Eassie Parish Church

Eassie Church, exterior, from the south

Summary description

The shell of a rectangular church. Replaced by a new church on a different site in 1833.

Historical outline

Dedication: St Fergus?

Possibly dedicated to St Fergus,(1) despite the presence at the church of a fine if somewhat weathered Class II Pictish cross-slab,(2) there are no surviving documentary references to the church at Eassie before the middle of the thirteenth century.  The first mention of the church is in 1256, when Bishop David de Bernham of St Andrews was recorded as dedicating the building on 15 May.(3

Eassie, recorded as ‘Essy’ and ‘Essi’, is identified as an independent parsonage in the rolls of the papal tax-collector in Scotland in the mid-1270s. In the first full year of taxation it was assessed at 36s 8d.  While by no means amongst the highest valuation for an unappropriated parish church, this figure points to a substantial level of annual income attached to Eassie, making it a desirable property to secure.  Reference to a lost charter of King Robert I in favour of the monks of Newbattle, granting them the rights of presentation, suggests that the king had attempted to grant this valuable parish to that abbey,(4) but the absence of any reference to any gift in the surviving cartulary of Newbattle indicates that the attempt failed.  It is possible that the abbey only received the grant of the patronage of the church, for in 1395 one Michael Cairncross was collated to Eassie at the request of the abbot and convent of Newbattle, who claimed to have possessed the right of presentation ‘from ancient times’.(5)  There is no subsequent reference to any Newbattle interest in the church and it is likely that it was unable even to make good its claims to the patronage.

At the Reformation the church remained an independent parsonage, with no clear indication of with whom even the right of presentation lay.  At that point it was held by one Hugh Curry, with the revenues recorded in two separate entries, one totalling £145 15s 9d and the other £152 6s 8d.(6)

Notes

1. J M Mackinlay, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland. Non-Scriptural Dedications (Edinburgh, 1914), 212.

2. J R Allen, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1903), part III, 218-9; H Coutts, Ancient Monuments of Tayside (Dundee, 1970), 57-8.

3. A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (Edinburgh, 1922), 526 [Pontifical Offices of St Andrews].

4. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, i, 1306-1424, ed J M Thomson (Edinburgh, 1882), Appendix 2, no.15.

5. Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon 1394-1419, ed F McGurk (Scottish History Society, 1976), 40, 46.

6. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 72, 411-2.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Granted to abbey of Newbattle by Robert I, the grant appears to have been ineffective as the parsonage remained independent and within the patronage of the crown.(1)

According to Mackinley the church was dedicated to St Fergus.(2)

1378 Adam de Peblis holds the church of Eassie (dispensed to hold along with a prebend of Glasgow).(3)

1381 Thomas Baxter described as rector of the church.(4)

1395 Malcolm de Carincors collated to Eassie (mentioned as being in the patronage of Newbattle), value £20. Probably ineffective as in the same year William of North Berwick was also collated to the church.(5)

1406 Mandate to examine William Stevenson (later bishop of Orkney (1415-19 and Dunblane, 1419x28x29), described as rector of the church of Eassie, on a charge of murdering Thomas Lemmon (charge brought by Robert de Feris, clerk of St Andrews).(6)

1409 A fuller explanation of the above incident;

‘William Stephani had had some goods stolen by a certain Thomas Lemmon, a layman, in conjunction with Walter de Haliburton and some others, and William later meeting Thomas had struck him a blow on the head from which he died within 30 days’.

William receives absolution from Benedict for the crime, described as ‘accidental murder’.(7)

1419 William Mordaci, provided to rectory on the promotion of William Stevenson to bishopric of Orkney, exchanges church for Kirkforthar with John de Dalgles. In the same year there is a dispute between John and William Stevenson who supplicates to be dispensed to hold Eassie as well as Orkney.(8)

1422 (17 Mar) James Haldenstone, prior of St Andrews, excommunicates Richard of North Berwick, rector of Eassie, for non-collection of camerial dues.(9)

1429-1430 On-going dispute over church; Richard of North Berwick is re-provided to Eassie (value £12). In litigation with a John William [no reference to victor].(10)

1511 George Ker (MA and son of Michael Ker the former rector; no reference to whether he was legitimate or not) is collated to the church, value £16.(11)

1555 Hugh Curry, rector of Eassie and dean of Christianity at Linlithgow.(12)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage and vicarage value £52 6s 8d. Parsonage held by Hugh Curry.(13)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of parsonage and vicarage £46 7s 5 1/3d.(14)

1600 (21 Mar) The General Assembly ratifies a supplication by the Presbytery of Meigle that the parishes of Eassie and Nevay be united and a new parish church be built in the midst of the two parishes. This was done partly in respect of the fewness of parishioners (less than 500 combined), partly out of respect for the commodity of the place (the furthest extent of the parishes not being too far apart, and partly because it was impossible to sustain 2 ministers at the said two kirks.(15)

1610 (19 Sept) That day it was declared that the churches of Eassie and Nevay are united by parliament. The greatest parts of the parishioners live nearest to Eassie and may most commodiously compear in the same and also it is found that the church of Nevay is not of bounds sufficient to receive the parishioners.(16)

[it appears that the new church planned in 1600 was never built]

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Dr Playfair, 1793): ‘There is a small church in each parish where divine service is performed alternately. ..Both are mean fabrics’.(17)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev James Flowerdew, 1842): ‘There were formerly two places of worship in the united parishes. They were situated at the eastern and western extremities, and are now in ruins. A commodious and elegant new church was built a few years ago’.(18) [c.1839?]

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotlan, 57.

2. Mackinley, Non-Scriptural Dedications, p. 212.

3. CPL, Clem, 12.

4. CPP, 562.

5. CPL, Ben, 40 & 46.

6. CPL, Ben, 157.

7. CPL, Ben, 195 & 203.

, i, 34, 36 & 84-85.

9. Copiale Prioratus Sanctiandree, pp.36 & 403-04.

10. CSSR, iii, 24 & 136-37.

11. CPL, xix, no.761.

12. Prot Bk  of Thomas Johnsoun, 1528-1578,  no. 375.

13. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 72 & 411-12.

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

15. Acts and Proceedings of the General Assemblies of the Kirk of Scotland, iii, 961.

16. NRS Records of the Synod of Fife, 1610-1636, CH2/154/1, fols. 10-13.

17. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1793), xvi, 220.

18. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1842), xi, 483.

Bibliography

NRS Records of the Synod of Fife, 1610-1636, CH2/154/1.

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 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 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 1428-32, 1970, ed. A.I. Dunlop; and I.B. Cowan, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh.

Copiale Prioratus Sanctiandree. The Letter-Book of James Haldenstone, Prior of St Andrews (1418-1443), 1930, ed. J. H. Baxter, Oxford.

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.

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

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

Protocol Book of Dominus Thomas Johnsoun, 1528-1578,  1920, eds. J. Beveridge & J. Russell (Scottish Record Society) Edinburgh.

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

Architectural description

The likelihood of Eassie having been the site of early Christian worship appears to be attested by the survival of a magnificent cross slab, which stands to a height of some two metres. In 1793 it was said to lie ‘in a rivulet and must soon be defaced,(1) but by 1903 it had been removed to the church, and it is now housed in a glazed enclosure at the west end of the church. It has an interlace-decorated cross on one side, with angels flanking the head and a hunting scene below, while on the other side is a complex design with symbols, human figures and animals.(2)

There was an ineffective attempt to grant Eassie to the Cistercian abbey of Newbattle by David I, though it appears to have remained an independent parsonage throughout the middle ages.(3) Bishop David de Bernham carried out one of his dedications here on 15 May 1246.(4)

On 21 March 1600 the General Assembly agreed to the request of the Presbytery of Meigle that the parishes of Eassie and Nevay should be united, and a new church built between them.(5) But it seems that it was only ten years later, on 19 September 1610, that the union of the parishes was put into effect by parliament.(6)

However, rather than a single new church being built to serve the conjoined parishes, as suggested in 1600, both churches remained in use, ‘where divine service is performed alternately’, though both were dismissed as being ‘mean fabrics’.(7) There are indications of a range of post-reformation repairs and modifications. The only one of these to be firmly dated is the western of the two doorways in the south wall, which has an eroded inscription on the lintel recorded as stating ‘17 Mr J.O. Mnr 53’, presumably in reference to the minister James Ogilvy.

A new church was eventually built on a more convenient site between Eassie and Nevay in 1833 to the designs of David Paterson, being later modified in 1915 by Thoms and Wilkie.(8) By 1842 it was said of both old churches that they were ‘now in ruins’.(9) The later church of the joint parishes is itself no longer in use for worship.

After abandonment the old church at Eassie was divided by fences into a series of burial enclosures, the main structural loss being the westernmost part of the south wall, which was broken down to permit the southward expansion of the burial enclosure at that point. As it now stands, the shell of the church is a rubble-built rectangle of 18.7 metres from east to west and 6.9 metres from north to south. Apart from the breach at the west end of the south wall it is structurally largely complete to the wall head.

The window and door openings appear to be largely of post-Reformation date. There are no openings in the north wall. In the south wall there is a pair of rectangular windows around the mid-point, on each side of which is a rectangular doorway; near the east end of the wall is another rectangular window, and it is likely there was a similar window in the removed section of wall to the west.

The west wall, which is surmounted by a square birdcage bellcote, has a single elevated central rectangular door that would have opened to a loft. The east wall has a similar elevated door, together with a second door at ground level; that latter door appears to be a relatively recent insertion since its jambs are rubble-built, and it was perhaps cut to give access to the westernmost burial enclosure. The gables have had straight coping.

The evident adaptation of the church for reformed worship has led to a general assumption that it is essentially a post-medieval structure. However, its elongated proportions and oriented alignment strongly suggest that, at the least, it is on the medieval site, and this is supported by its location at the highest point of a mounded churchyard. Beyond that, there appears to be no obvious reason not to assume that there has been some retention of medieval fabric. In this connection it may be noted that there is a horizontal building break at about mid-height of the north wall, which could suggest that a medieval wall has been heightened, possibly around the time that galleries were inserted.

Notes

1. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99, vol. 16, p. 219.

2. J. Romilly Allen and Joseph Anderson, The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1903, pt. 3, 218-19.

3. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 57.

4. Alan Orr Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, Edinburgh, 1922, vol. 2, p. 526.

5. Acts and Proceedings of the General Assemblies of the Kirk of Scotland, ed. T. Thomson (Bannatyne Club), 1839-45, vol. 3, p. 961.

6. National Records of Scotland, Records of the Synod of Fife, 1610-36, CH2/154/1, fols 10-13.

7. Statistical Account, vol. 16, p. 220.

8. John Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Dundee and Angus, New Haven and London, pp. 442-3.

9. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 11, p. 483.

Map

Images

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

  • 1. Eassie Church, exterior, from the south

  • 2. Eassie Church, exterior, from the north

  • 3. Eassie Church, exterior, from the south west, 1

  • 4. Eassie Church, exterior, from the south west, 2

  • 5. Eassie Church, exterior, from the west

  • 6. Eassie Church, exterior, south-west door, inscibed lintel

  • 7. Eassie Church, exterior, west gable

  • 8. Eassie Church, interior, looking west

  • 9. Eassie Church, cross slab, 1

  • 10. Eassie Church, cross slab, 2

  • 11. Eassie Church, plan (MacGibbon and Ross)

  • 12. Eassie churchyard, memorial, 1

  • 13. Eassie churchyard, memorial, 2

  • 14. Eassie-Nevay Church