Auchtertool Parish Church

Auchtertool Church, exterior, from south east

Summary description

The main element of the present church, which remains in use for worship, is a rectangular structure that appears likely to be at least partly of medieval date. The principal additions to it are a symmetrical pair of south porches, a vestry towards the east end of the north flank, and an aisle along much of the rest of the north flank.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

No charter recording the original gift of the church of Auchtertool to the canons of Inchcolm survives amongst the existing muniments of that abbey. It and two oxgangs of land adjoining it were already in their possession by March 1178/9 when Pope Alexander III confirmed all of their properties in a papal bull.(1) The name of the donor is not recorded, but the significant interests that the bishops of Dunkeld had in this parish since the gift of the lands of Auchtertool to Bishop Gregory by King David I make it likely that either the king or Bishop Gregory had made the grant.(2) Bishop Gilbert (1230-1236) confirmed the canons’ possession of the church, its teinds, offerings, oblations and kirklands in proprios usus, with the right to serve the cure with chaplains.(3) This annexation was confirmed by Bishop Richard de Inverkeithing of Dunkeld c.1251x1272, who allowed them to serve the cure either with chaplains or with one of their own convent.(4) The church is not listed in Bagimond’s Roll, which indicates that the full annexation had been successful. The canons feued the garbal teinds of the church to John Kinghorn, lord of Orrock, in 1399,(5) but the vicarage fruits were retained by the monastery.

By the 1540s, the church was being served by a curate.(6) At that date, the fruits of the churches of Aucthtertool and Dollar (q.v.) had been assigned as a pension from the revenues of Inchcolm to John Steill, son of one of James V’s familiar, George Steill. King James had petitioned the pope in 1530 for the award of the pension to John, then aged 6, and in 1532 had requested a reservation of an annual pension of 110 merks for him, then described as ‘clerk of St Andrews diocese, now aged nine years’, from the churches of Auchtertool and Dollar.(7) After the death of the king in 1542, the canons appear to have attempted to stop the pension but Steel continued to uplift the teinds of the two churches, ignoring the public proclamation of his excommunication. In December 1546, Richard, abbot of Inchcolm, through his assignee, James Tyrie, vicar of Melginch, secured a mandate from the official general of Dunkeld instructing the curates of Auchtertool and Dollar to publish the banns of excommunication once again.(8) This effort appears to have been utterly futile, for Steel still held the churches at the Reformation and appears to have been successful in securing full control of the revenues.(9)


1. Inchcolm Charters, no 2.

2. Myln, Vitae, 5. Myln states that the lands had been annexed to the episcopal mensa and that this was set out in the charter of King David I, which has not survived.

3. Inchcolm Charters, no 14.

4. Inchcolm Charters, no 22. The bishop is named incorrectly in Cowan, Parishes, 11 as Richard, bishop of St Andrews.

5. Inchcolm Charters, no 39

6. NAS GD30/1956.

7. James V Letters, 227-8; Inchcolm Charters, p.203; RSS, ii, no 4131; RSS, vi, no 1973.

8. NAS GD30/1956.

9. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 62, 63.

Architectural description

The church, which is within a churchyard about one kilometre west-south-west of the village of Auchtertool, has as its main body an oriented rectangular structure of 7.09 metres from north to south and 18.5 metres from east to west. Extensive areas of cubical masonry, together with a chamfered intake in the lower part of the east wall, where the ground begins to fall away, leave little doubt that significant parts of the main body are essentially of medieval date, and possibly of the twelfth or thirteenth centuries. Set into the east gable is an eroded heraldic tablet; this appears to be closely similar to a better preserved tablet now re-set at the east end of the north aisle, which commemorates William Forbes of Craigievar and his wife Marjorie Woodward, who held the estate of Auchtertool between 1617 and 1627.

There is no record of any work that those tablets may have been intended to commemorate, but the church was augmented on at least three subsequent occasions. Repairs and improvements of 1833, which were referred to in the New Statistical Account of 1845, presumably resulted in the cutting of a regular series of windows with four-centred arches and raised margins in the west, south and east walls, the last of which contains timber Y-tracery. Areas of disturbed masonry may indicate the positions of earlier windows. Of presumably the same phase of works is a pair of crenellated porches that alternate with the three windows along the south wall, together with an octagonal birdcage bellcote on the west gable. A small vestry and organ chamber was added towards the east end of the north wall in 1898, with that date being inscribed over the door on its north side. The final significant alteration was the addition in 1905-6 of a three-bay aisle along the greater part of the north flank, which involved the construction of a Romanesque revival arcade carried on slender cylindrical piers with cushion caps, and with meagre chevron decoration to the arches. This was apparently built to the designs of a minister with antiquarian interests, the Rev’d William Stevenson.

Within the churchyard are a number of interesting memorials, including a slab for the Rev’d David Martin (who died in 1636), on which he is depicted in high relief in his preaching gown.


Charters of the abbey of Inchcolm, 1938, ed. D.E. Easson and A. Macdonald, (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh, 203, nos 2, 14, 22, 39, 49.

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 11.

Gifford, J., 1988, The Buildings of Scotland, Fife, London, 79.

Hannay, R.K. and D. Hay, (eds), 1954, The letters of James V, Edinburgh, 227-8.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford, 62, 63.

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, Edinburgh and London, ix (Fife), 258.

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

Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, ed. J. Sinclair, Edinburgh, viii (1793), 117.

Stevenson, W., 1908, The kirk and parish of Auchtertool, Kirkcaldy, 109-14.

Vitae Dunkeldensis Ecclesiae Episcoporum…Ad Annum Mdxv, 1823, ed. T. Thomson, (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh, 5.



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

  • 1. Auchtertool Church, exterior, from south east

  • 2. Auchtertool Churchyard, monument to Rev'd David Martin

  • 3. Auchtertool Churchyard, monument

  • 4. Auchtertool Church, interior, north aisle, re-set armorial tablet

  • 5. Auchtertool Church, interior, from west

  • 6. Auchtertool Church, exterior, east wall, armorial tablet

  • 7. Auchtertool Church, exterior, east wall, lower masonry courses

  • 8. Auchtertool Church, exterior, east wall

  • 9. Auchtertool Church, exterior, from south west