Historic Scotland

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The church at Tarves was supposedly founded by St Murdebar, who came from Leinster around AD 600. Tarves Tomb, dating to the late 1500s, is the only surviving fragment of the church.

It was built by master mason Thomas Leiper, who’d just completed construction of Tolquhon Castle. This was to be the final resting place of Sir William Forbes and his wife Elizabeth Gordon, the laird and lady of Tolquhon.

The tomb was in one of two aisles added to the church. A description written in 1732 indicates that one was for the Gordons of Haddo and one was for the Forbes of Tolquhon.

The Tolquhon Tomb

The tomb, built in red sandstone, is largely complete. Its chest has an arcaded Gothic front, and the enclosing arch features some heavy Gothic cusping.

Sir William and Lady Elizabeth are depicted in portrait statuettes supporting the arch. Sir William wears a flat cap, a ruff, a puffed and slashed doublet and knee breeches. Lady Elizabeth wears a long embroidered gown with full sleeves and a ruff.

Above the arch are the couple’s heraldic achievements. Carved on the tomb are:

  • Sir William’s arms, quartered with those of the Prestons, from whom they acquired Tulquhon through marriage in the early 1400s
  • the motto SALVS PER CHRISTVM, or ‘Salvation through Christ’
  • lady Elizabeth’s arms, quartered with those of her husband
  • the motto DOCHTER TO LESMOR – Elizabeth was a daughter of a Gordon of Lesmoir

The tomb appears to have been inspired by the tomb of Bishop Gavin Dunbar in St Machars Cathedral, which was probably built in the 1530s.