Benholm Parish Church

Benholm Church, exterior, from north west

Summary description

A building of 1832, possibly partly on the site of the nave of the medieval church. It contains an aumbry that was perhaps a Sacrament House. No longer in ecclesiastical use, and now in the care of the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Marnock/Our Lady

With its dedication to St Marnock/St Mary(1), nothing is known of the history of the parish church of Benholm before the fourteenth century, when it appears in 1349 as free parsonage in lay patronage.(2) It was still a free parsonage in 1407, when a mandate was issued to the archdeacon of St Andrews to confirm William de Balmyle, described as rector of Benholm, in a canonry in the cathedral church of Glasgow.(3

Subsequent provisions and collations of rectors are recorded through the second and third quarters of the fifteenth century.(4)  In 1477, however, both parsonage and vicarage were annexed to the collegiate church of St Mary on the Rock in St Andrews, with the cure thereafter being served by a vicar pensioner.(5)  At the Reformation, the parsonage and vicarage remained annexed to the prebend, the parson being Mr John Thornton, with the value of the benefice recorded as 260 marks (£173 6s 8d), while Mr William Elder, the vicar pensioner, had a stipend of 20 merks, plus corpse presents and pasche fines.(6)

Notes

1. J M Mackinlay, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland. Non-Scriptural Dedications (Edinburgh, 1914), 75.  It is identified as the church of St Mary in 1473, but this is probably a mistranscription: Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, xv, 1484-1492, ed M J Haren (Dublin, 1978), 26-27.

2. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Petitions, ed W H Bliss (London, 1896), 152.

3. Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Pope Benedict XIII of Avignon 1394-1419, ed F McGurk (Scottish History Society, 1976), 168.

4. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iv, 1433-1446, eds A I Dunlop and D MacLauchlan (Glasgow, 1983), 133-134, 143, 151; Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, v, 1447-1471, eds J Kirk, R J Tanner and A I Dunlop (Glasgow, 1997), nos 226, 272, 615.

5. I B Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scttish Record Society, 1967), 16.

6. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 403.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: In lay patronage in 1349. Both parsonage and vicarage constituted a prebend of Collegiate church of St Mary on the Rock, St Andrews by 1477, with the cure served by a vicar pensioner.(1)

Mackinlay notes that ‘St Marny’s Well’ was in the parish of Benholm and was also the titular of the church.(2)

1349 Andrew de Livayn called rector of the church.

1407 A further rector is mentioned (William Balmyle).(3)

1410 (2 Apr) Charter by John Scrimgeour , natural son of James Scrimgeour, constable of Dundee, knight, and Marion, wife of the said John, narrating that after the death of Alexander Scrimgeour of Arbroath, possessor of certain lands and annuals within St Andrews, William Scrimgeour his cousin possessed them, then the said Sir James, who had gifted them to John and Marion, who are now selling them to Sir William of Balmyle, rector of the church of Benholm.(4)

1439 William Ramsay, rector of Benholm dead in March of that year.(5) Alexander Thornton (William Elphinstone’s nephew) provided to the church in 1439, followed by suit regarding the church between several litigants (Laurence Pyot, Robert de Lychow, James Innes)

1439-40 James Innes wins and is described as vicar of Benholm in 1440.(6)

1456 James Lindsay is rector, succeeded by David Lindsay in 1470.(7)

1473 Benholm described as church of St Mary (rector John Edward), value £35.

1485 A further vicar mentioned (Robert Duloquhay).(8)

1514 Thomas Halkerston resigned and replaced by Adam Hoppau. Granted re-entry on the death of Adam and in meantime enjoined to enjoy the fruits and tithes (value £30).(9)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage and vicarage annexed; parson is Mr John Thornton. Value 260 marks (£173 6s 8d).

Mr William Elder, vicar pensioner 20 marks, in addition to corpse presents and pasche fines.(10)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of parsonage and vicarage £57 15s 5 2/3d.(11)

1587 (28 June) Procuratory by Robert Keith of Benholm and Elizabeth Lundy his spouse, for resigning the lands and barony of Benholme, the Mains of Benholme, with tower, fortalice and mills thereof, the lands of Over and Nether Knox, Kirktoun of Benholme, Inchmeddan and Tully of Benholm, all united into the barony of Benholme, into the King's hands for new infeftment to be given them thereof, together with the patronage of the kirk of Benholme, parsonage and vicarge thereof, then in the King's hands.(12)

1678 (14 Aug) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Fordoun finds the minister (James Melville) to have a stipend of 520 marks. Asked concerning the fabric of the church he answered that it was in good order and well maintained; being asked upon whose expense it was answered that some 10 or 12 years passed it was maintained by penalties, but since that time the heritors have taken it upon themselves.(13)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev James Scott, 1793): ‘The church which stands nearly in the centre, and most agreeable part of the parish, is an old irregular gothic building. On the east end a part is raised higher than the rest, which formerly served for the choir and still remains that name, although it has long been used as a burial place. The remains of the font are still to be seen at one of the church doors, and other relics of superstition. Manse built 58 years before (1735)’.(14)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev James Glen, 1837): ‘The church, which was taken down in 1832, was of considerable antiquity’.(15)

‘In the burial aisle of the old church were two monuments, now built intop the wall of the present church’ (one with date 1620).(16)

‘The present church was built in 1832 and the manse was built in 1820’.(17)

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches: (George Hay):1832; partly refurnished (lateral rectangular plan).(18)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 16.

2. Mackinlay Non-Scriptural Dedications, , p. 75.

3. CPP, 152, CPL Ben, 168.

4. StAUL Burgh Charters and Miscellaneous Writs, B65/23/15c.

5. CPL, ix, 126 & 141.

6. CSSR, iv, 133-34, 143, 151, CSSR, v, nos.272, 615, CPL, x, 171.

7. CSSR, v, nos. 615 & 142.

8. CPL, xiii, 26-27.

9. CPL, xx, nos.67-68.

10. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 403.

11. Donaldson, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, 10.

12. NRS Papers of the Scott family of Benholm, Kincardineshire and Hedderwick, Angus, GD4/69.

13. NRS Presbytery of Fordoun, Records of Visitations, 1677-1688, CH2/157/13, fols. 25-28.

14. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1793), xv, 223-24.

15. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1837), xi, 56.

16. Ibid, 57.

17. Ibid, 61.

18. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp. 116 & 260.

Bibliography

National Records of Scotland, Papers of the Scott family of Benholm, Kincardineshire and Hedderwick, Angus, GD4/69.

National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Fordoun, Records of Visitations, 1677-1688, CH2/157/13.

St Andrews University Library Burgh Charters and Miscellaneous Writs, B65/23/15c.

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

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1433-47, 1983, ed. A.I. Dunlop and D MacLauchlan, Glasgow,

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

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

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

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

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

Architectural description

By 1349 the parsonage and vicarage of Benholm were appropriated to a prebend in the college of St Mary on the Rock at St Andrews. The cure was served by a vicar pensioner.(1)

The medieval church continued in use for worship after the Reformation, and in 1678 it was said to be well maintained by the heritors.(2) In the 1790s the church was described  in the following terms: ‘an old irregular Gothic building. On the east end a part is raised higher than the rest, which formerly served for the choir, and still retains the name, though it has long been used as a burying place. The remains of a font are still to be seen at one of the church doors, and other relics of superstition, which evidently show that the whole has been built before the Reformation’.(3)

That account is of considerable interest as an illustration of how the chancels of medieval churches were so frequently taken over as the burial places of the families that acquired rectorial rights, and were either cut off from the rest of the church, or had lofts and burial places inserted within them. The description of the east end as being ‘raised higher’ despite the fact that the ground falls away towards the east, suggests that there was a burial chamber that was partly above ground level. The ‘font’ referred to was presumably a holy water stoup, since it was said to be ‘at one of the church doors’.

Of the other ‘relics of superstition’ mentioned, the only survivor is an aumbry that has been re-set in the east wall of the later church, though it appears to have been considerably reworked. It has a moulded pointed arch with a thistle finial, and is flanked by miniature pinnacled buttresses. An aumbry of such relative complexity may well have served initially as a Sacrament House. Built into the back of the relocated aumbry is what appears to be the fragment of a gravestone. It has memento mori in the form a winged angel head, an hour glass and crossed bones, and the initials DL and IR; the initials are thought to refer to David Lundie of Benholm.

The church was rebuilt in 1832(4) as a simple harled rectangular structure of 21 by 11.4 metres, with a polygonal arrangement of galleries directed towards the pulpit against the south wall, at the centre of a row of four arched windows. Two memorials from within the demolished chancel were relocated along the south wall of the new church. One of 1621 is for Lady Mary Keith, the infant daughter of the fifth Earl Marischal; below armorial panels, death is shown piercing the bodies of a male and a female figure, presumably in reference to the suffering of the grieving parents. The other memorial, of 1690, is for Robert Scott of Benholm; putti flank a tablet with a Latin inscription, above which angels rest on a broken segmental pediment through which emerges an armorial cartouche capped by a helm.

Beyond the east end of the new church is a burial enclosure with dimensions of 6.55 metres from east to west and 6.8 metres from north to south. Amongst other memorials, it contains a displaced tablet with an inscription for Lady Mary Keith, whose main memorial was relocated within the new church. It may be wondered if this enclosure is on the site of the medieval chancel that had ‘long been used as a burying place,’ and in possible support of this it may be noted that its south side continues the south line of the church of 1832.

At the risk of speculating beyond what the evidence will allow, if the south and west walls of the church of 1832 were on the footings of the medieval church, and the south, east and north walls of the burial enclosure on the footings of the medieval chancel, that would indicate that the medieval church had a total length of 29.7 metres.

With its north-south dimension of 11.4 metres, that later church is certainly wider from north to south than would be expected in a medieval building, though the 6.8-metre width of the burial enclosure might be closer to what would be expected. The possibility that the lateral expansion required to create proportions suitable for a preaching hall was towards the north rather than towards the south may be supported by the way in which that wall had to be built on arches to clear existing burials on that side.

None of this interpretation, however, could be regarded as more than speculative without invasive structural analysis. Nevertheless, it is not inconsistent with such evidence as is currently available.

The church is no longer in use for worship, and in 2006 it was purchased by the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust.

Notes

1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 16.

2. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Fordoun, Records of Visitiations, 1677-88, CH2/157/13, fols 25-28.

3. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99, vol. 15, pp. 223-24.

4. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 11, p. 61.

Map

Images

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  • 1. Benholm Church, exterior, from north west

  • 2. Benholm Church, exterior, from north east

  • 3. Benholm Church, exterior, from south east

  • 4. Benholm Church, enclosure to east of church, inscription for Mary Keith

  • 5. Benholm Church, interior, incised stone at back of Sacrament House

  • 6. Benholm Church, interior, looking east

  • 7. Benholm Church, interior, looking west

  • 8. Benholm Church, interior, memorial to Robert Scott

  • 9. Benholm Church, interior, memorial to Mary Keith

  • 10. Benholm Church, interior, Sacrament House

  • 11. Benholm churchyard, gravestone, 1

  • 12. Benholm churchyard, gravestone, 2

  • 13. Benholm churchyard, gravestone, 3