Crail / Crelyn Collegiate Church

Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, from south

Summary description

A largely medieval church, with a truncated twelfth-century chancel, and with thirteenth-century north and south arcades and clearstoreys and a thirteenth century west tower. A college was founded here in 1517. North aisle wall possibly of 1796, and south aisle wall of 1815. A number of medieval fragments survive.

Historical outline

Dedication: The Holy Cross or Our Lady

The church of Crail, along with the chapel of St Rufinus in the royal castle there, and a raft of other properties and rights in and around the burgh, was confirmed by King Malcolm IV (1153-65) as the gift of his mother, Countess Ada, to the nuns of her Cistercian foundation at Haddington.(1)  Ada’s charter does not survive, nor does much of the parchment record of the priory at Haddington, so neither the date nor context of the gift is known. 

The grant of Crail was further confirmed by Malcolm’s younger brother and successor, King William.(2)  Confirmation of possession of the church made to the canons of Cambuskenneth in 1207, therefore, appears to be an error, possibly arising from the abbey’s possession of various landed interests in and around the burgh.(3)  It is believed that the parsonage may have been appropriated to the nunnery from an early date, but evidence for that appropriation occurs only in the thirteenth century; a chaplain of Crail (who might be the castle chaplain) is named as a witness to a charter of c.1200-1214, and vicar of Crail is mentioned in letters of Bishop David de Bernham of St Andrews in 1240.(4)  The parsonage had certainly been appropriated by the mid-1270s, when the church appears simply as a vicarage in the papal tax rolls, assessed for taxation at 4 merks.(5

The cure of the church was being served by a vicar perpetual in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, when a succession of disputed provisions resulted in litigation.(6)  This arrangement continued until 1516/7 when the then vicar perpetual, Alexander Dunbar, gave his assent to the erection of a collegiate church within the parish church, to which his vicarage was to be annexed with a new provision for a vicar pensioner on a reserved stipend of £10, to which one William Myreton added a further 5 merks.(7

At the Reformation, the parsonage still pertained to the nuns of Haddington, its value in rents and cash being set at £100, with £80 for the vicar portioner (which appears too high and is probably a transcriptional error), while the vicarage pertained entirely to the provost of the collegiate church, also valued at £100.(8)

As the parish church of a small but wealthy trading burgh, additional chapels and altars were founded within it by wealthy local lay patrons and clerics. An altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the church, to which a perpetual chaplainry was attached, is on record in 1432.(9)  What appears to have been a secnd chaplainry at this altar was established in 1482 by George Cunningham of Beltoun, supported on rents from lands in Westbarns. His brother William Cunningham was presented to the chaplaincy.(10

By a charter of 1 June 1500, confirmed under the Great Seal on 12 March 1500/1, Master William Myrtoun endowed a chaplainry at the altar of St Michael the Archangel, on the south side of the parish church with various rents in Crail.(11)  The existence of other altars is revealed in the record of the petition made by Janet, prioress of Haddingon and William Myrtoun, rector of Lathrisk, dated 7 and 8 June 1517, seeking the erection of a collegiate church at Crail.(12)  The petition envisaged ten prebendaries and a provost, seven of which had been founded and endowed by Myrtoun.  His foundations comprised of two chaplainries at the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary, two at the altar of St Michael, and one each at the altars of St James the Apostle, St Nicholas and St Bartholomew. 

The other prebends were those of the vicar pensioner, the parish clerkship, and the chaplains at the altars of the Holy Rood and Our Lady.  The petition was approved by Archbishop Andrew Forman on 20 June 1517.(13)  Archbishop Forman, however, also permitted the creation of an eleventh prebendary, apparently also founded and endowed by Myrtoun, which should probably be identified with the prebend of St John the Apostle that is recorded in August 1518.(14)

A charter of King James V of September 1526, confirming at mortmain endowments made by Myrtoun, made further provision for a chaplain serving at the altar of St Mary, which is described as located in the quire, and also makes reference to building-work on the aisle of the Blessed Virgin Mary that William was having erected.(15)  A further altar, described as ‘the high altar of St Stephen’, was recorded in the church in 1539.(16

At the Reformation, a clearer picture of the provision within the collegiate church is provided in the record of the rental of the various prebends.(17)  First named was John Broun, prebendary of Our Lady altar ‘in the new ile’ (presumably that aisle paid for by Myrtoun).  His income, and that of thre remaining prebendaries, was given at 20 merks.  A second prebendary, Mr John Buthile, also held his prebend at Our Lady altar.  John Mortoun and George King held their prebends at St Michael’s altar, while John Davidson was prebendary of St James’s altar, and Thomas Kinnear, prebendary of St Nicholas’s altar.  Next named was John Herrie, who was described as, ‘maister of the gramer schole and prebendar of the prebendreis of Sanct Johnne the Baptiste and the Halyruid service. 

The grammar school may have been associated with the four boy choristers who had been instituted in the 1517 foundation charter,(18) and Myrtoun had made provision in 1520 for the assignment of responsibility of the song school to the second prebendary.(19)  Three further prebendaries are named: William Bousie, prebendary of St John the Evangelist,  Mr David Myrtoun, prebendary of St Catherine’s altar, and William Corstorphin, prebendary of ‘Our Ladie servant at the hie altar’.

There is some uncertainty over the dedication of the church.  Most discussion refers to the church as St Mary’s.(20)  Simon Taylor and Gilbert Markus observed that the dedication of the medieval parish kirk was not entirely clear. They referred to a charter dated at Crail ‘in Haly Croce Kirk’ in 1384, but note that by 1517 the church was apparently dedicated to the Virgin Mary. They suggested this could reflect a re-dedication under the influence of the Cistercian nuns of Haddington who held the patronage and whose priory was dedicated to St Mary.(21

Bearing in mind that 1384 charter, however, it is interesting to note that on 30 July 1541 a decreet of the Court of Session refers to payment to be made on ‘the hie altar of the rude kirk’ of Crail.(22)  It is possible, therefore, that the parish church was dedicated to the Holy Cross or Rood and that, as at Corstorphine (qv), the collegiate church had a different dedication (at Corstorphine St John the Baptist and at Crail St Mary).

Notes

1. Regesta Regum Scottorum, i, The Acts of Malcolm IV, ed G W S Barrow (Edinburgh, 1960), no.289.

2. Regesta Regum Scottorum, ii, The Acts of William I, ed G W S Barrow (Edinburgh, 1971), no.536.

3. Registrum Monasterii S Marie de Cambuskenneth (Grampian Cllub, 1872), no.26.

4. I B Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society, 1967), 37; Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree in Scotia (Bannatyne Club, 1841), 162, 382.  Bishop de Bernham dedicated the church on 21 June 1243, A O Anderson (ed), Early Souces of Scottish History, ii (Edinburgh, 1922), 523.

5. A I Dunlop (ed), ‘Bagimond’s Roll: the Statement of the Tenths of the Kingdom of Scotland’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi (1939), 34, 62.

6. Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Pope Clement VII of Avignon 1378-1394, ed A I Dunlop (Scottish History Society, 1976), 140, 144; Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, i, 1418-1422, ed E R Lindsay and A I Cameron (Scottish History Society, 1934), 141, 200, 202, 211, 234, 289, 293; Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, ii, 1423-1428, ed A I Dunlop (Scottish History Society, 1956), 157, 184, 196, 223, 226 [hereafter CSSR, ii]; Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iii, 1428-1432, ed A I Dunlop and I B Cowan (Scottish History Society, 1970), 7, 36, 46, 56, 63, 139, 154, 242, 247 [hereafter CSSR, iii]; Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iv, 1433-1447, eds A I Dunlop and D MacLauchlan (Glasgow, 1983), nos 102, 404.

7. Register of the Collegiate Church of Crail (Grampian Club, 1877), no.102 [hereafter Crail Register].

8. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 82, 162-165.

9.CSSR, iii, 325.

10. Calendar of Writs Preserved at Yester House 1166-1503, eds C C H Harvey and J Macleod (Scottish Record Society, 1930), 204a, 206.

11. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, ii, 1424-1513, ed J B Paul (Edinburgh, 1882), no 2572.

12. Crail Register, no.101.

13. Crail Register, no.103.

14. Crail Register, nos 54, 103, 104.

15. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, iii, 1513-1546, ed J B Paul and J M Thomson (Edinburgh, 1883), no.389.

16. NRS Transcripts and photocopies of Miscellaneous Charters and Papers, RH1/2/353.

17. Kirk (ed), Books of Assumption, 65-66.

18. Crail Register, no.103.

19. Crail Register, no.47.

20. See, for example, Cowan and Easson, Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland, 217, where it is simply labelled as Crail, St Mary.

21. S Taylor and G Markus, The Place-Names of Fife, iii,  St Andrews and the East Neuk (Donington, 2009), 181-183.

22. NRAS3215/Largo Writs/Bundle 2/11-12.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: The church was annexed to the nunnery of Haddington (probably by Ada, countess of Northumberland and Huntingdon, at foundation). In error, it was recorded as with Cambuskenneth in 13th century. Vicarage until 1517 when church becomes a college, thereafter vicar pensioner (who is to be a canon of the college) and revenues with provost.(1)

Place Names of Fife vol. 3: see Register of the Great Seal of Scotland (ii), no. 610; series of altars in parish church dedicated to Michael, Our Lady, James, Nicholas, John the Baptist, Holy Rood, John the Evangelist, Katherine and Stephen.

Place Names of Fife vol. 3 notes that the medieval parish kirk is not entirely clear. There is a charter dated at Crail ‘in Haly Croce Kirk’ in 1384. However, by 1517 (when the church achieved collegiate status) the church at least was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Taylor/Markus (Place Names of Fife) suggest this may have been a re-dedication under the influence of the Cistercian Nuns of Haddington who held the patronage. The church has occasionally been wrongly identified as being dedicated to St Maolrubha.(2)

1388 John Archer was collated by the bishop of St Andrews on the death of Robert Bell. In 1389 there was a complaint by Lindores as ‘rightful patrons’; they had presented William de Northberwick in 1388 who was refused by the bishop of St Andrews who instituted his own choice, Archer.(3)

1420 Walter de Waldlaw (rector of Borthwick) obtained the church through exchange with Columba de Dunbar. Dies in the same year after which follows supplications by John de Kirkmichael, Edward Lauder and John Gray, (value 60 marks).(4)

1422 Lauder described as rector, confirmation that presentation rights belong to nuns of Haddington.(5)

1420 John of Carmichael, a canon of Orleans and later bishop (1426-38) was the rector of Crail in that year.(6)

1427-37 Series of suits over the church which had previously been occupied by George Lauder (promoted to bishopric of Argyll) between 1) Alexander de Castecaris, Thomas Archer, Robert de Dernweke, Edward Lauder and Christopher Ponfret and 2) Alexander de Newton, Robert Fevyr and Hugh Turyng. Suits described as ‘inconclusive’ in 1433 petition, still on going in 1437.(7) No obvious outcome.

1468 Supplication (unsuccessful) by William Meldrum (rector of Abdie) on resignation of vicar John Stute.

1469 Complaint by Alexander Abercorn that despite his collation to the church it is, and has, been, unlawfully occupied by William Blare for 2 years.(8)

1516 Alexander Dunbar, vicar of Crail gives consent for the erection of a college, £10 a year for the new vicar pensioner, 5 marks more given by William Myerton.(9)

1517 Petition to Andrew Forman, archbishop of St Andrews by the nuns of Haddington and William Myerton, perpetual vicar of Lathrisk, that the church be raised to collegiate status. Vicar pensionary to serve the cure.(10)

1517 Confirmation of the erection of the church into a college by Andrew Forman, archbishop of St Andrews.(11)

1526 Confirmation by James V of the gift of the lands to the church by William Myerton, to pay for bread, wine, wax, chalices, books and ornaments to furnish the college.(12)

1548-52 People (18 women, 6 men) from the parish registered their testaments at the St Andrews Commissary court. 6 specified burial in the ‘atrum’ of the church(13);16 specified burial simply in the parish church.(14) 2 asked to be buried in the church yard.(15)

Altars and chaplaincies

Our Lady

1482 Foundation of a chaplaincy dedicated to St Mary made by George Cunningham of Beltoun in the church of Crail; donation from lands in Westbarns. His brother William Cunningham presented to the chaplaincy.(16)

1526 (20 Sept) The King, with the agreement of the three estates of the kingdom, has confirmed, in mortmain, a charter of Sir William Myreton, perpetual vicar of the parish church of Lathrisk, St Andrews diocese, and founder of the blessed college of Crail, by which, he granted in pure alms to the 8 chaplain prebendaries founded by him long-since in the said collegiate church of Crail, rendering, moreover, to the chaplain of the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the quire, 2 marks; the remainder of the farms to be kept, and spent on the structures of the said William's aisle of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Craill.(17)

St Michael

1500 (1 June) The King has confirmed in mortmain a charter of Sir William Myrtoun, priest of St Andrews diocese, by which he has granted in pure alms, to one chaplain perpetually celebrating mass at the altar of Blessed Michael the Archangel in the south side of the parish church of Crail, about 5 acres of the lands in the Pottergate of the burgh of Crail.(18)

St Stephen

1539 (12 Feb) Charter by sir John Henderson, chaplain of the high altar of Stephen in the collegiate church of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Crail, to Mr John Arnot and Elizabeth, his spouse, of a tenement on the north side of Northgate or Marketgate, Crail.(19)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage still pertains to nuns of Haddington, value of teinds and cash £100, vicar pensioner £80 pa [seems to be a lot?]. Vicarage revenues pertain to the provost of the college, Patrick Myrtoun, value £100.(20)

Altars and Chaplainries

Information provided in 1574. Prebend of Our Lady altar, ‘in the new ile’, value 20 marks, held by John Brown.

  • Prebend of St Michael’s altar held by John Morton.
  • Prebend of St James’ altar held by John Davidson, 20 marks
  • Prebend of St Nicholas’ altar held by Thomas Kinnear, 20 marks
  • Prebend of altar of St John the Evangelist, held by William Bousie, 20 marks.
  • Prebend of Holy Rood altar, pertains to John Heries, the school master, 32 marks.(21)
  • Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of provostry £33 6s 8d.(22)

1562 (30 June) General Assembly directs letters to be sent to the elders, deacons and whole church of Crail to answer whether the minister John Melville was accused, and his removal required, by the whole kirk or merely a faction.(23)

1571 (15 Jan) The Minister is nominated to be one of the 21 members of the chapter of the Archbishop of St Andrews.(24)

1577 (25 Oct) Grevious accusations (not specified) laid against the minister Thomas Kinnear by Thomas Ramsay and the Laird of Cambo. Assembly supports accusers and Kinnear is deprived.(25)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Andrew Bell, 1792):

 ‘The kirk of Crail, with the teinds thereof, both parsonage and vicarage, anciently belonged to the priory of Haddington…. The church, quire and vestry are still standing and used as a place of public worship by the congregation’.(26)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev William Merson, 1836):

 ‘The present church is so old that many believe it to be the one in which David I worshipped when he live in Crail; and although its beauty has been much destroyed by the alterations it has undergone, it is still a fine specimen of pointed architecture. It consists of a central nave, with aisles divided by a row of pillar son each side, and, at the east end, a part of what originally formed the choir. The choir was for a number of years shut, but in 1828 it was reopened and seated for the sake of additional accommodation for parishioners’.(27)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 37.

2. Taylor & Markus, The Place-Names of Fife. Volume Three, pp. 181-83.

3. CPL, Clem, 1400 & 144, CPP, 572.

4. CSSR, i, 141, 200, 202 & 211.

5. CSSR, i, 234, 289 & 293.

6. Copiale Prioratus Sanctiandree, p.451.

7. CSSR, ii, 157, 184, 196, 223 & 226, CSSR, iii, 7, 36, 46, 56, 63, 139, 154, 242 & 247, CSSR, iv, no. 102 & 404.

8. CSSR, v, no. 1246, CPL, xii, 311.

9. Register of Crail, no. 102.

10. Register of Crail, no. 101.

11. Register of Crail, no. 103, St Andrews Formulare, i, 347-48 & 351-53.

12. Register of Crail, no. 104.

13. NRS St Andrews, Register of Testaments, 1 Aug 1549-12 Dec 1551, CC20/4/1, fols. 47-48, 53-54, 314, 327 & 327-328.

14. NRS St Andrews, Register of Testaments, 1 Aug 1549-12 Dec 1551, CC20/4/1, fols.25-26, 45-46, 48-49, 107-108, 109, 197, 198, 214-215, 264, 265-266, 339 & 345.

15. NRS St Andrews, Register of Testaments, 1 Aug 1549-12 Dec 1551, CC20/4/1, fols. 199 & 326.

16. Yester Writs, nos. 204a & 206.

17. RMS, iii, 389.

18. RMS, ii, 2572.

19. NRS Transcripts and photocopies of Miscellaneous Charters and Papers, RH1/2/353.

20. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 82, 162-65.

21. Ibid, 65-66.

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

23. Acts and Proceedings of the General Assemblies of the Kirk of Scotland, i, 16.

24. Acts and Proceedings of the General Assemblies of the Kirk of Scotland, i, 222-23.

25. Acts and Proceedings of the General Assemblies of the Kirk of Scotland, i, 397.

26. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1792), xi, 450.

27. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1836), ix, 984.

Bibliography

Acts and Proceedings of the General Assemblies of the Kirk of Scotland, 1839-45, ed. T. Thomson (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh.

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 Clement VII of Avignon, 1976, ed. C. Burns, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1418-22, 1934, ed. E.R. Lindsay and A.I. Cameron, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1423-28, 1956, ed. A.I. Dunlop, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh.

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

Calendar of writs preserved at Yester House, 1166-1625, 1930, eds. C. Harvey and J. McLeod (Scottish Record 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.

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.

Register of the Collegiate Church of Crail, 1877, ed. C. Rogers (Grampian Club), London.

St Andrews Formulare, 1514-46, 1942-44, eds. G. Donaldson and C. Macrae (Stair Society), Edinburgh, i.

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

Taylor, S and Markus, G., 2009, The Place-Names of Fife. Volume Three. St Andrews and the East Neuk, Donington.

Architectural description

The survival of a fine, if badly eroded, Early Christian cross slab, that is decorated with figures, animals and scenes that may include a Virgin and Child, suggests there has been a long history of Christian worship in Crail.(1) The stone appears to have been reused in the later middle ages as a grave slab, and according to Allen and Anderson it was subsequently used as a paving slab in the earlier nineteenth century. However, since the cross is described as if visible in the New Statistical Account of 1845, while at the same time it is said that some other early stones were used in this way, it appears that this particular slab was spared that indignity.(2)

The medieval parish was a possession of the Cistercian nunnery at Haddington from an early period, possibly having been granted to it by the nunnery’s founder, Ada, countess of Northumberland and Huntingdon, at a date before 1159.(3) Bishop David de Bernham carried out one of his dedications on 21 June 1243,(4) and in this case it is possible that it did follow completion of a significant building campaign, and it may be suspected that the consecration cross that survives at the west end of the south aisle is of that date.

The proliferation of chaplainries and the associated altars within the church was a natural feature of religious observance within the church in the later middle ages, and there are references to altars dedicated to the Holy Rood, the Virgin, St John the Baptist, St James, St John the Evangelist, St Katherine, St Michael, St Nicholas and St Stephen. The precise positions of the altars are generally unknown, though that of St Michael was said to be on the south side of the church,(5) while that of the Virgin was recorded as being in the choir.(6)

The founder of the Virgin’s chaplainry was also a principal founder of a college that was founded within the church in 1517,(7) and it may be thought likely that the chancel was extended around that time in order to accommodate the provost and prebendaries of the college, together with the Lady Altar. Some support for this possibility may be drawn from a large rectangular five-light window that is shown on a view of the church drawn from memory before the chancel was truncated in the nineteenth century.(8)

Windows of that form are generally no earlier than the sixteenth century, and it is one possibility that it was provided to cast lateral light either on the high altar or the Lady altar. Another large rectangular window of four lights at the east end of the south nave clearstorey, which is also shown on that view, could also be of the sixteenth century. In that case it could perhaps have been provided to light a rood loft. However, it might equally be possible that it lit one of the post-Reformation lofts erected in the nave.

In its final medieval state the church consisted of an extended unaisled chancel, and an aisled nave of six bays, with a tower capped by a spire at the west end of the nave’s central vessel. There was a laterally projecting chapel off the east bays of the south nave aisle, which was perhaps the chapel of St Michael, and a porch off the second bay from the west of the south nave aisle.(9)

The church was ‘cleansed’ following one of John Knox’s sermons in 1529, and was presumably progressively adapted over many years for reformed worship. Although the details of the earlier changes are uncertain, it is known that several galleries were introduced in the usual rather haphazard process, at least one of which was approached by a forestair to the east of the porch.

A number of carved panels from the pews of the leading families of the parish have been preserved; these are variously dated 1594, 1596, 1598 and 1605, suggesting that there was a campaign of re-seating the church in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. A survivor from one of the lofts is an eighteenth-century painted panel from the front of the Seamen’s loft at the west end of the nave, which depicts a navigator.

A number of later post-Reformation changes are documented, and must be taken into account before considering the existing fabric. There were proposals for giving the church a more regular appearance by the later eighteenth century, some of which may have been put into effect. But the main campaign of remodelling the nave took place in 1815, to the designs of Robert Balfour.(10) He removed all projections from around its walls and constructed a roof that swept over both central vessel and aisles, obscuring the clearstorey within the roof space.

Within the church the focus of worship became an elevated pulpit surmounted by an ogee-domed tester, in front of the blocked chancel arch, and a regular array of box was directed towards the enclosure around it. A gallery was formed above the two western bays of the nave.

At some stage the chancel was truncated, possibly at a date around 1800. According to the Statistical Account, ‘the church, quire and vestry are still standing’,(11) which may suggest that they were still complete. However, the New Statistical Account says that at the east end there was only ‘a part of what originally formed the choir’.(12) The latter also said that the ‘the choir was for a number of years shut, but in 1828 it was reopened and seated’. This operation was carried out by William Lees.(13) In 1936 the gallery was removed to permit the installation of an organ in the chancel.

The most recent significant campaign of reordering was the work of Judith Campbell in 1963. Apart from replacing the badly decayed pews, she opened up the tower arch and removed the west gallery. The only significant twentieth-century structural addition to the church has been a vestry on the north side of the chancel.   

Despite the post-Reformation changes it has undergone, the church at Crail remains one of the most impressive of Scotland’s parish churches of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.(14) The earliest part of the building to survive is the chancel, which is evidently a work of the early or mid-twelfth century, but which only survives in the truncated state thought to have resulted from the works of 1828.

It is not known if the truncation took the chancel back to the plan it had before its likely late medieval extension following the foundation of the college, and for which some evidence may have survived within the fabric. On balance this may be thought unlikely, however, because the chancel now appears to be rather short in relation to its width. The roof creases against the east wall of the nave indicate that in its medieval state the chancel walls rose a little higher than at present and that it was covered by a more steeply pitched roof.

The best preserved extent of the twelfth-century fabric of the chancel is on the north side, within the modern vestry. There it can be seen through crude modern repointing that the masonry was of large blocks set in courses that varied from roughly square to elongated horizontal. There is a simply chamfered base course, and a double-chamfered string course runs below the level of the windows; only one window survives in modified form, with a widely splayed rear-arch.

On both sides of the chancel some masonry survives at its junction with the nave, and the combined evidence of the extent of the string course and of vertical masonry breaks indicates that, as might be expected, the twelfth-century nave was unaisled and rather wider than the chancel. Internally, there was presumably a chancel arch at the junction of nave and chancel, but it was replaced in the early thirteenth century. However, beneath the responds of that later arch are several courses of masonry that appears to have been cut back, and that could be the relics of the wall within which the earlier chancel arch had been set.

After the chancel, the next part of the church to be started was the ashlar-built west tower, which was probably set some distance to the west of the twelfth-century nave, until the new nave was extended up to meet it. It appears to have served as a model for a number of later towers along the coastal fringes of Fife. Above a carefully proportioned base course, six stages are marked by string courses, though there are only three storeys. Access between the storeys is by a substantial rectangular stair turret in the north re-entrant angle between tower and nave, which is reduced in scale by lateral intakes at mid-height, before being weathered back below the wall head.

The lower stages of the tower are lit by lancets in the south and west faces, and by a lancet at belfry stage on the north side, all of which have simply chamfered reveals and no hood mould. The other faces of the belfry stage, however, have paired lancets framed by double-chamfered reveals below hood moulds.

The principal diagnostic feature of the earliest work in the tower is the arch towards the nave at its lowest level. In both jambs and arch this takes the form of two basically rectangular orders; there are sunk shafts at the angles that have delicately elongated water-leaf caps below a strongly marked abacus to the jambs. A date of around 1200 may be estimated for such details.

The ashlar construction of the tower appears to have permitted relatively rapid construction, and there is little to suggest any change of design as the work progressed. There is, however, the possibility that the parapet is part of a later modification, since the corbels that support it are of a type that is more common in the later middle ages. It is also possible that the spire, with its two levels of lucernes was built around the same time. However, a spire seems to have been intended by the time the belfry stage was under construction, since its diagonal faces are extended down into that stage on either side of the windows, and are an integral part of the masonry. At the base of the south face of the spire are the legs of what may have been intended as a bellcote.

The nave is an unusually grand piece of work, perhaps reflecting the burgh’s status as the location of a royal castle. It is likely to have been started before the upper stages of the tower were finished, and it probably dates from the earlier decades of the thirteenth century. The clearest indication that construction was being carried out simultaneously on nave and tower is the similarity of the shouldered window rear arches that are found both in the tower and in the one medieval aisle window at the east end of the south aisle.

The nave was set out with six bays, flanked by an aisle on each side. The arcades opening into those aisles are carried on slender cylindrical columns topped by deep bell-shaped capitals which support double-chamfered arches. Single clearstorey windows with trifoliate rear arches are set above the piers rather than the arches, though they are now masked externally by the roofs constructed in 1815, which sweep down over both central vessel and aisles. However, the ashlar-built clearstorey walls survive within the roof spaces, where it can be seen that the windows are framed by a single broad chamfer, and that they are without hood moulds. The wall-head cornice is carried on mask corbels of characteristic thirteenth-century type.

The medieval roof over the central vessel was considerably more steeply pitched than the roof of 1815, rising to just below the belfry windows. Evidence for the height of the aisles, which stopped below the level of the central vessel clearstorey, is to be seen in masonry changes at the aisle ends. Changes of masonry might also be taken to suggest that the aisles have been widened at some stage, and certainly they are rather wider than might be expected in the earlier thirteenth century. However, since the one surviving medieval window at the east end of the south aisle is virtually centrally aligned with the aisle, it is perhaps unlikely that the aisles have been widened to any great extent, and the external changes of masonry are therefore presumably largely the result of post-medieval rebuilding of the longitudinal south and north aisle walls.

The closest parallel for the design of Crail’s nave is to be found in the nave of Brechin Cathedral as it was eventually completed, and after any more ambitious ideas had been abandoned, which perhaps is a measure of the scale of ambition of Crail’s builders. It may be added that, with internal dimensions to the central vessel of about 22.5 by 7.3 metres, Crail is only a little smaller than the 25.6 by 7.6 metres of Brechin. Crail also shows some similarities with the surviving nave arcade at Lanark Church, which, like Crail, was the location for a royal castle.

It was probably in the later stages of the nave’s reconstruction that the chancel arch was reconstructed, above what appear to be the retained sections of wall referred to above. The responds are essentially a variant on a standard Romanesque type, with a large shaft on the leading face of a pilaster, which is flanked by smaller three-quarter shafts. But the details are in a fully early Gothic vocabulary, with water-holding bases and simple sprigs of waterleaf foliage to the bells of the rounded caps. The outer order of the arch has hollow chamfers, while the inner order has a roll between hollows.

The wall that runs the length of the north side of the north aisle may have been reconstructed in the last years of the eighteenth century, and possibly in 1796. Since two tiers of windows were constructed, this was presumably to provide lighting for galleries as well as for the lower level of seating, with the implication that the north clearstorey was already intended to be obscured. In earlier masonry that was retained in the lower part of the wall are the bottom jamb courses of a blocked doorway, the quirked angle roll of which points to a late medieval date.

The south wall of the south aisle was a complete rebuilding of 1815, in the course of which the medieval south porch and the shell of the laterally projecting south chapel were removed. Five bays are now lit by large pointed windows with intersecting glazing bars, and the entrance is in the west bay. In the two end bays there are windows recessed within the roof, which cut through the medieval clearstorey.

The church contains a number of medieval carved stones that have presumably been located in the course of building works. One of these is the lower part of a figure that appears to have represented a deacon, since it is wearing a dalmatic, and the ends of a stole project beneath its lower edge. Although the treatment of the drapery is rather formulaic, the orphrey on the bottom edge of the dalmatic is richly treated with flowers between pelleted bands, A fifteenth-century date appears most likely for this.

A coped tombstone of probable thirteenth-century date is said to have been previously in the churchyard. The angles are marked by a recessed roll, and on the upper surface is a foliate cross, while on the sloping flanks are a sword and an open book. An incised ledger slab has a Latin cross within a border marked by a double border; this slab was evidently for a priest, since a chalice is depicted below the cross, and it is said to commemorate James Eweat.

Within the churchyard are several ambitious post-Reformation wall monuments, including those of John Lumsden of Airdrie, who died in 1598 and William Bruce of Simbister, who died in 1630.

Notes

1. J. Romilly Allen and Joseph Anderson, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1903, pt 3, pp. 363-64; Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of Fife, Clackmannan and Kinross, Edinburgh, 1933, p. 60.

2. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 9, p. 955.

3. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 37.

4. Alan Orr Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, Edinburgh, 1922, p. 523.

5. Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, ed. J.M. Thomson at al., Edinburgh, 1882-1914, vol. 2, no 2572.

6. Register of the Great Seal, vol. 3, no 389.

7. Ian B. Cowan and David E. Easson, Medieval Religious Houses, Scotland, London and New York, 2nd ed. 1976, 217.

8. E. Beveridge, The Churchyard Monuments of Crail, Edinburgh, 1893, fig. 155.

9. A plan of the church in this state was drawn by the Rev’d John Sime in 1840 (Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, DP 028580), showing its state in 1805, though since this was apparently drawn from memory, its details may not be entirely trustworthy.

10. National Records of Scotland, HR 242/1.

11. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, vol. 9, p. 450.

12. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 9, p. 964.

13. National Records of Scotland, HR 242/2.

14. Accounts of the church include: J.R. Walker, Pre-Reformation Churches in Fifeshire, Edinburgh, 1885; David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1896–7, vol. 1, pp. 263–69; Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, 1933, pp. 57–61; R.G. Cant, ‘The Medieval Kirk of Crail, in Anne O’Connor and D.V. Clarke (eds), From the Stone Age to the ‘Forty-Five, Edinburgh, 1983, pp. 368-83; John Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Fife, London, 1988, pp. 134-36. 

Map

Images

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  • 1. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, from south

  • 2. Crail Collegiate Church, Bruce tomb

  • 3. Crail Collegiate Church, chancel north wall, within vestry

  • 4. Crail Collegiate Church, cross-incised grave slab

  • 5. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, before the 1815, restoration (General Sir John Bell)

  • 6. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, chancel and nave from south east

  • 7. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, chancel east wall from south east

  • 8. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, chancel from south

  • 9. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, clearstorey within roof space

  • 10. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, east end of south aisle

  • 11. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, from north east

  • 12. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, from north west

  • 13. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, nave from north west

  • 14. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, junction of chancel south flank and east end of south aisle

  • 15. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, junction of tower south face and south aisle

  • 16. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, nave from north west

  • 17. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, south flank

  • 18. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, spire

  • 19. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, spire door

  • 20. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, spire, clock frame

  • 21. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, tower and spire from south east

  • 22. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, tower from north

  • 23. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, tower from north west

  • 24. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, tower from south east

  • 25. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, west

  • 26. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, west end of north aisle

  • 27. Crail Collegiate Church, exterior, west end of south aisle

  • 28. Crail Collegiate Church, fragment of clerical figure

  • 29. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, arcade base

  • 30. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, arcade cap

  • 31. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, chancel arch north respond

  • 32. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, chancel arch north respond cap

  • 33. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, chancel arch, north respond

  • 34. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, chancel arch, south cap

  • 35. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, chancel arch, south respond

  • 36. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, clearstorey rear-arch

  • 37. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, cross slab

  • 38. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, cross-incised ledger slab

  • 39. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, effigy fragment

  • 40. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, masonry below chancel arch north respond

  • 41. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, monument, 1

  • 42. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, monument, 2

  • 43. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, nave from south east

  • 44. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, nave from south west

  • 45. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, nave roof space

  • 46. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, nave, from east

  • 47. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, nave, from west

  • 48. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, nave, north arcade wall

  • 49. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, south aisle, east window

  • 50. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, spire

  • 51. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, spire squinch

  • 52. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, tower arch north respond cap

  • 53. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, tower arch, north respond

  • 54. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, tower window

  • 55. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, window rear arch at east end south aisle

  • 56. Crail Collegiate Church, Lumsden tomb

  • 57. Crail Collegiate Church, interior, state after works of 1828

  • 58. Crail Collegiate Church, longitudinal section (Walker, 1888)

  • 59. Crail Collegiate Church, plan (Walker, 1888)

  • 60. Crail Collegiate Church, tower, north elevation (Walker, 1888)

  • 61. Crail Collegiate Church, tower, south elevation (Walker, 1888)

  • 62. Crail Collegiate Church, tower, west elevation (Walker, 1888)