Located in the centre of the town, Dornoch's cathedral dates from the early thirteenth century. It was founded by the
Bishop of Caithness, Gilbert de Moravia, in 1224. The first service was held in 1239 but it would be another few
years before the construction of the tower and transepts was completed. Bishop Gilbert died in 1245 and because he
had been funding the construction himself it could have taken the town many decades or even centuries to raise the
money necessary to build the nave and complete the project. Some time after his death Bishop Gilbert was canonised
and became Saint Gilbert.
The next major event in the cathedral's history occurred in 1570. A clan feud between the Earl of Sutherland and
the Earl of Caithness saw Dornoch sacked and the cathedral burnt, leaving it a roofless ruin. It remained like this
for fifty years until repairs were carried out to part of the building.
In 1655, during the Civil War, Dornoch had been occupied by troops loyal to the crown. They may have used the
cathedral as stables, and when they retreated they set fire to the building. This damage wasn't repaired until the
early eighteenth century.
However this wasn't the end of the building's misfortunes. During the Jacobite rebellion of 1745-46 Dornoch was
occupied, first by one side then by the other. Both armies caused a lot of damage to buildings in the town and
it is believed that yet again the cathedral was used as stables.
By this stage the building was in a very poor condition, but in 1833 the Duchess of Sutherland initiated a
complete restoration to provide a fitting resting place for her husband, the first Duke of Sutherland, who had
died that year. Work began in 1835 and was completed two years later. The original medieval core was retained
but the ruined side aisles were demolished leaving the cruciform layout we see today.
Visitors to the cathedral cannot help but be impressed by the beauty of the sandstone walls and the vaulted ceilings,
but perhaps its most impressive features are the stained glass windows. Outside, visitors can see the town's ancient
mercat (market) cross. This marks the location where weekly markets were held from medieval times. The cathedral
graveyard was not always surrounded by a wall and the markets would spread out across it. Here you can see the
Plaiden Ell, a flat stone which acted as a fixed measure of length for merchants selling tartan cloth or plaid. It
is one of only three known remaining ells in Scotland.