Crichton Parish Church

Crichton Collegiate Church, exterior, from south

Summary description

The cruciform choir, transeptal chapels and tower of a college founded in 1449 survive complete, but the nave to which they were attached is lost. Several liturgical fittings remain. No longer in ecclesiastical use, and since 1994 managed by the Crichton Collegiate Church Trust.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Kentigern

It is unknown when the church of Crichton was first established.but the earliest surviving reference to it occurs in the papal tax-rolls of the mid-1270s when its rector was assessed at three merks for taxation purposes.(1)  The next reference to it does not occur until 1379, when Michael, rector of Crichton, received a plenary indult for remission of sins at the hour of his death.(2)  In 1427, it was in the hands of George Crichton, who had received papal dispensation to hold the cure as he was under-age (aged only 22), and recorded as being in lay patronage.(3)

The identity of the lay patrons emerges clearly in 1449 when James Kennedy, bishop of St Andrews, confirmed the foundation of the collegiate church of Crichton by Sir William lord Crichton, chancellor of Scotland, and his eldest son Sir William Crichton of Frendraught.(4)  Kennedy’s confirmation narrates how th Crichtons proposed to erect a college comprising of a provost, eight chaplains and two choirboys in the church of Crichton.  To support this complement of clergy, the nearby church of Borthwick was to be united to it with the consent of its rector, Peter Crichton, but the whole parsonage and vicarage of Crichton was to be annexed to the provostry of the new collegiate church, with reservation of £10 annually for a vicar pensioner, who was also to receive four acres of land as his glebe and to build a manse and garden at the church.  The provost was also to pay for one of  the eight chaplains from the fruits of the parish church, to receive £10 annually along with half an acre of land on which to build his manse and garden.  This chaplain would be known as the prebendary of Crichton.

Bishop Kennedy’s confirmation sets out the provision for all of the remaining prebends.  The parish clerkship of Crichton was to support the office of sacristan of the college.  The teinds of Middleton in Borthwick parish were to sustain prebends known as First and Second Middleton.  Borthwick supported a prebend taking that parish’s alternative name of Loquhariot, but which in the later Middle Ages was also referred to as the prebend of Vogrie.(5)  The sixth and seventh prebends were maintained on income from the lands of Ford and Ogston and took their names from those properties.  In Kennedy’s confirmation there is a blank at the name of the eighth prebend.  All of these men were to maintain manses at the collegiate church, suggesting that if that requirement was met there was a significant complex of manses and gardens adjoining the church itself.

This institution was not the final complement and as early as 1450 Lord Crichton was said to have already augmented the original foundation.  Details of what that entailed, however, are lacking.(6)  A prebend of Halkerston is named in a royal confirmation of 13 October 1488 of the lands of Crichton and the advowson of the collegiate church and several of its prebends to Patrick Hepburn, lord Hailes.(7)  Halkerston had apparently been established by the provost of that name to support the præceptor of the college, or master of its grammar school.(8)  A tenth prebend, known as of ‘Quhithous’, occurs only in February 1552.(9)  This may be the prebend titled ‘master of the grammar school’ that is otherwise first recorded in a crown confirmation of 1573.(10)  That same confirmation also refers to three other prebends, known as of ‘the master of the music school’, of ‘the old church of St Kentigern’, and of ‘the tenement of Edinburgh’, while a prebend of ‘Arniston’ is separately recorded.(11)  The 1573 mentions two choristers of the choir of the collegiate church supported out of the income from properties in Edinburgh.  These appear to have been additional to the two choirboys stipulated in the 1449 constitution.

The union of Borthwick to the collegiate church did not go unchallenged.  Following the transfer of Peter Crichton from the Borthwick to Kinnoull in around 1453, one James Borthwick had sought and gained provision to the church of Borthwick.  His appointment was contested by the provost of Crichton, and in 1457 sentence was secured against James with the support of King James II and papal confirmation of the union was obtained.(12

While the rector of the parish church was also the provost of the collegiate church, the cure of souls in the parish was discharged from 1449 by the vicar pensioner, who was also a prebendary of the college.  In 1469, reference is made to Henry Fechen or Arnoldson, perpetual chaplain of the high altar of the collegiate church of Crichton, who was accused of having gained provision through simony.(13)  His accuser, William Ferguson, petitioned for provision in his place, giving the value of this perpetual chaplainry as £8.  In 1471, however, the vicar of Crichton was named as Thomas Chalmers.(14)  The cure continued to be served by the vicar pensioner at the Reformation, at which time the parsonage, annexed to the provostry, was valued at £133 6s 8d.(15)

In 1627, the then vicar reported that he was titular prebend of Crichton, the patron of which was the provost of the college, from whom he was meant to receive an annual payment of £10 from the teinds of the parish.  He reported also that each of the prebendaries had possessed a manse and a yard, the latter capable of being sown with a firlot of oats or barley, but that the houses had all been demolished and the ground allocated to the vicars of Crichton.(16)


1. 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.

2. Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Pope Clement VII of Avignon 1378-1394, ed A I Dunlop (Scottish History Society, 1976), 28.

3. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, ii, 1423-1428, ed A I Dunlop (Scottish History Society, 1956), 158.

4. Charters of the Hospital of Soltre, of Trinity College, Edinburgh, and Other Collegiate Churches in Midlothian (Bannatyne Club, 1861), Crichton, no.9.

5. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, vi, 1593-1608, ed J M Thomson (Edinburgh, 1890), no.425.

6. I B Cowan and D E Easson, Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland (London, 1976), 218.

7. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, ii, 1424-1513, ed J B Paul (Edinburgh, 1882), no.1784.

8. Cowan and Easson, Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland, 218.

9. Cowan and Easson, Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland, 218.

10. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, iv, 1546-1580, ed J M Thomson (Edinburgh, 1886), no.2169.

11. Registrum Secreti Sigilli Regum Scotorum, v, 1556-1567, eds J Beveridge and G Donaldson (Edinburgh, 1957), no.2531.

12. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, v, 1447-1471, eds J Kirk, R J Tanner and A I Dunlop (Glasgow, 1997), nos 650, 651 [hereafter CSSR, v].

13.CSSR, v, no.1334.

14.CSSR, v, no.1524.

15. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 119.

16. Reports on the State of Certain Parishes in Scotland, 1627 (Maitland Club, 1835), 55.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Erected into a collegiate church in 1449; the parsonage and vicarage were annexed to provost; a vicar pensioner and a chaplain served the cure thereafter.(1)

1379 Indult for plenary remission of sins at hour of death for Michael, rector of Crichton.(2)

1427 George de Crichton (22 years old) holds the church, described as in lay patronage.(3)

1449 Church confirmed to the newly founded college by James II, vicar pensioner to be paid some teinds and 10 mars, 4 acres of land, half an acre for the manse and exemption from episcopal fees.(4)

1450 Parish church erected into a college at the request of William Crichton, with support from James II.

1457 Annexation of Borthwick to the newly erected church.(5)

1471 Thomas Crichton described as perpetual vicar.(6)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: Noted that the provostry of the College of Crichton was valued at £133 6s 8d.(7)

1595 (2 Apr) Parishioners of Crichton cited to the Synod of Lothian and Tweedale for refusing minister Adam Johnston the fruits of his benefice.(8)

1627 (1 May) Report on the parish by the minister (W Penman) describes the church as under the patronage of Lord Crichton.(9)

1642 (28 Apr) Report that the heritors have settled on a sum of 600 marks for reparation of the kirk and choir thereof (progress to be reported).(10)

1648 (2 Nov) Review of the parishes in the Presbytery of Dalkeith notes that the church is very ruinous. It notes that it is impossible to keep up two parish churches so the former collegiate church is being used as the parish church.(11)

Statistical Account of Scotland (anon, 1792): ‘The church was founded 6th December 1449 by Sir William Crichton…It is a venerable building in the form of a cross, the west end left unfinished’.(12)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (John Cunninghame, 1839): ‘Within the last twenty years the church has undergone a thorough repair’.(13) [no reference to any changes to the form]


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 39.

2. CPL, Clem, 28.

3. CSSR, ii, 158.

4. Midlothian Charters, p. 304-12.

5. CPL, x, 64, CPL, xi, 289-90.

6. CPL, xiii, 24.

7. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 119.

8. Synod Records of Lothian and Tweeddale, p. 91.

9. Reports on the State of Certain Parishes in Scotland, pp. 54-58.

10. NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1639-1652, CH2/424/3, fols. 87-88.

11. NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1639-1652, CH2/424/3, fol. 264.

12. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1792), xiv, 437.

13. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1839), i, 60.


National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1639-1652, CH2/424/3,

Calendar of entries in the Papal registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland; Papal letters, 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 1423-28, 1956, ed. A.I. Dunlop, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh.

Charters of the Hospital of Soltre, of Trinity College, Edinburgh, and other collegiate churches in Mid-Lothian, 1861, ed. D. Laing (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh, (Midlothian charters).

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

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

Reports on the State of Certain Parishes in Scotland, Made to his Majesty’s Commissioners for Plantation of Kirks, 1835, ed. A. MacGrigor (Maitland Club), Edinburgh.

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

Synod Records of Lothian and Tweeddale, 1589-1596, 1640-1649, 1977, ed. J. Kirk (Stair Society), Edinburgh.

Architectural description

The college at Crichton was founded on 26 December 1449 by William, Lord Crichton.(1) The founder was a member of a previously relatively obscure land-holding family who had risen to prominence in the reign of James I, becoming Chancellor under James II between 1439 and 1444, and who is perhaps best remembered for his part in the downfall of the Black Douglas family.(2)

Crichton’s first endowment provided for a provost, eight prebendaries and two boy choristers, though by the eve of the Reformation there may have been as many as fourteen prebendaries and four choristers. It was said in 1627 that each of the prebendaries had had a house and a yard, the latter probably meaning a walled garden.(3)

Any assessment of the architecture of the church has to take account of a sequence of structural interventions of varying scale, and as early as 1642 it was said that 600 marks had been set aside for repairs.(4) There were probably further works in 1729, since that date is said to have been inscribed inside a window that was inserted above the south choir door, and that work may have included the provision of what appear to have been timber sash windows along the south choir flank.(5) A ‘thorough repair’ was said to have been undertaken ‘within the last twenty years’ by the author of the New Statistical Account.(6)

A plan likely to be of the early nineteenth century amongst the papers of General Hutton shows the choir as ‘the present place of worship’, while the north transept is marked as Sir John Callender’s Aisle and the south transept as Roseberry’s Aisle.(7) This situation is clarified in a plan of 1819 by the Rev’d John Sime, which shows the area used for worship as extending into the eastern half of the crossing.(8)

Many of the styructural changes carried out previously were reversed in a rather heavy-handed restoration in 1898 by Hardy and Wight. In the course of this work a vestry was built on the site of the old sacristy, and the south door was re-formed and the window above it blocked; the transepts were re-opened to create a T-plan interior directed towards a pulpit on the west side of the crossing. Tracery was inserted throughout, the rather ill-digested design installed in the south transept evidently being based on that shown in the north transept by Sime, though it is not clear if there was any basis for the particularly ungainly east window.

Despite these changes, Crichton is of the greatest value as one of the most complete churches of a rural collegiate foundation to have come down to us.(9) It is constructed of finely cut ashlar, chiefly of a warm pink colour; the main exceptions to this are where the tower masonry was intended to be masked by the roofs of the choir and transeptal chapels, and the rubble facing would be hidden.

The architectural provisions that were made were are likely to have been similar to those at a number of the collegiate foundations, with the architectural setting for the services taking the form of new structures added to the east end of an existing church. The collegiate parts of the church ultimately consisted of a rectangular aisle-less choir of three bays supported by unusually slender buttresses, and with a sacristy on the north side. Relatively small unbuttressed rectangular transeptal chapels project on each side of a low tower that was built at the junction of choir and nave.

One question that must be asked is, if the parts used by the college were added to an existing church that was itself adapted as a nave after they were added, when was that existing building demolished? The answer may lie in a decision by presbytery that, since it was impossible to maintain two parish churches, it should be the former collegiate church that was retained.(10) On that basis, it seems as if the collegiate parts were regarded as a completely distinct entity from the original building.

Of the collegiate parts of the church, it is likely that the choir and sacristy were built first. The slightly asymmetrical chapels were probably added next, in order to provide space for more altars, with their east walls apparently absorbing the westernmost buttresses of the choir. It is difficult to know if they initially abutted a westward extension of the choir or the eastern parts of the earlier church.

The tower was probably the last part to be built, because provision was made for the roofs of surrounding structures on each of its four sides. It can be seen that, although its east side is aligned with both the east walls of the chapels externally and the choir arch internally, it extends considerably further west than the chapels. Nevertheless, care was taken to establish an appearance of homogeneity in the way that a base course of the same profile extends below all parts: above a narrow bottom chamfer there is a moulding of ogee profile.

The choir of Crichton is in many ways characteristic of Scottish late medieval architecture of moderate scale but high aspirations. It is covered by a pointed barrel vault, which would originally have been externally finished with stone flags resting on its extrados, but which is now covered by slated roof at a lower pitch. The buttresses rose above the wall head to be capped by pinnacles, though only the pinnacle above the westernmost buttress on the south side has survived, and that is set at a lower level than was perhaps originally intended. Along the south and north flanks is a cavetto cornice embellished with heads and foliage.

As already said, the window tracery is mainly the result of Hardy and Wight’s restoration of 1898. A single surviving medieval window, in the east bay of the north flank, has a cusped bowed lozenge at its head.

There was a handsome provision of liturgical fixtures within the presbytery area. On the south side there are sedilia, which are unusually shallow and take the form of three uncusped ogee arches carried on triplet shafts with foliate caps. On the north side is a sacrament house that may be a later insertion. Its ogee-headed and cusped arch is carried on buttress-like responds that have three tiers of blind tracery between offsets.

The division between the areas of the presbytery and collegiate choir is marked by doorways in the side walls. That on the south side, which is the result of modern restoration in its upper parts, being the priests’ entrance, and that in the north wall originally opening into the sacristy, where there is now a modern vestry.

Despite being covered by stone pointed barrel vaults, like that of the choir, the transeptal chapels are unbuttressed. Those vaults, like that of the choir, are now covered by slated roofs, but the pitch of the presumably originally stone-flagged roofs are indicated by mouldings built in with the south and north flanks of the tower. It may be noted on the evidence of the nave roof moulding that it must have been more steeply pitched than the other roofs, and that it rose to a higher point.

A short distance above the original choir and transeptal chapel roof apices, the tower was slightly intaken above a chamfered course. The single squat belfry storey is lit by a pair of rectangular windows on each face, though it may be wondered if a higher upper storey had once been intended with more prominent windows. The tower is now capped by a plain parapet carried on a corbel table, behind which are the east and west coped gables of a double-pitched roof; rising above the east gable is an arched bellcote.

The crossing arches are carried on responds with triplets of filleted shafts, and with foliage carving to the caps that is chiefly composed of varieties of square vine leaf. The arches are of two orders, the axial order have wave mouldings to each flank, and the inner order cavettos. The arches are set at a low level, though that into the choir springs from a slightly higher level than those into the transepts. The decision that the east and west crossing arches should spring from a lower level was partly prompted by the need to have their apices below the springing point of the crossing barrel vault which, rather unusually, continues the east-west axis of that in the choir.

The only fragment of the structures to the west of the collegiate choir and transepts is the stump of a remodelled section of the north nave wall that is of a different colour from the stone of the tower, and that is not coursed in with it. Embodied within it is a polygonal stair turret that gives access by way of a mural passage to the upper floor of the tower, some distance to the west of the tower.

One wonders if in this position there may have been an initial intention to provide access to a rood loft as well as to the tower. However, there is no evidence of any upper opening that would have served a loft, so any such idea must have been abandoned before the turret was completed. The church is no longer in ecclesiastical use, and since 1994 has been managed by the Crichton Collegiate Church Trust.


1. Charters of the Hospital of Soltre, of Trinity College, Edinburgh, and Other Collegiate Churches in Midlothian, ed. D. Laing (Bannatyne Club), 1861, pp. 305–12; Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, ed. J.M. Thomson et al., 1882-1914, vol. 6, no 425; Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 39; Ian B. Cowan and David E. Easson, Medieval Religious Houses, Scotland, 2nd ed., London and new York, 1976, pp. 217–18.

2. Michael Brown, The Black Douglases, Edinburgh, 1998, pp. 286–92.

3. Reports on the State of Certain Parishes in Scotland made to his Majesty’s Commissioners for Plantation of Kirks, ed. Alexander Macdonald (Maitland Club), 1835, p. 55.

4. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1639-52, CH2/424/3.

5. David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, The Ecclesaistical Architecture of Scotland, Edinburgh, vol. 3, 1897, pp. 246.

6. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 1, p. 60

7. National Library of Scotland, Adv MS 30.5.23, 73.

8. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, DP027690.

9. This account takes as its starting point Richard Fawcett, The Architecture of the Scottish Medieval Church, 1100-1560, New Haven and London, 2011, pp. 272-74. Published descriptions of the church include: MacGibbon and Ross, vol. 3, 1897, pp. 243–50; Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of Midlothian and West Lothian, Edinburgh,1929, pp. 44-47; Christopher Wilson in Colin McWilliam, The Buildings of Scotland, Lothian, Harmondsworth, 1978, pp. 143–44.

10. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1639-52, CH2/424/3.



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

  • 1. Crichton Collegiate Church, exterior, from south

  • 2. Crichton Church, interior, north chapel arch, east respond

  • 3. Crichton churchyard, gravestone, 1

  • 4. Crichton churchyard, gravestone, 2

  • 5. Crichton Collegiate Church (MacGibbon and Ross)

  • 6. Crichton Collegiate Church, choir south door

  • 7. Crichton Collegiate Church, exterior, from north east

  • 8. Crichton Collegiate Church, exterior, from south east

  • 9. Crichton Collegiate Church, exterior, from south west

  • 10. Crichton Collegiate Church, exterior, north side nave from north

  • 11. Crichton Collegiate Church, exterior, north side nave from south

  • 12. Crichton Collegiate Church, exterior, north transept and north side nave

  • 13. Crichton Collegiate Church, exterior, north transept from north

  • 14. Crichton Collegiate Church, exterior, north window

  • 15. Crichton Collegiate Church, exterior, south side choir and south transept

  • 16. Crichton Collegiate Church, interior chancel arch from east

  • 17. Crichton Collegiate Church, interior, choir from east

  • 18. Crichton Collegiate Church, interior, sacrament house

  • 19. Crichton Collegiate Church, interior, cap

  • 20. Crichton Collegiate Church, interior, chancel arch north respond and north transept east respond

  • 21. Crichton Collegiate Church, interior, chancel arch, south respond cap

  • 22. Crichton Collegiate Church, interior, choir from west

  • 23. Crichton Collegiate Church, interior, crossing and north transept

  • 24. Crichton Collegiate Church, interior, sedilia

  • 25. Crichton Collegiate Church, interior, south transept arch west cap

  • 26. Crichton Collegiate Church, piscina in south transept