The Friends of the Old High Church charity are raising funds to promote interest in, and continue public access to, the church building because of its historic importance to the City of Inverness. The Joseph Cook Collection and the Scottish Highlander Photo Archive fully support this initiative.
The Old High Church has been made redundant for religious worship and the Church of Scotland has invited offers to purchase the building. The Friends of the Old High Church have expressed interest in buying the building as they wish the Old High “…to be saved, preserved and developed as an affordable non-profit venue, which provides benefit to the community and continues to be an important asset for the city, locals, and visitors”.
NEWS UPDATE: The Friends of the Old High were unsuccessful in their bid to obtain ownership of the Old High church building. The selection of the successful applicant was made in November 2023, but as of this date (11th February 2024), there has been no information released on who the new owner is.
The Old High Church on St Michael’s Mount in Inverness has for many centuries been the centre of civic life in Inverness and the Highlands, and as such is a storehouse of memories and memorials for many local people. It is a Grade A-listed building and a focal element in the Inverness townscape. The site and building are significant in the cultural and historical development of Scotland, neatly book-ending the rise and decline of Gaeldom.
St Columba is reputed to have preached here in 565AD in his mission to convert the Picts. As the cradle of Christianity, there has been a religious building on the site for the past 1,500 years, which in itself makes it a very important part of local history. The Church was used as a prison by opposing sides before and after the Battle of Culloden in 1745.
Standing on Church Street, it is the oldest church building in the city and was one of the few local churches regularly open to the public.
Generations of Invernessians have links with the Old High Church, memorials to local people and families surround the internal walls along with stained-glass windows erected and dedicated by family members. The building held artefacts from the local regiment, The Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, including the Regimental Colours and the memorial books naming the soldiers who fell during periods of conflict.
Many of these men were members of the Old High Church congregation and are listed on the War Memorial on the outside wall. It is still classed as the Regimental Chapel and the grounds are a designated Commonwealth War Grave.
Despite this rich history, the underlying archaeology of the site has been little explored. The Old High can become a focus for exploring personal, genealogical, national, and international historical and archaeological interests.
Surely this building belongs to the people of Inverness. The Old High steering group intend to raise the funds to buy, and then protect and care for it as a Community and Heritage Centre. We all have a duty to protect the few remaining historic buildings in our city and the fate of the Old High Church should not rely solely on the wishes or views of the people of today, but by appreciating its long history and preserving this important building intact and accessible for future generations.
We are reminded of the words of Inverness businessman, Joseph Cook, who wrote in 1935: “We as a community — as a Highland community — have lost much. Old Inverness is almost gone, its manners, its customs, its institutions; let us try to preserve what we have left, and let it not be said of us that when an opportunity arose to improve the amenities of the town, we were found wanting.”
The Friends vision therefore, to purchase the A-listed Old High building, is to ensure it becomes a ‘must visit’ place in Inverness and a flexible resource to support the regeneration of the city centre. To engage local residents and the business community in the protection and enhancement of the character and potential of this internationally important site and building. To create a setting where residents and visitors can contemplate the culture and history of Scotland — which is bled into the stones of the the Old High — and add their own stories. To offer intimate performance and exhibition spaces where the cultural and commercial vibrancy of Inverness and the Highlands can be sampled.
~ Maureen T Kenyon