Peterculter- the latter part of the name is said to be derived from the Gaelic compound word Cul-tir, which signifies the back part of the country, and would correctly apply to a considerable portion of the land on both sides of the Dee.
King William the Lion bestowed the church of Kulter, “iuxta Abirdene”,upon the Abbey and monks of St Mary of Kelso, about 1165 – 99.
The gift was afterwards confirmed by Mathew, Bishop of Aberdeen, within whose diocese the church was situated
Alan of Soltre, chaplain, who had probably been an ecclesiastic of the hospital, or monastery of Soutra, in Lothian, was presented by the Abbot of Kelso, to the vicarage of the church of Culter, 1239 – 40.
In 1287 – 88, an agreement was made between the Abbot and Convent of Kelso and the brotherhood of the Knights of Jerusalem, regarding the Templars’ lands of Blairs and Kincolsi (Kincousie), on the south side of the Dee, by which a chapel, erected by the Templars at their house of Culter, was recognised as a church, with parochial rights, for the inhabitants of the said lands.
It was this agreement that changed the existing parish of Culter into two separate parishes with two separate names.
The following is a rough translation of the Minute of that agreement.
MINUTE OF AGREEMENT BETWEEN THE ABBOT AND CHAPTER OF THE MONASTERY OF KELSO AND THE KNIGHTS TEMPLARS OF JERUSALEM IN SCOTLAND. A.D.1287.
The Holy See having nominated the Abbot of Jedburgh and Holyrood with their assessors to act as adjudicators (reinforced eventually by the Sub-prior of Dryburgh Abbey and his assessors) these delegates duly met as a judicial body at Lauder to investigate a complaint by the Abbot and chapter of Kelso Abbey against the Knights Templars whose Scottish headquarters are at Balintradoc, Midlothian, with a subsidiary Preceptory at Culter in the diocese of Aberdeen.
The dispute having arisen from the erection of a chapel near the Preceptory of Culter in that section of the parish lying south of the River Dee.
The Abbot and chapter of Kelso as pursuers claimed to have received from King William the Lion in 1187 a grant of the church and parish of Culter with its revenues, and that they were not desirous to carry on their canonical duties in full in connection therewith. They quoted Pope Urbanus IV as having at some period after his consecration in 1154 A.D. given a ruling that none should proceed to build a private chapel without consent of the ecclesiastical superior of the parish concerned.
Notwithstanding this prohibition the Knights had proceeded some 40 years earlier with the erection of a chapel in connection with their Preceptory at Culter, and in order to end the long standing controversy the pursuers craved for demolition of this chapel.
The pursuers father asserted that the Knights had detained the greater and lesser teinds and all other church revenues not only on their own cultivated lands but all pertaining to the remaining Culter territory south of the River Dee, and they desire that this action be sharply condemned and that the offenders should make complete restoration to them.
The Knights Templars, represented by their Master and his assessors, were now called on to state their side of the case from which it appeared that Pope Honorius II gave recognition to their Order in 1128, that the Preceptory at Culter was founded by Walter Bisset of Aboyne in 1240.
The Master produced evidence to show that the Holy See had passed a general ruling to their Order in olden days whereby the Templars were to be exempt from payment of teinds on such waste lands as they have been the means of getting reclaimed for cultivation in the past or may do in the future, and also on such lands as they themselves cultivate at their own hands, including orchards, woodlands, mills, fields, fishing and animal stocks
. It was further granted to them that on uncultivated lands bestowed on them by pious devotees when turned to agricultural use, they might establish churches and chapels and burial grounds, as well for themselves and their dependants as for others who might have indirect claims upon them.
They had peacefully carried out these privileges for a period exceeding forty years in their House of Culter where there was not only their chapel but cemetery open to the whole community, and a baptistry, and that they had duly drawn the teinds and other revenue for the period named.
They had done this in connection with waste land of the King’s forest from being deserted and uncultivated they had turned to fertility. Besides all this they had cherished and protected their tenants at Kingcausie, Ashentilly, and the two Tilbouries, by extending to them the privileges of the Church including baptism, the sacraments and burial, since there was great need for the same which they felt they could not deny.
Had these men been desirous of attending the parish church of Culter across the River Dee, it was seldom they could do so because there was no bridge nor any public ferry-boat and the river was frequently in flood to the danger of body and soul.
As regards teinds, the brothers had themselves at their own charges brought lands which formerly yielded no return into cultivation, and in view of the privileges granted to their Order by the Holy See it seemed fair that the teinds in question should be devoted to their side of the river.
At this point the sub-prior of Dryburgh intervened to suggest an arrangement that would remove all causes of dispute and lead to a final and amicable settlement.
It was agreed on examination that the ruling of Pope Urbanus was a correct statement, and the claim of the Knights Templars was therefore valid. It was accordingly decreed that their chapel should become a parish church for the southern portion of Culter, and that all teinds and church revenues should be enjoyed in complete form by the new church in return for which the whole inhabitants of this southern territory shall be able to claim full rights of baptism, the sacraments and burial.
As compensation to the Monastery of Kelso an annual charge shall be secured on the lands of Kingcausie, Ashentilly, and the Tilbouries of 8 ½ merks sterling payable on the festival of St James the Apostle at the Templars headquarters, Balintradoc, to start as from the year of our Lord 1288.
This agreement shall be permanent and is endorsed under oath by the respective parties as well as having the sanction of Law.
Because it is frequently the case that wicked machinations tend to disrupt solemn agreements, it is proposed as further security in this instance to apply to the Bishop of Aberdeen – Bishop Henry Cheyne – for ratification of this agreement, in his own name as also in name of his successors, and also to obtain confirmation by the Dean and Chapter of St Machar’s Cathedral.
The agreement is hereby witnessed by the respective parties and bears the seal of the Monastery of Kelso and the seals of the sub-prior and Sacristan-Treasurer of Kelso, as also the seal of the Master of the Templars in Scotland and the common seal of the Master of the English Templars at headquarters of the Order in London, and is issued at Lauder in March the day following the festival of all Saints in the year of our Lord 1287.
Thus arose the separation of Culter into two parishes, Peterculter and Maryculter, north and south of the River Dee, named from their respective patron saints, St Peter and St Mary.
The successful plea of the Templars was not to be of lasting benefit to them, since their own existence was to cease in another 25 years.
The wealth and power that the Templars enjoyed could not fail but to produce envious notice. In due time the Holy See and leading European rulers began to combine by formulating charges against them. Scotland was less intolerant, but the Wars of Independence had exhausted the country and the temptation to share in their wealth was difficult to resist. There was no appeal against such unjust persecution, and the Order duly crumbled after an existence of nearly 200 years: 1118 – 1312 A.D.
The Knights of St John, (The Hospitallers), had been the Templars main rivals. This Order had its headquarters in Torpichen, West Lothian. In the end it was decreed that the Order of the Knights of St John should inherit all of the Templars wealth and property. Generally speaking the wealth of the Templars never fully reached the new inheritors as various extractions were made by the ‘powers that be’ during the hand-over process. Possibly because Maryculter was such a distant outpost and away from the eyes and grasping hands of those in power, the Knights of St John actually inherited the Maryculter estate intact.
Here the new owners, possibly under some superannuated Knight, settled down to their quiet routines. They must have taken due care of their valuable estate, such as is shown by a record of 1415 when a delimitation of their boundaries was made. Some of the March Stones erected at the time are in some locations still identifiable.
In 1548 after over 200 years of ownership, the Hospitallers could no longer support what was left of this distant Commandery, by which time only six brothers and a chaplain remained. The Maryculter lands, for the most part passed over to citizens of Aberdeen. The Order of the Knights of St John in Scotland soon afterwards expired.