Beath Parish Church

Beath Church, exterior, from north

Summary description

There are no identifiable remains of the medieval church, which is presumed to have stood in Beath churchyard on the north-western edge of Cowdenbeath. 

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

For most of the medieval period Beath does not appear to have held independent parochial status. It is first recorded, apparently as a dependency of the church of Dalgety, in a charter of King William of 1165x1179 confirming the possession of both church and chapel by the canons of Inchcolm.(1) Pope Alexander III confirmed Inchcolm’s possession of the chapel of Beath and all its pertinents, but there is no direct link made between it and Dalgety in the papal bull.(2) Of which parish church it was a dependency is confused by the charter of Bishop Richard de Inverkeithing of Dunkeld (c.1251-1272) which confirmed the church of Aberdour and chapel of Beath in proprios usus to the canons.(3) It was still designated as a chapel but again dependent on Dalgety when it was named in May 1420.(4) In February 1329/30, however, it is named as the parish church of Beath in a bull of Pope Martin V.(5) This designation may simply have been an error, for at the Reformation the teind sheaves of the ‘chapel of Bayth’ were set in the rental of Inchcolm Abbey, along with those of churches of Aberdour and Dalgety, to John Stewart for £80, and Lord St Colme stated that ‘as to chapellis I knaw nane in the twa parochines except ane that gives na profeit to him’ [Beath]. Nevertheless, the same rental listed ‘the kirk of Bayth teinds’.(6) Although it gained parochial status in the post-Reformation period, the balance of evidence indicates that Beath was simply a chapel throughout the Middle Ages and its identification as a parish church is in error.


1. RRS, ii, no 541A.

2. Inchcolm Charters, no 2.

3. Inchcolm Charters, no 22.

4. CSSR, i, 195.

5. Inchcolm Charters, no 49.

6. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 62, 64.

Architectural analysis

The medieval chapel of Beath is said to have been virtually abandoned after the Reformation, and a new church was eventually built in 1642. By the mid-nineteenth-century this was described by the minister who wrote the entry in the New Statistical Account of 1845 as ‘an old, cold, damp fabric’, and, despite works having been carried out in 1808, further repairs were said to be needed. In a footnote to that account, however, the author said that ‘a handsome and excellent church has been erected’, in reference to the present building. The existing large rectangular preaching box was designed by James Macfarlane in 1834-5, with modifications by John Whitelaw in 1886.

Surviving memorials show that the churchyard has been in use over a long period. It seems likely that the church has always been towards its northern end, since that is the most level area, with the ground sloping down to its south. Changes in the character of the masonry at the lower levels of the ‘south’ and ‘north’ faces of the church could point to either the retention or the re-use of earlier material, though that earlier material is more likely to be from the church of 1642 than from the medieval building. The diagonal axis of the present church, from west-south-west to east-north-east, suggests its alignment was conditioned more by its relationship with the adjacent road than by any continuity with the medieval church.


Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1418-22, 1934, ed. E.R. Lindsay and A.I. Cameron, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh, 195.

Charters of the abbey of Inchcolm, 1938, ed. D.E. Easson and A. Macdonald, (Sottish History Society), Edinburgh, nos 2, 22, 49.

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 15.

Gifford, J., 1988, The Buildings of Scotland, Fife, London, 131.

Hay, G., 1957, The architecture of Scottish post-Reformation churches, Oxford, 256.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford, 62, 64.

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, Edinburgh and London, ix (Fife), 179.

Regesta Regum Scottorum, Acts of William I (1165-1214), 1971, Edinburgh, no 541A.

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Canmore database.



Click on any thumbnail to open the image gallery and slideshow.

  • 1. Beath Church, exterior, from north

  • 2. Beath Churchyard, monument

  • 3. Beath Church, exterior, inscribed tablet

  • 4. Beath Church, exterior, north wall, masonry changes

  • 5. Beath Church, exterior, from south