story, which mirrors in some way my own story as the one tasked to rebuild the Christian community within the heart of Lochinver after 18 years of vacancy.

"I am most grateful to the the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge for grant funding the project and to Lizzie McDougall who brought the vision to life once again in conjunction with the very talented pupils of Lochinver Primary.

"It is an outstanding piece of art that will have a prominent place on our walls for many, many years to come and will help us tell the story to the many visitors who travel to see the beautiful scenery of Assynt."

The church will soon be open during the week for members of the local community and visitors to the area to go and see it.

A plaque inside the building commemorates James Gordon who "was for 50 years a devoted member and elder of this Church which by his zeal and enterprise was removed stone by stone from Nairn and re-erected on its present site in 1903".