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Cramond Parish Church

Cramond Church, exterior, from south

Summary description

The church is a cruciform building with a highly complex post-medieval structural history, and only the west tower is now clearly partly medieval.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Columba

It is said that the church and part of the lands of Cramond passed into the possession of the bishops of Dunkeld by a grant from Richard Avenel, who died in 1185.(1) While this claim cannot be verified, the church certainly appears to have pertained to the episcopal mensa from an early date and Bishop Geoffrey (1236-49) was able to assign an annual pension of 20s from its fruits towards the burning of incense at the elevation of the Host.(2) In 1256, Bishop Richard de Inverkeithing confirmed the gift to the canons of 20s annually from the fruits of the church, but redefined for the maintenance of 20 candles burning on the high altar of the abbey church on the vigil and feast day of St Columba.(3) The parsonage remained attached to the episcopal mensa at the Reformation, while the cure was served by a vicarage perpetual.(4)

A vicarage is on record from 1406, when Adam Gordon received a mandate for his collation to the benefice, left vacant by the death of Duncan Andree.(5) Gordon received confirmation of his collation in 1419, his benefice then being specified as a vicarage perpetual valued at 40 merks, and in 1420 sought provision to the deanery of Dunkeld but with dispensation to hold it jointly with the vicarage of Cramond, this time valued at £20 of ‘old sterling’, for five years.(6) Gordon was a controversial character and in 1421 a number of his parishioners made a complaint in conjunction with one John Feldew, priest of St Andrews diocese, which stated that Gordon, their perpetual vicar, was ‘not the guardian of their souls but is like a rapacious wolf’ who had neglected his charge and allowed some of his parishioners to die without receiving the sacraments, was frequently absent to the neglect of provision of spiritual services to his parishioners, who called him a common brigand. Amongst his many crimes it was said that he had so flogged one of his parishioners that the man had subsequently died. On account of these abuses and crimes, they begged for his deprivation and the collation in his place of Feldew.(7) Gordon survived that attack but in April 1428, Ingeram Lindsay, perpetual vicar of Monkton in Glasgow diocese, brought fresh charges against him in the papal court, which alleged that he had raped a young woman then killed with a spade the child which he had fathered on her.(8) This attempt at deprivation also failed and in 1432 a further bid was launched by John Lothian, clerk of Glasgow diocese, which narrated the rape and subsequent slaughter of his son, and that Gordon had continued to perform priestly duties even while under stain of irregularity for his crimes.(9) Gordon survived this charge also and died sometime before May 1439 still in possession of the vicarage perpetual.(10)

A chaplainry was set up at the parish altar of St Columba in January 1478/9 by sir Alexander Currour, vicar of Dunsyre.(11) There is a second chaplainry of St Thomas in the parish church of Cramond recorded at the Reformation.(12) A chapel as opposed to a chaplainry is mentioned at Lany in the parish. In March 1552/3, Alexander Guthrie of Halkerstoun received a remission for the throwing down and breaking of the image of St Mary Magdalene in this chapel, for which he had been put to the horn and fled to England.(13)


1. Cowan, Parishes, 37.

2. Inchcolm Charters, no 22.

3. Inchcolm Charters, no 23.

4. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 126, 302, 342.

5. CPL, Benedict XIII, 158.

6. CSSR, i, 74-5, 185-6.

7.CSSR, i, 240.

8. CSSR, ii, 212.

9. CSSR, iii, 264-5.

10. CSSR, iv, no 553.

11. RMS, ii, no 1429.

12. Kirk (ed.), Book of Assumptions, 149-50.

13. RSS, iv, no 1919.

Architectural description

The church stands on the site of the principia at the heart of the Antonine and Severan fort of Cramond. The only clearly medieval feature of the church is the west tower, a small rubble-built structure of two principal stages, with a chamfered intake between those two stages; it is lit by small  rectangular windows with simply chamfered arrises. The ashlar crenellated superstructure of the tower is of the nineteenth century. The main body of the church appears to have been completely rebuilt in 1656, largely thanks to Lord James Hope, whose monument is set prominently on the east wall. That rebuilding evidently resulted in a cruciform plan, with compressed transeptal aisles and a burial vault against the northern end of the east wall. Although there appears to be some medieval masonry in the walls of the rebuilt church, the width of the main vessel, which is about 9.75 metres, suggests that it has been widened, and that any medieval masonry is no longer in situ.

The church as rebuilt in 1656 has been enlarged on a number of subsequent occasions and, although it is not necessary to give a detailed account here of those extensions, a brief summary will be offered. The north lateral aisle was extended westwards in 1701, and the south lateral aisle was extended southwards at the same time. The latter was again enlarged in 1811 to the designs of Robert Burn, on this occasion by extending to the west and adding a small south porch. The greatest - and internally most disorientating - changes took place in 1911, when the architect James Mather lengthened the north aisle to the north. This made it into what in effect became a nave, with a chancel in the remodelled south aisle, in front of the Barnton vault and the loft above it.


A-Kelly, C, 2004, ‘Cramond Church’, Discovery and excavation Scotland, 53.

Calendar of Papal letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon, 1976, ed. F. McGurk, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh, 158.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1418-22, 1934, ed. E.R. Lindsay and A.I. Cameron, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh, 74-5, 185-6, 240.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1423-28, 1956, ed. A.I. Dunlop, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh, 212.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1428-32, 1970, ed. A.I. Dunlop; and I.B. Cowan, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh, 264-5.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1433-47, 1983, ed. A.I. Dunlop and D MacLauchlan, Glasgow, no 553.

Charters of the abbey of Inchcolm, 1938, ed. D.E. Easson and A. Macdonald, (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh, nos 22, 23.

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh, 37.

Gifford, J., McWilliam, Walker, D., 1984, The Buildings of England, Edinburgh, London, 546-7.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford, 126, 149-50, 302, 342.

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1845, Edinburgh and London, i (Edinburgh), 604.

Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scottorum, 1882, Edinburgh, ii (1424-1513), no 1429.

Registrum Secreti Sigilli Regum Scotorum, 1908-82, ed. J.M. Thomson et al., Edinburgh, iv, 1919.

Ross, T., 1891, ‘Cramond Tower and Church’, Transactions of the Edinburgh Architectural Association, i.

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

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1929, Inventory of Midlothian and West Lothian, Edinburgh, 27-8.

Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, ed. J. Sinclair, Edinburgh, i (1791), 621.



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

  • 1. Cramond Church, exterior, from south

  • 2. Cramond Church, plan (RCAHMS)

  • 3. Cramond Church, interior, from north

  • 4. Cramond Church, interior 2

  • 5. Cramond Church, exterior, south wall west end

  • 6. Cramond Church, exterior, west tower, from south east

  • 7. Cramond Church, exterior, west tower, from south

  • 8. Cramond Church, exterior, west tower, from north