The hill on which the Old High Church stands has had religious connections since 565AD when St Columba preached to the Pictish people of Inverness on the hill. There has always been religious structures on this site, the present Church was built between 1770 and 1772 but the lowest part of the west tower dates back to the 14th century which makes it the oldest building structure in Inverness. Most of the prosperous buildings that were built in Inverness were wooden in nature and during the middle ages buildings were often burned due to Clan feuds.
The tower was also the tallest structure in Inverness for centuries which gave the church it’s name ‘High Church. There is no direct access from the church to the tower but there may have been before the present church was built.
In 1703 a curfew in Inverness was introduced and the bell in the High Church tower rang at 5pm to signal the start of the curfew as it was seen as dangerous to walk the streets of Inverness without a lantern and uncovered lights were prohibited as they were seen as a fire hazard in a town where most buildings were wooden. The bells have rang at 5pm every day since except during World War Two. From 2002 the requirement for bell ringers is no longer needed as it’s now done automatically.
In 1722 the Kirk Session and the Council combined to provide 35 badges to those identified as ‘naive poor of the place’. In Outlander Hugh Munro had a wallet adorned with four gaberlunzie tokens, which gave him the license to beg in four parishes on the one day of the week that begging was allowed in each parish. This was in recognition of the trials he endured at the hands of the Turks.
Prior to the Battle of Culloden there were some Goverment Troops held prisoner in the Tower of the Church. When the Duke of Cumberland took possession of the town these prisoners were liberated and Jacobite prisoners were held in there as well as other places including the Gaelic Church (now Leakeys bookshop).
They were then taken outside, blindfolded and executed one by one outside the door of the tower. Musket ball marks can still be seen in the wall of the tower
Some prisoners were too weak to stand so they were propped up against a grave stone and a v-shape grove on a second headstone was used to place a musket in to help with accuracy before shooting the prisoners in the back .
This is just like what happened to the men in Outlander Season 3 Episode 1 when they were taken prisoner by the Redcoats in the stable.
Although the tower is the oldest structure in Inverness the public can sadly no longer go into it or to see the fantastic view from the top as the spiral staircase is too dangerous and badly needs repair work done to it. At present there is no money to get the work done, which is why ‘Friends of the Old High Church’ was set up click here . We are hoping that the oldest building in Invernesss can be saved.
The High Church is mentioned a few times in the later books in the ‘Outlander’ book series . We don’t want to say why because of book spoilers, all we will say is that Roger knows this place well. It is mentioned in ‘An Echo in the Bone’. ‘The Old High Church of St Stephen’s stood serene on the banks of the Ness, the weathered stones in its kirkyard a testament to righteous peace’ .
We got this story tweeted to us from Steven Coleman who has allowed us to put in into our blog. It gives a really personal side to the story about what happened here.