Bass Parish Church

Bass Rock Church, exterior, from north east 1

Summary description

A roofless but structurally largely complete rectangular shell, probably of sixteenth-century date.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Baldred

The establishment of the parish church of the Bass in the late fifteenth-century was an economic act by the Lauder lords of the Bass, who sought to secure greater control over the valuable sea-bird and fishing resources around the island.  In 1491 a supplication to the pope was made by Sir Robert Lauder of the Bass for permission to erect his chapel on the island into a parish church.  His peition cited a distance of 2 miles from island to the shore for parishioners to travel each week to their current church, Aldhame, and in bad weather they were in peril of their lives. The potential value of teind from the new parish was reckoned at 4 gold ducats.  If the proposal was approved, Lauder would construct a cemetery, and provide a baptismal font and other marks of a parish church.(1)

Although the supplication received papal approval, disputes followed over rights to the teind payments from the island.  A papal bull of 12 June 1492 directed to the prior and archdeacon of St. Andrews to determine differences and controversies that had arisen between Robert Lauder of the Bass and the parson of the newly erected church on the one hand, and the prioress and nuns of North Berwick on the other, concerning the payment of a certain number of barrels of the fat of wild birds, which was said to be due to the priory.(2

On 10 1493 Pope Alexander VI remitted settlement of the dispute to the archdeacon of St. Andrews the settlement of a dispute between the prioress and Lauder, who was continuing to claim that the bird-fat was due to the rector of the newly erected parish church of the Bass, and not to the nuns.(3)  Although described as ‘newly erected’ in 1493, it was not until 1542 that the church on the island was consecrated and dedicated to St Baldred by William Gibson, titular bishop of Libariensis as suffragan for David Beaton, cardinal-archbishop of St Andrews.(4)  It remained for the whole of its short pre-Reformation existence a free parsonage in the patronage of the Lauders of the Bass.

Notes

1. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, xv, 1484-1492, ed M J Haren (Dublin, 1978), no.719.

2. NRS Papers of Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, GD103/2/44.

3. NRS Papal Bulls, CH7/39.

4. Extracta e Variis Cronicis Scocie (Abbotsford Club, 1842), 255; I B Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society, 1967), 15.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Chapel consecrated as parochial church in 1532, erected as such in 1493. In order to secure the patrons, Lauder of Bass established control of the teinds of Solan Geese, and a perpetual vicarage was erected.(1)

1491 Supplication by Robert Lauder of Bass to erect his chapel on the island into a parish church. Cites distance of 2 miles from island to shore for parishioners to travel each week and in bad weather. Tithes 4 gold ducats. If approved, to construct cemetery, baptismal font and other marks of a parish church.(2)

1492 (12 June) Bull by Pope Innocent directed to the Prior and Archdeacon of St Andrews for determining differences betwixt Robert Lauder of the Bass, and the present parson of the newly erected church of said Isle, and the Prioress and Convent of the Monastery of North Berwick, in the matter of certain barrels of the fat of wild birds belonging to said monastery.(3)

1493 (10 May) Bull of Pope Alexander VI remitting to the archdeacon of St Andrews the settlement of a dispute between the prioress of North Bervyk and Robert Laudir, laird of Bas, regarding the right of the latter to certain barrels of the fat of wild birds claimed by him as rector of the newly erected parish church of the Bas belonging to the priory. At St Peters, Rome, 6 Id. May 1493.(4)

[References to the Bass are in the account of North Berwick (nothing in Statistical Account)]

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Robert Balfour Graham, 1835): ‘About halfway up the rock, a little below the old edifice garden, are the interesting remains of a chapel, pretty entire. The niches for the font show it was built prior to the Reformation’.(5) [chapel desecrated when converted to a prison]

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 15.

2. CPL, xv, no. 719.

3. NRS Papers of Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, GD103/2/44.

4. NRS Papal Bulls, CH7/39.

5. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1835), ii, 331.

Bibliography

National Records of Scotland, Papal Bulls, CH7/39.

National Records of Scotland, Papers of Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, GD103/2/44.

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

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

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

Architectural description

The Bass Rock is particularly associated with the mission of St Baldred, who is said in the Aberdeen Breviary to have been an associate of St Kentigern. Symeon of Durham, however, places his death as late 756.(1)

The chapel on the Bass Rock, which is traditionally assumed to be on the site of Baldred’s oratory, was erected into a parish church in order to establish the owner’s right to valuable teinds, following a supplication by Robert Lauder of Bass, in 1491.(2) The request must have been acceded to, because in the process of an arbitration between Lauder and the prioress of the Cistercian nunnery of North Berwick in 1493, it was referred to as a newly erected parish church.(3)

The church appears to have been rebuilt to its present form in the sixteenth century, and in 1542 a consecration was carried out by William Gibson, a suffragan of Cardinal Archbishop David Beaton.(4)

As it now stands, the church is a roofless but largely complete rectangular structure of 9.4 by 6.35 metres. It is built mainly of the basalt rubble that could be quarried on the island, but with some freestone dressings that must have been ferried across to the island. The gables have straight skews rising from chamfered skewputts.

All of the primary openings are in the south wall. There is a door towards the west end and two windows further east, all of which are lintelled and have segmental rear arches. The door has chamfered reveals, while the windows are rebated for shutters. The north and east walls are unpierced.

Within the church there is an ogee- arched holy water stoup to the east of the south door; beneath it is a worked stone that looks as if it may be the inverted basin. There is another ogee-arched recess at the south end of the east wall, close to a rectangular recess at the east end of the south wall; these may have served as a piscina and aumbry. There is roughly formed segmental-arched recess towards the east end of the north wall, which is now almost covered by the raised ground level; this was presumably a tomb, with possible ancillary use as an Easter Sepulchre.

The building appears to have been modified for reformed worship, and an elevated door in the west wall, which has been approached by a forestair, may have given access to a post-Reformation loft. But it is also a possibility that it gave access to an inserted upper floor after the church had passed out of ecclesiastical use.

The view of the Bass Rock from the south in Slezer’s Theatrum Scotiae of 1693 shows it still roofed.(5) That is also the case in a drawing in the collection of the present owner of the rock,(6) which is signed by T. Dury, and which indicates that the church was in use as a magazine;(7) that was a change of use possibly made after its purchase by the Crown in 1671.

Notes

1. Alan Macquarrie, Legends of Scottish Saints, Readings, Hymns and prayers...in the Aberdeen Breviary, Dublin, 2012, p. 325.

2. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland, Papal letters, ed. W.H. Bliss, 1893-, London, vol. 15, no 719.

3. National Records of Scotland, Papal Bulls, CH7/39.

4. Extracta e Variis Cronicis Scocie, ed. William B.D.D. Turnbull (Abbotsford Club), 1845, p. 255.

5. John Slezer, Theatrum Scotiae, London, 1693, pl. 56.

6. Copied by C.S.T. Calder and reproduced in Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of East Lothian, 1978, p.70.

7. This was almost certainly Theodore Dury, Engineer for Scotland, who is known to have been working up designs for the strengthening of Edinburgh and Stirling Castles in 1708.

Map

Images

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  • 1. Bass Rock Church, exterior, from north east 1

  • 2. Bass Rock Church, exterior, from north east, 2

  • 3. Bass Rock Church, exterior, from south west

  • 4. Bass Rock Church, exterior, from west

  • 5. Bass Rock Church, exterior, south door

  • 6. Bass Rock Church, interior, holy water stoup inside south door

  • 7. Bass Rock Church, interior, looking east

  • 8. Bass Rock Church, interior, recess towards east end of north wall

  • 9. Bass Rock Church, interior, recesses in east and south walls

  • 10. Bass Rock Church, interior, south wall

  • 11. Bass Rock Church, general view

  • 12. Bass Rock (Slezer)