Positioned comfortably on the banks of the River Tay, the semi-ruined splendour of Dunkeld Cathedral is highlighted by the scenic backdrop of Scottish Highlands. In a small town, virtually destroyed at the Battle of Dunkeld in 1689, it is a delightful surprise to find this great church has survived in such remarkable condition. Dunkeld Cathedral, being the most robust building in the town, was further fortified and used to protect the local community throughout the fighting, and a simple grave for Lieutenant Colonel Cleland now serves as a solemn reminder of the high price Dunkeld paid for that victory.
Over 1400 years ago Celtic missionaries erected a wattle monastery on this site but in 845 this was replaced by Kenneth MacAlpin with a stone building. Several fragments of those early, carved stones have been found although nothing of the Saxon buildings now exist. The present appearance of Dunkeld Cathedral is largely the result of more than 200 years of building, started in the second half of the 13th century. Ironically, it is the earliest structural work on the eastern limb of Dunkeld Cathedral that, after repairs and remodelling, served the needs of the local community and is still in use as the parish kirk. Much of the decorative wall arcading has survived, but the window tracery was inserted during the 19th century restoration. Further restoration work was carried out in the first decade of the 20th century and this was more sympathetic to the original concept of the cathedral.
Throughout the 14th century there were many periods of unrest in Scotland and this prevented the progress of work on Dunkeld Cathedral. The nave was eventually reconstructed in the early part of the 15th century and it was a magnificent example of Scottish Gothic architecture. Now a roofless shell, it remains an impressive sight with long arcades of clustered columns supported by massive cylindrical piers along the length of the nave. Sitting above this arrangement is an unusual design of triforium with some sturdy tracery spanning its low, wide arches and, at the highest level, a row of small round-headed windows with flowing tracery forms the clerestory. Bishop Robert Cardeny began the construction of the nave, and he also built himself a chapel in the south aisle where his elaborate, canopied tomb lies.
Several memorials and tombstones of the Atholl family prompt the visitor to recall what an influential association there was between past Dukes and Dunkeld Cathedral. Following the devastation in 1689, it was the Marquess of Atholl who took responsibility for the repairs, and until 1928 the Duke and his heirs spent several thousand pounds on maintenance and restoration. In the Chapter House museum more Atholl memorabilia can be seen, as well as some of Dunkeld's Saxon relics.