Auchtermuchty Parish Church

Auchtermuchty Church, exterior, from south

Summary description

The church of 1779-81 and 1837-8 is likely to be on the site of its medieval predecessor.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Serf

With its dedication to St Serf(1), the earliest reference to a church of Auchtermuchty occurs on 31 March 1245 when it was recorded as being dedicated by David de Bernham, bishop of St Andrews.(2)  The church was a free parsonage, probably in the patronage of the earls of Fife, in 1311 when Thomas de Sonnebri, rector Auchtermuchty (value £4 14s 8d), petitioned the pope as his church had been burned in the wars and which he was unable to approach unless with the English army.(3

By a charter of 17 March 1350, Duncan, earl of Fife, granted the church to the monks of Lindores in proprios usus, in fulfilment of a vow that he had made when he was captured by the English at the battle of Neville’s Cross.(4)  On 12 April 1352, Bishop William Landallis, with the assent of his chapter, confirmed the earl’s grant, and confirmation by Pope Innocent VI was secured on 3 December 1354.(5)  Following the grant, the cure was to be served by a vicar portioner on a stipend of 10 merks annually, but in 1394 and 1529 the incumbent was referred to as ‘perpetual vicar’ and it seems that only the parsonage had been annexed to the abbey.(6

In 1429 a confirmation of Lindores’ rights with regard to Auchtermuchty (and other churches possessed by the abbey) was secured from Pope Martin V, which narrated that the vicarages of these churches had been unlawfully detained for several years by secular intruders due to war and other disruptions.(7)  At the Reformation, the parsonage was noted as lying in the hands of Lindores Abbey, while the vicarage was valued at £30.(8)

Notes

1. S Taylor and G Markus , The Place-Names of Fife, iv, North Fife between Eden and Tay (Donington, 2010), 105.

2. A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (London, 1922), 525 [Pontifical Offices of St Andrews].

3. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland; Papal Letters, ed W H Bliss, ii (Dublin, 1895), 91.

4. Chartulary of the Abbey of Lindores, ed J Dowden (Scottish History Society, 1903), appendix III, no.25 [hereafter Lindores Cartulary].

5. Lindores Cartulary, appendix, nos 26, 27.

6. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland; Papal Petitions, i, 1342-1419, ed W H Bliss, (London, 1896), 613; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland; Papal Letters, xix, 1503-1513, ed M J Haren (Dublin, 1990), no.135.

7. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iii, 1428-32, eds A I Dunlop and I B Cowan (Scottish History Society, 1970), 47.

8. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 33, 77.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Granted to Lindores by Duncan, earl of Fife in 1350. The parsonage remained annexed; the cure was served by a vicar pensioner.(1)

Place Names of Fife vol.4 suggests the church had not achieved full parochial status by 1244 when  it was described as a chapel. When consecrated by David de Bernham in 1250 it seems to have been the parish church of Auchtermuchty. Taylor/Markus note that the dedication of the parish church to St Serf goes back to the late medieval period if not earlier. When the burg of Auchtermuchty was erected into a royal burgh in 1517 it was granted the right to hold markets on the feast day of St Serf.(2)

1311 Petition on behalf of Thomas de Sonnebri, successively rector of Fakenham, Espec (Norwich) and Auchtermuchty, (value £4 14s 8d), burned in the wars, which last church he was unable to approach unless with the English army.(3)

1354 Confirmation of the gift of the church to the Abbey of Lindores by Duncan, earl of Fife, with agreement of current rector Alexander de Cumbach. The gift was made in fulfilment of a vow taken when he was taken prisoner by the English at the battle of Durham. (10 marks vicar portioner following gift).(4)

1394 Alexander de Castelcaris perpetual vicar of Auchtermuchty.(5)

1429 Confirmation by Martin V of Lindores rights with regard to Auchtermuchty (and other churches), vicarages were unlawfully detained for several years by secular intruders as a result of war and other disruptions.(6)

1509 Andrew Ramsay is described as the perpetual vicar.(7)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage with Lindores Abbey and was specified as for victuals. The vicarage valued at £30 and held by William Scott.(8)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of vicarage £10.(9)

1649 (22 Mar) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Cupar to consider those abstaining from communion. It was noted that there had been no communion held in the church since 1645 [no references to the state of the church].(10)

1652 (18 Apr) The session notes that it was intimated at the church door that a stent was to be organised for repair of the kirk.(11)

1652 (2 May) Agreement made between the session and John Honeyman, slater, for thecking the far side of the church and pointing the back side of the kirk. (24s and 10s).(12)

1652 (9 Nov) For repairing of the roof of the whole church (various individual costs noted), total cost £344 to be divided up between the heritors and parishioners.(13)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev James Lister, 1793): ‘The church was built in 1780’.(14)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev John Johnstone): [Nothing to add to above, neither account refers to ecclesiastical buildings prior to 1780]

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches: (George Hay): 1780; additions 1838 and later, refurnished. New belfry in 18th century.(15)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 10.

2. Taylor & Markus, The Place-Names of Fife. Volume Four, p. 105.

3. CPL, ii, 91.

4. CPL, iii, 539-40, CPP, 265.

5. CPP, 613.

6. CSSR, iii, 47.

7. CPL, xix, no. 135.

8. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 33, 76 & 85.

9. Donaldson, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, 13.

10. NRS Presbytery of Cupar, Minutes, 1646-1660, CH2/82/1, fols. 118-121.

11. NRS Auchtermuchty Kirk Session, 1648-1658, CH2/24/1, fol. 37.

12. NRS Auchtermuchty Kirk Session, 1648-1658, CH2/24/1, fol. 38.

13. NRS Auchtermuchty Kirk Session, 1648-1658, CH2/24/1, fol. 38.

14. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1793), vi, 345.

15. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp. 169, 214 & 256.

Bibliography

National Records of Scotland, Auchtermuchty Kirk Session, 1648-1658, CH2/24/1.

National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Cupar, Minutes, 1646-1660, CH2/82/1.

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

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

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1428-32, 1970, ed. A.I. Dunlop; and I.B. Cowan, (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.

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.

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

Taylor, S and  Markus G., 2010, The Place-Names of Fife. Volume Four. North Fife between Eden and Tay, Donington.

Architectural description

Bishop David de Bernham carried out one of his many dedications at Auchtermuchty on 31 March 1245.(1) The church appears to have suffered in the conflict with England because, according to a petition of 1311 by Thomas de Sonnebri, the rector, he was unable to have access to the church, stating it had been burned in the wars.(2) In 1350 the church was granted to the Tironensian abbey of Lindores, after which the cure was a vicarage perpetual.

The church records give the common indications of attempts to keep the building in a state of repair following the Reformation, and in 1652, for example, works to the roof were costed at £344.(3) But in 1779-81 the church was completely rebuilt by Robert Wilkie, a wright of Dundee, and in 1837-8 it was enlarged by the addition of a north aisle, which was built by Stedman Simpson.(4)

The church as constructed in 1779-81 is of rubble with ashlar dressings. The main elevation, to the south, has two round-headed windows towards the centre, and two tiers of windows to either side, reflecting the internal disposition of galleries, the upper tier being round-headed, and the lower tier rectangular. All the round-headed windows on this elevation have block imposts and keystones. The east and west gable walls appear each to have had a pair of round-headed windows below a Diocletian window, with a small circular opening, possibly for ventilation,  in the gable. Above the west gable is an unusually fanciful spired bellcote.

The eighteenth-century part of the building is an oriented rectangle of 20.1 metres from east to west and 11.1 metres from north to south. It is set at the highest point of a gently sloping churchyard, on the edge of a steeper slope to its east; the latter slope called for a considerable substructure when it came to adding the north aisle. Taking account of the combined evidence of the topography of the site and the spread of early memorials in the churchyard, the earliest of which dates to 1677, it seems very likely that the eighteenth-century church is on the site of its medieval predecessor.

It should also be seen as a possibility that the eighteenth-century walls are at least partly on the line of the walls of the earlier building, and might even incorporate some of its masonry. Providing some support for the latter point, towards the west end of the south wall a monument dated 1738 has been incorporated into the wall, raising the possibility that it had initially been set into the wall of the medieval church. However, the proportions of the plan, of almost two to one, are most unlikely to reflect the medieval plan, and it is almost certain that eighteenth-century church is considerably wider than its medieval predecessor.

Notes

1. Alan Orr Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, Edinburgh, 1922, vol. 2, p. 525.

2. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, ed. W.H. Bliss, et al., 1893-, vol. 2, p. 91.

3. National Records of Scotland, Auchtermuchty Kirk Session, 1648-58, CH2/24/1, fol. 38.

4. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, vol. 6, p. 345; New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 9, p. 785; John Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Fife, London, 1988, p. 77.

Map

Images

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  • 1. Auchtermuchty Church, exterior, from south

  • 2. Auchtermuchty Church, exterior, from east

  • 3. Auchtermuchty Church, exterior, from west

  • 4. Auchtermuchty Church, exterior, monument set into east wall

  • 5. Auchtermuchty Church, graveyard

  • 6. Auchtermuchty Church, interior