Airlie Parish Church

Airlie Church, exterior, from south

Summary description

A rectangular building of 1781-3, possibly on the footprint of its medieval predecessor. Some medieval fragments survive, including a Sacrament House and a figure of St John the Baptist; some architectural details are built into a burial enclosure. No longer in ecclesiastical use.

Historical outline

Dedication: St John the Baptist

Dedicated to St John the Bapitst(1) and in the hands of Robert Hay in the early 1200s, in 1220 he entered an arrangement with the monks of Coupar Angus by which he leased his church of Airlie to them at ferme for the full term of his life in return for an annual payment of 40 merks, the monks also providing a suitable chaplain to serve the cure and taking responsibility for the payment of all episcopal dues.(2)  Between then and 1225, King Alexander II granted the church to Coupar Angus in free alms, reserving Robert Hay’s life interest, and with the monks also taking responsibility for making an annual payment of £20 to the Chapter General at Cîteaux on the king’s behalf.(3

This grant was confirmed by Simon, prior of St Andrews for the chapter of the diocese before 1225.(4) By 1246 discord had already arisen between Coupar Angus and Cîteaux over the church, with the former claiming outright possession with the latter only being due the agreed pension.  Melrose, Coupar Angus’s mother-house, was called upon to adjudicate in the case.(5)  Support in the dispute came from the Bishop of Dunkeld, who between 1243 and 1249 wrote a letter to the abbots of Rievaulx, Beaulieu and Fountains, procurators in the case, championing Coupar Angus.(6)  In 1448, the £20 annual pension payable at Cîteaux was compounded.(7)

Although a confirmation in proprios usus does not survive, both parsonage and vicarage revenues were annexed to Coupar Angus and the cure was a vicarage pensionary.  In 1469 the teinds of the church were set for five years to the vicar, sir Andrew Holland, for an annual payment of 18 merks.  Holland was also liable for the repair of the church.(8

At the end of Holland’s lease in1474, a three-year set of the church was given to David Blair of Jordanstone, for annual payment of £20 with all ordinary expenses deducted.  Blair, however, took on the burden of repairs to the choir, costs associated with the altar, costs of paying for the visitation of bishop and the bishop’s subsidy, and any other unusual taxes.(9

Further leases on almost identical terms are recorded in the abbey’s account books down to 1550, when the church was set to the incumbent vicar-pensioner, Thomas Smith.(10)  At the Reformation, the parsonage and vicarage was recorded as pertaining to the abbey, collective value £24. (11)

Notes

1. J M Mackinley, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland. Scriptural Dedications (Edinburgh, 1910), 333.  It is perhaps more than coincidence that the church was dedicated by Bishop de Bernham of St Andrews on 27 August 1242, two days before the Feast of the Beheading of St John (A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (London, 1922), 522).

2. Coupar Angus Charters, no.XXVI.

3. Coupar Angus Charters, no.XXVII.

4. Coupar Angus Charters, no.XXXVI.

5. Coupar Angus Charters, no.LI.

6. Coupar Angus Charters, no.XLVI.

7. Coupar Angus Charters, no.CXXXV.

8. Cupar Rental, i, 144.

9. Cupar Rental, i, 205.

10. Cupar Rental, i, no.281; ii, nos 86, 160.

11. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 357, 370, 410.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Leased to Coupar Angus in 1220 by Robert de Haya. Church granted c.1226 by Alexander II under proviso of pension to Citeaux, which was compounded in 1448.(1)

Wilson suggests church was dedicated to St Meddan, Mackinley notes that the church was dedicated to St John the Baptist and that there was a spring dedicated to St Meddan nearby.(2)

1220 Church leased to Coupar Angus by Robert de Hay, 40 marks pa and abbey obliged to provide a chaplain.(3)

1220x26 Church granted to the abbey by Alexander II with all rights and pertinents, reserving a pension of £20 to go to the chapter of Citeaux. Robert de Hay to hold church for his lifetime.(4)

c.1225 Confirmation of the grant by Simon, prior of St Andrews.(5)

1246 Melrose (mother house) adjudicates discord between Coupar and Citeaux over the church. Coupar claims they were granted the church entirely, Citeaux has no claim except for pension.(6)

1243x49 Bishop of Dunkeld letter to the abbots of Rievaulx, Beaulieu and Fountains, procurators in the case, supporting Coupar Angus.(7)

1464 Altarage of the church let to Andrew Holand, vicar of the same, 5 years for £12 pa.(8)

1469 Church set for 5 years to vicar of the same, Andrew Holand, with obligation to keep church in good repair and 18 marks pa.(9)

1474 Church set for 3 years to David Blare of Jurdanston, all ordinary expenses deducted except reparation of the choir, altar and episcopal visitation subsidy.(10)

1479 Church set for 5 years to Thomas of Durham, dean of Angus, for 110 marks pa, obliged to take care of choir, chalices (made of silver) and mass books.(11)

1504 Henry Brousane, vicar of Airlie witnesses a charter.(12)

1539 John Smith described as vicar pensioner of Airlie and as a notary.(13)

1550 Church set to Thomas Smyth, vicar pensioner of the same, 24 marks pa of the vicarage, to look after choir and ornaments.(14)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church vicarage and parsonage pertain to Coupar Angus. Value £24.(15)

#1603 Wilson notes that within a few feet of the present church there still remains part of the choir of the old parish church. He also notes that in 1603 a new church was built on the site of the present building.(16) On the site of the Pre-Reformation church Rev William Malcolm (1590-1636) enclosed the ground to the west of the choir as a burial ground, where he interred the body of his wife. (1609).(17) [no kirk session or presbytery records survive from 1603 to confirm this date]

1611 (4 April) Archibald, William, David and Thomas Ogilvy forced to do penance for the slaughter of John Piggot at the church of Airlie [murder not committed at the church].(18)

1764 (9 May) David Thomson, minister at Airlie reported to the presbytery that the church roof stands in great need of repairing and the walls in some places are hurting. The subsequent visitation on 7 June takes a decision to build a stone wall between the arch that separated the church and choir as the latter is utterly ruinous.(19)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev James Stormonth, 1791): ‘The church was rebuilt in 1783 and the manse in 1792. The earl of Strathmore is the patron’.(20)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev David White, 1843): Same information regarding church but also medieval remains in parish church:

‘In the west gable of the parish church, there is a figure, which is obviously intended as a representation of St John the Baptist, to whom the church was originally dedicated’.(21)

‘Besides the figure of St John another curious relic of the old church has been with good taste preserved in the modern building. It is a small stone almery or locker on which is represented the Five wounds of the Passion’.(22) [no specific location within the old church specified]

The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches (George Hay): 1783, additions 1893, medieval sacrament house, hearse house in kirkyard. Increasing timber imports from Scandinavia in 18th century led to ‘gawky’ new churches like Inverarity and Airlie and Carnbee. Belfry early 19th cent, incorporating some of 18th cent traditions but also more severe classicism or gothic forms.(23)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 4.

2. Wilson, Airlie, A Parish History, p. 197, Mackinley, Scriptural Dedications, p. 333, Mackinley, Non-Scriptural Dedications, p. 150.

3. Charters of the Abbey of Coupar Angus, i, no. 26.

4. Charters of the Abbey of Coupar Angus, i, no. 27.

5. Charters of the Abbey of Coupar Angus, i, no. 36.

6. Charters of the Abbey of Coupar Angus, i, no. 51.

7. Charters of the Abbey of Coupar Angus, i, no. 46.

8. Rental book of Cupar-Angus, i, no. 154.

9. Rental book of Cupar-Angus, i, no. 129.

10. Rental book of Cupar-Angus, i, no. 254.

11. Rental book of Cupar-Angus, i, no. 281.

12. Charters of the Abbey of Coupar Angus, ii. no. 160.

13. Charters of the Abbey of Coupar Angus, ii, no. 171.

14. Rental book of Cupar-Angus, ii, no. 86.

15. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 357, 370 & 410.

16. Wilson, Airlie, A Parish History, pp. 193, 202.

17. Wilson, Airlie, A Parish History, pp. 202-203.

18. Selections from the minutes of the Synod of Fife, p. 9.

19. NRS Presbytery of Meigle, Minutes, 1749-1768, CH2/263/11, fols. 347 & 353-354.

20. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1791), xi, 210.

21. New Statistical Account of Scotland,, (1843), xi, 680.

22. Ibid, 680-81.

23. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp. 80, 170, 238 & 244.

Bibliography

NRS Presbytery of Meigle, Minutes, 1749-1768, CH2/263/11.

Charters of the Abbey of Coupar Angus, 1947, ed. D. E. Easson (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh.

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

Donaldson, G., 1949, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh.

Ecclesiastical Records. Selections  from the minutes of the Synod of Fife, 1611-87, 1837, ed. C. Baxter (Abbotsford Club), Edinburgh.

Hay, G., 1957, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, 1560-1843, Oxford.

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

Mackinley, J.M, 1910, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland. Scriptural Dedications, Edinburgh.                                    

Mackinley, J.M, 1914, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland. Non-Scriptural Dedications, Edinburgh.

New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, Edinburgh and London.

Rental book of the Cistercian Abbey of Cupar-Angus, 1879-1880, ed. C. Rogers (Grampian Club), London.

Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, ed. J. Sinclair, Edinburgh.

Wilson, W., 1917, Airlie, a Parish History, Coatbridge.

Architectural description

The church at Airl­­ie was leased to Coupar Angus Cistercian Abbey by Robert de Haya in 1220, and about six years later it was granted to that abbey by Alexander II, with a pension to the mother house of the Cistercian order at Cîteaux. The cure was then served by a vicar pensioner.(1) A dedication was carried out by Bishop David de Bernham on 27 August 1242.(2)  ­­­­

It has been suggested that the church was rebuilt on the site of the old one in 1603.(3) However, any operations in that year may have consisted largely of repairs to the medieval building, since references on 7 June 1764 to an arch separating the church and choir, suggest that the church was still a two-compartment structure with the parts separated by a chancel arch. As such it is unlikely to have been of post-Reformation origin. Those references followed complaints from the minister that the roof and walls needed repairs, as a result of which presbytery concluded that, since the choir was ruinous, a wall should be built in the arch between the church and choir.(4)

The church was subsequently rebuilt in 1781-3. The date of 1781 is indicated by a payment of £32 made by Thomas Fothringham Ogilvy of Powry,(5) and by the inscription on the sill of the central window of the south front, ‘17 Mr IS MNr 81’, in reference to the minister of the time, James Stormonth. The latter date is also given by the author of the Statistical Account,(6) and is on the bellcote weathervane.

The new building was a simple rectangle with its principal fenestration along the south front. Between two low-set rectangular windows lighting the areas beneath the galleries at each end is a triplet of tall round-arched windows, the central window being given increased emphasis by a decorated keystone and the inscription on its sill. The birdcage bellcote at the apex of the west gable has a pyramidal cap with concave sides.

Rectangular offshoots for the gallery stairs were added at each end in about 1850. A north aisle was added in 1892-3 by Alexander Johnston, while around the same time the interior was remodelled by John Carver.(7)

In rebuilding the church in 1781-3 it was decided to preserve a number of medieval fragments, including a Sacrament House, and a fragmentary figure thought to represent St John the Baptist. The author of the New Statistical Account recorded:

In the west gable of the parish church there is a figure, which is obviously intended as a representation in basso relievo of St John the Baptist, to whom the church was originally dedicated....Beside the figure of St John another curious relic of the old church has been with good taste preserved in the modern building. It is a small stone almery or locker on which is represented the Five wounds of the Passion, and which probably served in Roman Catholic times as a repository for some of the baptismal apparatus.(8)

The figure, which does indeed appear to represent St John the Baptist, remains in place in the west gable, but is now in a badly weathered state. The ogee-arched locker of the Sacrament House is framed by a cable moulding terminating in a fleur-de-lis finial and flanked by miniature buttresses. In the spandrels of its arch are two versions of the arma Christi: a cross from which is suspended a crown of thorns, and the wounds to the hands, feet and heart. At the back of the locker is a stone with the initials WF and the arms of the Fentons of Baikie. Within the churchyard is what appears to be a medieval coped gravestone.

To the south-west of the church is a pair of burial enclosures with overall dimensions of 11.3 by 4.65, which it has been suggested might be on the site of the choir of the medieval church. The western enclosure was formed in 1609 by the minister of the time, and is inscribed on the lintel of the roll-moulded entrance door ‘this burial builded by William Malcolm 1609’. The eastern enclosure incorporates a number of recycled stones that appear to be of late medieval date. The rectangular entrance door is framed by a moulding formation consisting of a filleted roll with a hollow on the wall face, and to both its east and west is what appears to be a square capital.

On the basis of recycled medieval fragments it must indeed be considered as a possibility that the burial enclosures are on the site of the pre-Reformation church. Against this, however, the dimensions of the enclosures make it unlikely that the walls of those enclosures have retained any in-situ medieval masonry. Beyond that, the present church is on the highest and thus most prominent point of the churchyard, and that is more likely to have been the location chosen for the medieval building. Its length of 17.15 would be consistent with the possibility that it took at least that dimension from its medieval predecessor; however, if that is the case, the width of 8.35 means that it is likely to be wider than its predecessor.

Notes

1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, pp. 4-5.

2. Alan Orr Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, Edinburgh, 1922, vol. 2, p. 522.

3. W. Wilson, Airlie, a Parish History, Coatbridge, 1917, pp. 193-203.

4. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Meigle, Minutes, 1749-68, CH2/263/11, fols 347 and 353-4.

5. National Records of Scotland, GD/121/3/63.

6. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, vol. 11, p. 210.

7. John Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Dundee and Angus, New Haven and London, 2012, pp. 572-73.

8. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 11, pp. 680-81.

Map

Images

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  • 1. Airlie Church, exterior, from south

  • 2. Airlie Church, exterior, from north west

  • 3. Airlie Church, exterior, statue embedded in west wall

  • 4. Airlie Church, exterior, south face, inscribed window sill

  • 5. Airlie Church, interior, eastern part

  • 6. Airlie Church, interior, looking east

  • 7. Airlie Church, interior, looking west

  • 8. Airlie Church, interior, Sacrament House, 1

  • 9. Airlie Church, interior, Sacrament House, 2

  • 10. Airlie Church, Sacrament House (MacGibbon and Ross)

  • 11. Airlie churchyard, burial enclosures, from south

  • 12. Airlie churchyard, east burial enclosure, door

  • 13. Airlie churchyard, east burial enclosure, inscription to east of door

  • 14. Airlie churchyard, west burial enclosure, door

  • 15. Airlie churchyard, west burial enclosure, inscription to east of door

  • 16. Airlie churchyard, west burial enclosure, monument

  • 17. Airlie churchyard, gravestone

  • 18. Airlie churchyard, coped gravestone