Airth / Hereth Parish Church

Airth Church, exterior, from west, 1

Summary description

The decaying fragment of a complex building abandoned when a new church was built elsewhere in 1820, the earliest surviving element being parts of a later twelfth-century north nave aisle arcade. A later medieval lateral aisle contains a shrouded female effigy. Major modifications and augmentations date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

Historical outline

Dedication: Our Lady?

Possibly dedicated to Our Lady, the church of Airth was granted by King David I to the Augustinian abbey of Holyrood in Edinburgh around the time of the abbey’s foundation in 1128 and was confirmed in the canons’ possession by Bishop Robert of St Andrews in c.1130.(2)  In a general confirmation of Holyrood’s possessions in his diocese, Bishop Richard of St Andrews confirmed their charters relating to Airth along with two carucates of cultivated land and certain pertinents, and also one saltwork in the parish with 27 acres of land associated with it.(3)

A note in the pontifical offices of the diocese of St Andrews records that the church of Airth was ‘founded’ on 10 May 1243, that date presumably relating to its formal consecration by Bishop David de Bernham.(4)  Bishop de Bernham, indeed, had already confirmed the church in the possession of the canons in January 1240.(5

The same bishop confirmed a vicarage settlement with the canons, in whose hands the parsonage was thereafter vested, with the cure being a vicarage perpetual valued at 20 merks.(6)  The settlement remained in force at the Reformation, at which time the parsonage was recorded as pertaining to Holyrood with the teinds set for £60 annually, while the vicarage perpetual was held by James Bruce (no value recorded).(7)

The juxtaposition of the church with the castle or manor-house of Airth would suggest a close relationship between the parish church and the family and wider connections of the secular lords of Airth.  Such a relationship is confirmed by a later fifteenth-century endowment for a chapel attached to the parish church, which points to the foundation of that chapel two generations earlier. 

On 14 November 1485, King James III confirmed at mortmain a charter dated 11 October 1483 by Robert Bruce of Stanehouse, which endowed a chaplainry in his chapel or aisle, located on the south side of the parish church of Airth, which had been built by his late grandfather Alexander Bruce, with various properties including the house or tenement, orchard and croft land at the end of the ‘Elacrag’ as a manse for the chaplain.(8)


1. No early source gives the dedication of the parish church but references to a ‘Lady Well’ in the churchyard have given rise to suggestions that the original dedication was to the BVM (see J M Mackinley, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland. Scriptural Dedications (Edinburgh, 1910), 114).  Eighteenth-century accounts suggest that the church was dedicated to St Peter, but no authority for that claim is cited.

2. Liber Cartarum Sancte Crucis (Bannatyne Club, 1840), nos 1 and 2 [hereafter Holyrood Liber].

3. Holyrood Liber, no.13.

4. A O Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (London, 1922), 523 [Pontifical Offices of St Andrews].

5. Holyrood Liber, no.76.

6. Holyrood Liber, no.75.

7. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 91, 157-158.

8. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, ii, 1424-1513, ed J B Paul (Edinburgh, 1883) no.1628.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Granted to abbey of Holyrood c.1130. Vicarage settlement in 1235, parsonage with the abbey.(1)

According to Mackinley (Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland), the church was probably dedicated to Our Lady: there was a Lady well in the church yard.(2) Statistical Account suggests Peter.

1128x47 Church with one saltpan with 26 acres of land, and freedom to build a mill granted to the abbey by David I. The king also granted all customs, easements and rights in Airth. A brieve from 1128x47 ordered the sheriff of Stirling to ensure that these secular and ecclesiastical customs were held by the abbey.(3)

1140x53 Church confirmed to abbey by Robert, bishop of St Andrews, with the lands measured as 2 ploughgates.(4)

1164 Church with 2 ploughgates and saltpan confirmed to abbey in papal bull of Alexander III.(5)

1165x71 Church confirmed to abbey by William I, with its lands, one saltpan with 27 acres and the right to take wood from the king’s wood in Airth.(6)

1165x66 Church included in confirmation by Richard, bishop of St Andrews of all the churches given to the abbey by David I, Malcolm IV and bishops Aernald and Robert of St Andrews.(7)

1251 Vicarage settlement by David de Bernham, bishop of St Andrews, parsonage with abbey, vicarage worth 20 marks.(8)

1268 Church included in confirmation of the possessions of the abbey in the diocese of St Andrews by Gameline, bishop of St Andrews.(9)

1450 John Redhoch dead, William Anderson collated but dies in same year, David Balfour (MA), supplicates (unsuccessfully) for Airth but by 1454 John Finegood (MA from University of St Andrews) is described a perpetual vicar. Balfour persuaded to drop his claim by ‘friends’ of Finegood.(10)

1490 Parsonage of Airth referred to as pertaining to Holyrood.(11)

1505 Thomas Greenlaw holds the vicarage of Airth.(12)

1547 Hugh Riddell presented to the vicarage of Airth vacant by the resignation of Andrew Riddell.(13)

Altars and chaplaincies

Blessed Virgin Mary (aisle and altar)

b.1485 Altar founded by Alexander Bruce of Stanehouse, endowed by his grandson Robert.(14)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage with Holyrood, set for £60. Vicarage held by James Bruce; entry includes excerpt from the pasche book with all the recent fines levied on parishioners but no overall value.(15)

Philips and Martin note that there were three aisles, The Airth Aisle (built 1480), The Elphinstone Aisle (built 1593) and the Bruce Aisle (built 1614).(16)

1586 (1 July) During a visitation of the church, Arthur Futhie, the minister was found irreprehensible, but complained about the smallness of his stipend and threatened to move if it is not increased (decision made to increase his fee to 200 marks pa). For the reparation of the church they raised a tax of 200 marks and it was noted that craftsman such as masons and wrights are presently working upon the same.(17)

1587 (19 Sept) Arthur Fethie, minister at Airth translated to the church of Kinnell (having been granted the parsonage by the King).(18) [got fed up with small stipend]

1591 (22 July) Visitation of the churches of Falkirk and Airth by the Presbytery of Stirling finds the ministers to be diligent with further details recorded in the book of visitation [unfortunately no longer extant].(19)

1599 (28 Feb) The minister of Airth (Henry Laing), complains to the Presbytery of Stirling that the lack of a manse and gleib will force him to seek another post.(20)

1608 (26 Mar) Airth appointed to be visited [no further info].(21)

1609 (23 Mar) Report on the church of Airth finds that the minister is not sufficiently provided for. The lord of Holyroodhouse to be approached for developing a better stipend.(22) In a follow up report (6 Apr) it was noted that Henry Laing, the minister, was owed money for repairing his manse (102 marks) to be refunded by the parishioners.(23)

1610 (28 Mar) Alex Bruce of Peknowie produces a letter of presentation to the patronage of the parsonage and vicarage of Airth (formerly pertaining to Holyroodhouse). Minister Henry Laing to be re-presented to the vicarage.(24) 4 Apr 1610, in a counter claim Alexander, the master of Elphinstone presents a letter claiming that he has heritable possession of Airth as promised him by the late John, commendator of Holyroodhouse. He also re-presents Henry Laing to the parsonage and vicarage.(25)

1612 (29 Jan) Report to the Presbytery of Stirling finds that the manse and gleib of both Bothkenner and Airth are unsufficient. Visitations ordered.(26) Further report sets out the full extent of the gleib.(27)

1616 (10 July) Report to the Presbytery of Stirling of a letter sent from the Lord Elphinstone regarding the conflict over the right of patronage of the church with his rival John Bruce of Airth (the archbishop of St Andrews is asked to make a decision).(28)

1624 (21 Dec) The will of Sir Michael, 5th son of Lord Elphinstone noted that he was to be buried in the family aisle of the church alongside his brother, Robert.(29)

1639 (28 Mar) Visitation of Airth ordered; recorded in book of visitation [no longer extant].(30)

#1647 Hay records building of tower [presbytery and kirk session records have not survived for this year].

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Robert Ure): [No reference to church fabric]

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev John MacGrachen, 1841): ‘The parish church… was first opened for worship on 20th February 1820’.(31) [no reference to earlier ecclesiastical buildings]

The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches (George Hay, 1829): 1824 Mears bell; remains of previous kirk with 1593 Elphinstone aisle, 1614 Bruce aisle and 1647 tower.(32)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 5.

2. Mackinley, Scriptural Dedications, p. 114.

3. Charters of David I, nos 147 & 115.

4. Holyrood Liber, no. 2.

5. Scotia Pontificia, no. 53.

, ii, nos. 39.

7. Holyrood Liber, no. 13.

8. Holyrood Liber, no. 75.

9. Holyrood Liber, no. 77.

10. CPL, x, 492, CSSR, v, nos. 360 & 500.

11. Prot Bk of James Young, 1485-1515, no. 383.

12. Prot Bk of John Foular, 1503-1513, no. 139.

13. Holyrood Liber, App ii, no. 36.

14. RMS, ii, no. 1628.

15. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 91 & 157-58.

16. Philips & Martin, Airth Parish, A History, p. 4.

17. Visitation of the diocese of Dunblane and other churches, pp. 5-6.

18. Stirling Presbytery Records, p.282.

19. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1589-96, CH2/722/2, fols. 117-118.

20. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1595-1604, CH2/722/3, fol. 106v.

21. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1604-1616, CH2/722/4, fol. 152.

22. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1604-1616, CH2/722/4, fol. 153.

23. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1604-1616, CH2/722/4, fol. 155.

24. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1604-1616, CH2/722/4, fol. 253.

25. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1604-1616, CH2/722/4, fol. 284.

26. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1604-1616, CH2/722/4, fol. 287.

27. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1604-1616, CH2/722/4, fol. 288.

28. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1604-1616, CH2/722/4, fol. 475.

29. Fraser, Elphinstone Family Book, i, 90.

30. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1627-1640, CH2/722/5, fol. 313.

31. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1841), iii, 285-86.

32. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp. 172, 235 & 275.


NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1589-96, CH2/722/2.

NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1595-1604, CH2/722/3.

NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1604-1616, CH2/722/4.

NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1627-1640, CH2/722/5.

Calendar of entries in the Papal registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland; Papal letters, 1893-, ed. W.H. Bliss, London.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1447-71, 1997, ed. J. Kirk, R.J. Tanner and A.I. Dunlop, Edinburgh.

Charters of King David I : the written acts of David I King of Scots, 1124-53 and of his son Henry Earl of Northumberland, 1139-52, 1999, ed. G.W.S. Barrow, Woodbridge.

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

Fraser, W., 1897, Elphinstone Family Book of the Lords Elphinstone of Balmerino and Coupar, 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.

Liber Cartarum Sancte Crucis, 1840, ed. C. Innes, (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh.

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

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

Philips, I & Martin, A., 2008, Airth Parish, A History, Airth.

Protocol Book of James Young, 1485-1515, 1952, ed. G. Donaldson (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh.

Protocol Book of John Foular, 1503-1513, 1940, ed. W. McLeod (Scottish record Society), Edinburgh.

Regesta Regum Scottorum, Acts of William I (1165-1214), 1971, Edinburgh.

Scotia pontificia papal letters to Scotland before the Pontificate of Innocent III, 1982, ed. R. Somerville, Oxford.

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

Stirling Presbytery Records, 1581-1587, 1981, ed. J. Kirk (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh.

Visitation of the diocese of Dunblane and other churches, 1586-89, 1984, ed. J. Kirk (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh.

Architectural description

The church at Airth, or Hereth, was granted to the Augustinian abbey of Holyrood by David I, probably around the time of its foundation, and this grant was confirmed by Bishop Robert in about 1130; there was a vicarage settlement in 1275.(1) Bishop David de Bernham carried out one of his many dedications on 10 May 1243, though, as is usually the case, there is nothing to indicate that this was connected with a specific building programme.(2)

The church is located immediately to the east of Airth Castle. It was abandoned in 1820, when a new church was built some distance to the north, within the village of Airth, to the designs of William Stirling.(3) The old church is now a fragmentary shell that is fenced off, badly overgrown and suffering an accelerating rate of decay.

It is a building with an unusually complex architectural history.(4) The earliest identifiable portion is the eastern part of what appears to have been a three-bay arcade to a longitudinal aisle added on the north side of the nave, consisting of a cylindrical pier and a keeled eastern respond. The damaged capital of the respond is of waterleaf form, with additional foliage between the fleshy main leaves. The pier capital appears to have been of crocket type, with blade-like leaves beneath the broken-off crockets, and formalised acanthus-inspired leaves at the centre of the bell. The details point to a date in the later decades of the twelfth century.

The arch supported by this cap and respond was evidently rebuilt to provide access to an early seventeenth-century rectangular aisle for the Bruce of Powfoulis family that was added at this point. (The arch is now blocked.) Although this lateral aisle cut across the east bay of the medieval longitudinal aisle, there is some slight evidence that the western bays of the latter continued to remain open.

The only other part of the building likely to be of pre-Reformation date is a rectangular ashlar-built aisle on the south side of the nave that was added for the Bruce of Stenhouse and Airth family. This had apparently been built before 1485, when Robert Bruce endowed an altar in the aisle that was stated to have been built by his grandfather, Alexander.(5) The relationship of this aisle to the south side of the nave indicates that there was no longitudinal aisle corresponding to that on the north side.

The aisle was characteristic of such structures in having a blank east wall, presumably to allow for the location of an altar retable, a large traceried window in the gable wall, and a smaller two-light window in the west wall. The south window has evidently been partly blocked to permit the insertion of a smaller window at some stage, presumably after the Reformation. There is a handsome image tabernacle on the exterior of the east face, with the arms of Bruce on the corbel, and those arms are also carved on the aisle gable skewputts.

Internally there is a small aumbry towards the south end of the east wall, which appears to have been associated with a frame of some kind on the evidence of the cut-back masonry around and above it. It may be wondered if an ex-situ ogee-arched fragment with the arms of Bruce to one side of the arch was part of that frame. Below the south window is a segmental arched tomb recess that now contains a particularly interesting but sadly eroding female effigy. The lower part of the effigy is partly covered by a shroud-like cloth, and pet dogs play close to her feet above the cloth. The effigy is thought to be of northern English workmanship, and to date to around the first third of the fourteenth century.(6)

At some stage after the Reformation the west front of the nave has been rebuilt. On the evidence of the rounded arrises of the central doorway, this could have been as early as the later decades of the sixteenth century, and it is known that works were in progress at the church in 1586.(7) Above the central doorway is a tall rectangular window, while to the north is a small low-set window and to the south a door associated with a short flight of steps. All of these point to the insertion of galleries at the west end of the nave as part of the process of adaptation for reformed worship.

The earliest of the firmly datable post-Reformation additions to the church, however, was a second rectangular lateral aisle, to the west of the Bruce of Airth aisle, which was built for the Elphinstone family. It has a small rectangular window in the south wall and a door towards the south end of the west wall, and was entered from the church through a semi-circular arch. A badly weathered armorial panel above the south window is recorded as having the initials of Master Alexander Elphinstone and his wife, Jane Livingstone Mistress Elphinstone, together with the date 1593.(8)

A third rectangular lateral aisle was added on the north side of the nave for the Bruce of Powfoulis family, opposite the aisle of the Bruce of Airth family; as already indicated, it was entered through the eastern bay of the later twelfth century longitudinal north aisle. There is a door in its north gable, on the lintel of which are the initials of Sir James Bruce of Powfoulis and his wife Dame Margaret Rollox. The couple’s initials are also on the west skewputt of the gable, while the east skewputt bears the date 1614. In addition, Sir James’s initials are on an armorial panel above the door, though this may a later insertion.

The eastern parts of the church were completely rebuilt in the mid-seventeenth century, leaving no evidence of the medieval chancel, though a fragment of buttressed wall at the south-east corner of the Bruce of Powfoulis Aisle may indicate that the chancel was narrower than the nave. In rebuilding the eastern parts, there appears to have been some attempt to achieve a balance with the medieval nave. Thus, there was a longitudinal north aisle of three bays, but no corresponding aisle on the south side; on that side, however, a tall tower was built in the re-entrant angle against the Bruce of Airth aisle.

The tower is of four principal storeys, with the parts that rise above the body of the church built of ashlar. The lowest storey was designed as a porch, and above its outer door is inscribed the date IVLY THE 15 1647, which presumably indicates the date for the rebuilding of the eastern parts as a whole. The second storey is thought to have been a vestry, from which there was presumably access to the pulpit. The belfry stage is lit by a single round-headed window to each face, and it was capped by a slated pyramidal roof with dormer windows to the four faces. 

The north arcade is carried on square piers with chamfered arrises, and there are round arches above impost-like capitals. The east wall has had two levels of windows, the lower of which has been cut down to form a door. The upper window evidently lit a gallery, which was approached from a forestair at the east end of the south wall. On the south side there were two rectangular windows to the east of the tower, which are now blocked; between them, and opening towards the exterior is a segmental-arched tomb recess with initials for a member of the Higgins family.


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

2. Alan Orr Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, 1922, vol. 2, p. 523.

3. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of Stirlingshire, Edinburgh, 1963, vol. 1, pp. 142-3.

4. Accounts of the building include: David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland, Edinburgh, vol. 1, 1896, pp. 465-70; Inventory of Stirlingshire, vol. 1, pp. 143-48; John Gifford and Frank Arneil Walker, The Buildings of Scotland, Stirling and Central Scotland, New Haven and London, 2002, pp. 106-08.

5. Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, ed. James Balfour Paul et al., Edinburgh, vol. 2, no 1628.

6. Inventory of Stirlingshire, vol. 1, pp. 146-47.

7. Visitation of the Dioceses of Dunblane and other Churches, 1586-9, ed. J. Kirk (Scottish record Society), 1984, pp. 5-6.

8. MacGibbon and Ross, vol. 1, 1896, p. 470.



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

  • 1. Airth Church, exterior, from west, 1

  • 2. Airth Church, exterior, from west, 2

  • 3. Airth Church, effigy, 1

  • 4. Airth Church, effigy, 2

  • 5. Airth Church, effigy, 3

  • 6. Airth Church, effigy, 4

  • 7. Airth Church, ex-situ fragment with arms of Bruce of Airth

  • 8. Airth Church, interior, Airth Aisle, piscina

  • 9. Airth Church, interior, looking east

  • 10. Airth Church, interior, looking north east

  • 11. Airth Church, interior, nave, north arcade cap

  • 12. Airth Church, interior, north nave arcade, east respond

  • 13. Airth Church, tomb recess, 1

  • 14. Airth Church, tomb recess, 2

  • 15. Airth Church, tower from north

  • 16. Airth Church, plan (MacGibbon and Ross)

  • 17. Airth New Church, 1

  • 18. Airth New Church, 2