The chief ecclesiastical structure in Sutherland is t he cathedral at Dornoch. It was erected by Bishop Gilbert (1223-45) and consisted of nave, choir, and chancel running from west to east, crossed by north and south transepts, and with a square tower rising over the crossing. The nave possessed a fine window with five lights, above the west doorway, a feature which was retained at the "restoration" in 1835-37. As then restored the cathedral is 126 feet in length along nave and chancel and 92 feet along the transepts. The breadth of the nave is 25 feet and the height 45 feet.
The tower is 30 feet each way. The height of the present steeple is 120 feet.
In its original form, complete in all its parts, the cathedral must have been a graceful and attractive structure. Internally the view from the west entrance is still imposing and discloses the graceful sweep of the pointed arches. The aisles have entirely disappeared. In the seventeenth century the chapter-house, which stood to the east of the north transept, was used by the municipal authorities as the town house of the burgh till it became ruinous in 1730. In 1570 the cathedral was burnt by Sinclair, Master of Caithness, and D. Mackay of Farr, who ravaged Dornoch during a feud with the Murrays. The central tower was the only part of the building to escape destruction on this occasion. According to Sir Robert Gordon, the pillars of the roofless nave were blown over the walls by a storm at the time of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605. In 1616 Sir Robert Gordon (then tutor of the Earl of Sutherland) and other heritors of Dornoch effected some restoration of a portion of the building so as to make it sufficient for the purposes of a parish church. The choir and transepts were partitioned from the nave, roofed with flagstones from a neighbouring quarry, and provided with a gallery. As thus patched up, the cathedral served as a parish church for over two centuries until in 1835 the Duchess of Sutherland effected a more extensive restoration. Unfortunately the work was undertaken when the standard of ecclesiastical architecture in Scotland was at a low ebb. Recently the interior has been considerably improved and stained-glass windows have been added.
The church of Durness, now a picturesque ruin, was erected in 1619. An older building on the same site had been consecrated at the constitution of the cathedral, and probably a still earlier Celtic church had occupied the same site. The existing ruin consists of an oblong rectangular nave 40 feet by 16 feet, with a northern transept 25 feet hy 16 feet, lighted by a side window and also possessing a gable window with two pointed lights formed by a central mullion and a transome. The gables have crowsteps and the east gable carries a belfry. The pulpit in the body of the church was placed in the centre of the side wall so as to face the transept. There is also in the middle of the church an interesting circular font measuring 1 foot 10 inches wide, 1 foot 5 1/2 inches in the interior and 9 inches in depth. This font is one of the very few pre-Reformation relics in the county. In a recess in the south wall is the tomb of a scion of the house of Mackay who earned for himself a striking epitaph. With the usual skull and cross-bones and other insignia upon the tomb there is the following inscription :-
Donald Makmurchov hier lyis lo
Vas il to his freind, var to his fo
Trve to his maister in veird and vo. 1623.
The belfry tower at Clynekirkton was used until 1825, when a belfry was added to the parish church. This tower is 11 feet 5 inches in height, 5 feet 3 inches in its interior diameter, and possesses walls 2 feet in thickness. The tower probably belongs to the seventeenth century and may be compared with those at Daviot, Ardclach, and Canisbay.