Alva Parish Church

Alva Old Church, site, from west

Summary description

The presumed site of the medieval church is in a graveyard on an elevated location at the north-east corner of the town. The medieval building may partly underlie the oriented rectangular core of a church that remained in use until 1980, but that is now reduced to consolidated lower walls enclosing a grassed platform 

Historical outline

Dedication: St Serf

The church of Alva was granted to the canons of Cambuskenneth by Richard, bishop of Dunkeld, probably between 1170 and 1173.(1) Their possession of the church was confirmed by King William probably in the mid 1170s and by Pope Celestine III in 1195.(2) Sometime between 1214 and 1229, Bishop Hugh granted the church to Cambuskenneth in proprios usus and awarded the canons the right to serve the cure with a chaplain or with one of their own number.(3) In 1260, Bishop Richard de Inverkeithing granted the canons the right to serve the vicarage with a suitable chaplain rather than making a full vicarage settlement, on account of the smallness of the revenues of the church.(4)

From the mid-thirteenth century onwards, the revenues of Alva appear to have been fully appropriated to Cambuskenneth with the cure being served by a chaplain. In 1394, however, Bishop Robert de Cardeny appears to have attempted to challenge the settlement established by his predecessors, as recorded in a formal appeal by the abbot of Cambuskenneth to the pope made in that year.(5) This narrated how the bishop had visited the churches of Lecropt (q.v.) and Alva with a large entourage and took procurations for their support. It was also alleged that he had granted letters patent to two laymen, awarding them the fruits of the two churches. Furthermore, he had forbidden the resident chaplains of the churches to conduct services after formal notice but also required them to be resident at the churches and to live in suitable manses. The outcome of the appeal is not recorded.

The annexation of the church to Cambuskenneth continued at the Reformation.(6) No reference survives at that date to the provision of services by a chaplain or curate.


1. Cambuskenneth Register, no 12.

2. RRS, ii, no 162; Cambuskenneth Register, nos 16, 25.

3. Cambuskenneth Register, no 15.

4. Cambuskenneth Register, no 13.

5. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no 17.

6. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 538, 545, 546.

Architectural analysis

The present parish church is at the centre of the town, where it was initially built to serve a United Secession congregation in 1842. At the time it was built, the site of the parish church was (perhaps rather inconveniently) in the churchyard at the north-east corner of the town, a churchyard which was clearly in use from at least the seventeenth century on the evidence of the surviving memorials.

The partly rebuilt lower walls of the church in that churchyard are now reduced to a uniform level, with a maximum height of 1.2 metres at the SE corner, where the ground falls away most steeply, and the area within the truncated walls is treated as a terraced lawn. According to a notice on the site, this was done after the church was burned down in 1984, having passed out of use in 1980.

The church is said to have been largely of seventeenth-century construction, and a stone with the dates 1631 and 1637, together with the arms of the Bruce family, was recorded as being built into the west gable. Rising above that gable was a birdcage bellcote. Significant rebuilding and enlargement in 1815, 1854 and 1877 resulted in a main core with a single shallow rectangular off-shoot to the south that was pierced by a triplet of lancets; that offshoot was presumably designed to accommodate the pulpit. There was a more complex series of symmetrical stepped off-shoots to the north. The latter included a pair of low towers with pinnacles and traceried parapets in the re-entrant angles between the main body and the north lateral aisle. The angles of the building were marked by raised margins or lesenes, which were later treated as shallow buttresses capped by pinnacles.

Although the core of the building has been assumed to be entirely of seventeenth-century date, the precise orientation of that core, and its length of 21.55 metres from east to west, would be consistent with the alignment and overall length to be found in a medieval church. While it is true that the north to south width of 11.45 metres of that core is greater than would be expected in a medieval church, it might nevertheless be considered a possibility that a medieval predecessor had provided a starting point for the 1630s structure. It might be added that the 1630s was a period when Charles I’s attempts to impose religious observances closer to those in England was tending to encourage greater respect for the buildings of the medieval Church.


Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 6.

Gifford, J. and Walker, F.A., 2002, The Buildings of Scotland, Stirling and Central Scotland, New Haven and London, 178-80.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford, 539, 545, 546.

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, Edinburgh and London, viii (Stirling), 188-9.

Regesta Regum Scottorum, Acts of William I (1165-1214), 1971, Edinburgh, no 162.

Registrum monasterii S. Marie de Cambuskenneth, 1872, ed. W. Fraser, (Grampian Club), Edinburgh, nos 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 25.

Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, ed. J. Sinclair, Edinburgh, xviii (1796), 137-9.



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

  • 1. Alva Old Church, site, from west

  • 2. Alva Old churchyard, monument 2

  • 3. Alva Old Churchyard, monument 1

  • 4. Alva Old Churchyard, from north east

  • 5. Alva Old Church, exterior before demolition