Kilconquhar Parish Church

Kilconquhar Church, arcade

Summary description

The partial shell of the north nave aisle with a three-arched arcade survives, and there is a decayed knight’s effigy. A new church was built in the same churchyard in 1820-21.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown(1)

As the result of a dispute between Bishop Roger de Beaumont of St Andrews and Duncan, earl of Fife, concerning the churches of Kilconquhar and Kilmany, Bishop Roger resigned all of his claimed rights in Kilconquhar to Duncan, who then granted the church to the Cistercian nuns of North Berwick.(2)  Duncan’s son, Malcolm, confirmed the grant between c.1204 and 1213, probably in which latter year King William also confirmed the gift.(3)  A perpetual vicarage appears to have been instituted shortly thereafter, one Thomas of Tyninghame, vicar of Kilconquhar, being recorded pursuing a legal action at some point between 1204 and June 1250.(4)  The church was certainly appropriated to the nunnery before 1275, when it seems that the vicarage of Kyncroach recorded in the accounts of the papal tax-collector in Scotland is to be identified as a mangled form of the name of the parish.(5)  Perpetual vicars are named thereafter throughout the remainder of the pre-Reformation period.(6)

There appears to have been a dispute rumbling on between the nuns and the lords of Kilconquhar into the middle decades of the thirteenth century over claims by the latter to the right of patronage of the church arising from their infeftment in the lands by Duncan, earl of Fife.  On 20 February 1267, Adam of Kilconquhar, earl of Carrick by marriage, formally renounced his claim for himself and his heirs, while he also warranted the nuns in 1000 merks if his brother, William, or his heirs, attempted to claim the advowson.(7)  Bishop Gamelin of St Andrews ratified Adam’s agreement concerning Duncan earl of Fife’s gift of the church to the nuns, regardless of whether that grant had been made before or after the infeftment of Adam’s predecessors in Kilconquhar, and confirmed his quitclaim of all of his family’s claims in the patronage of the church.(8)  The nuns’ rights of presentation are referred to in various subsequent acts, as for example in 1423 in the course of a dispute over possession of the vicarage.(9)

Although they were perpetual vicars, it emerges that the incumbents were also obliged to payu an annual pension from the fruits of their vicarage to the nuns.  In 1463 a dispute over the payment was resolved when the then incumbent accepted after an appeal that he was liable to pay 12 merks annually rather than the 18 merks originally imposed on him.(10)  At the Reformation it was recorded that the parsonage still pertained to the nuns, valued at £131 17s 2d, while the vicarage was held by one John Hamilton and valued at £80 annually, from which he paid the nuns £20 annually as a pension.(11)


1. Mackinlay suggested that St Monan was the dedicatory patron of the church but Taylor and Markus found no evidence to support that view.  J M Mackinlay, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland. Non-Scriptural Dedications (Edinburgh, 1914), 493; S Taylor and G Markus, The Place-Names of Fife, iii, St Andrews and the East Neuk (Donington, 2009), 284-6.

2. Carte Monialium de Northberwic (Bannatyne Club, 1847), no.6 [hereafter North Berwick Charters].

3. NRS, GD45/13; North Berwick Charters, no.7; Regesta Regum Scottorum, ii, The Acts of William I, ed G W S Barrow (Edinburgh, 1971), no.516.

4. NRS GD45/13/289; North Berwick Charters, no.28.

5. A I Dunlop (ed), ‘Bagimond’s Roll: Statement of the Tenths of the Kingdom of Scotland’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi (1939), 37.

6. See, for example, Calendar of Papal Letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon 1394-1419, ed F McGurk (Scottish History Society, 1976), 70-71, 367; Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, ii, 1423-1428, ed A I Dunlop (Scottish Record Society, 1956), 3, 19 [hereafter CSSR, ii].

7. NRS GD45/13/284; North Berwick Charters, nos 19, 20.

8. NRS GD45/13/285; North Berwick Charters, no.21.

9.CSSR, ii, 19.

10. NRS GD45/13/290.

11. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 77, 146, 148, 167.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Following a dispute in 1202 over the church between bishop Roger of St Andrews and Duncan, earl of Fife, the church was granted by Duncan to the nuns of North Berwick. A perpetual vicarage was set up and the nuns received a pension from the fruits.(1)

Mackinlay suggests that the church was probably dedicated to St Monan.(2) Place Names of Fife vol. 3 makes no references to a dedication for the church.(3)

1388-1405 Malcolm de Aula holds the vicarage. Obtained by William de Strathbrock (rector of Dunlop) in exchange with Malcolm in 1405.(4)

1418 Robert de Strathbrock (familiar of Henry, bishop of St Andrews), provided on death of Thomas de Mathin, the church being currently unlawfully detained by a certain person.(5)

1423 Petition by John, bishop of Ross whilst at the curia on behalf of his kinsman John Naper, accused George de Penicuik of unlawfully detaining the church. George replies claiming that he was presented on the death of Thomas de Tyninghame by the nuns of North Berwick ‘to whose presentation it pertains’. (value £20). George still holds the church, along with Penicuik in 1429.(6)

1463 (4 Oct) Reference to the vicar in Act by Robert of  Menteith, priest of Glasgow, notary public, sealed by the official of St Andrews, in presence of Thomas de ‘Luperdale’, doctor in law from the college of Abernethy in Dunblane, canon and official of St Andrews, of Mr William ‘Knollis’, rector of ‘Quhitsum’ and David Ramsay, procurators of North Berwick Nunnery, and Mr Alexander de ‘Penycuyk’ [Penicuik], vicar of Kilconquhar on the other hand. The vicar was condemned to pay an annual rent of 18 marks for the vicarage and £3 6d for the expenses. He then appealed to the official, and the final sentence was 12 marks of annual rent to be paid at the Pentecost and on St Martin's day. He does not have to pay the expenses.(7)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage with priory of North Berwick, value £131 17s 2d. Vicarage held by John Hamilton, value £80, from which £20 goes to the nuns of North Berwick.(8)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of vicarage £10.(9)

1698 (18 June) Visitation of Kilconquhar by the Presbytery of St Andrews noted that the ‘fabric of the church has always been maintained and upheld by the heritors of the parish, that since the present minister’s (James Drummond) entry and several years before they have contributed nothing to the maintenance (the poor money has been used for a number of recent repairs). The presbytery organise a meeting with the heritors to discuss the problems).(10)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Alexander Small): [No reference to fabric of the parish church ]

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev William Ferrie, 1837): ‘The parish church, which stands in the village of Kilconquhar, was built in 1820 and 1821’.(11)

[no reference to earlier buildings]

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches: (George Hay): 1821, R and R Dickson, architects; refurnished 1921; medieval arcade extant. Cockpen, Kilconquhar and Cranstoun are of identical style by the same architects (‘T’ plan churches).(12)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 99.

2. Mackinlay, Non-Scriptural Dedications, p. 493.

3. Taylor & Markus, The Place-Names of Fife. Volume Three, pp. 284-286.

4. CPL, Clem, 141, CPL, Ben, 70-71, 130-31, CPP, 632.

5. CPL, Ben, 367, CPP, 608.

6. CSSR, ii, 3 & 19, CSSR, iii, 59-61, CPL, vii, 256. [1] NRS Papers of the Maule Family, Earls of Dalhousie, GD45/13/290.

7. NRS Papers of the Maule Family, Earls of Dalhousie, GD45/13/290.

8.  Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 77, 146, 148 & 167.

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

10. NRS Presbytery of St Andrews, Minutes, 1693-1698, CH2/1132/20, fols. 225-227.

11. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1837), ix, 333.

12. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp. 121 & 257.


NRS Papers of the Maule Family, Earls of Dalhousie, GD45/13/290.

NRS Presbytery of St Andrews, Minutes, 1693-1698, CH2/1132/20,.

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 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.

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.

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

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

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

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

Architectural description

Following a dispute in 1202 between Bishop Roger and Duncan, earl of Fife, Kilconquhar was granted - or perhaps re-granted - to the Cistercian nunnery of North Berwick. The cure was in the hands of a vicar pensioner, from whom North Berwick also received a pension.(1) There was a dedication by Bishop David de Bernham on 12 July 1243 that cannot be related to the structural remains of the building.(2)

In 1820-21 the medieval church was replaced by an imposing new building a short way to its west, within the same churchyard. It is set out to a cruciform plan with a lofty western tower, and was designed by Richard and Robert Dickson, who closely followed a design for Cockpen Church, designed by Richard Crichton, for which they were the contractors.(3)

Despite its abandonment, parts of the medieval church were retained in adapted form for use as burial enclosures. The information provided by the structural remains is supplemented by a series of drawings of a range of dates in the first decades of the nineteenth century by the Rev. John Sime.(4) These show a rectangular chancel and a nave with a north aisle of four bays. Mural recesses in the south and north walls of the chancel may be for a piscine and an aumbry respectively.

On the south side at the east end of the nave there is a large rectangular lateral projection, labelled as the Bucklyvie Aisle. There is a porch against the south wall, opposite the third bay from the east of the north arcade.

Sime shows the chancel as having had its roof set at a lower level than that of the nave, suggesting that, before the addition of the north aisle, the church was a two-cell structure. The nave roof is shown as sweeping over without break both the central vessel and north aisle, a common treatment, that was also to be seen at Aberdour and Muthill, for example.

Internally, Sime shows the usual rather haphazardly contrived provision of seating at the lower level, with the west bay of the north aisle partitioned off as a session room. There were lofts at several points. In the western part of the chancel was the Balcarres loft, with what appear to be retiring rooms in the eastern part. The Earlsferry loft at the west end of the nave is shown as approached by a forestair on the west side of the porch, while the Kilconquhar loft in the easternmost aisle bay was served by a stair to its east. In the third aisle bay from the east was a loft for the elders.

The principal surviving parts of the medieval building are the three eastern arcade arches that opened into the north nave aisle, and the outer wall of the third aisle bay from the east. There may also be other parts that have been absorbed into the walls of burial enclosures, including perhaps a length of the east wall of the Bucklyvie Aisle.

The arcade piers are cylindrical, rising from what appear to have been chamfered bases. Most of the caps have flared bells between the roll necking and the vertical face of the abacus, though the westernmost pier has simple mouldings. The round arches have two orders of chamfers. It would be hazardous to date the arcade on the basis of such simple detailing, though it is most likely to have been constructed in the fifteenth or earlier sixteenth century.

In the wall to the east of the arcade there is a corbel a short way above the adjacent arch springer. Since this was at the junction of the nave and chancel, it may be wondered if this was provided as a support to a rood screen and its loft. The single surviving bay of the north aisle outer wall is constructed of carefully squared masonry. It is pierced by a rectangular door with chamfered jambs and lintel.

Sime depicts an effigy in the south-west corner of the Bucklyvie Aisle. This was presumably the armoured effigy that is still to be seen in the churchyard, in a badly decayed state.


1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 99.

2. Alan Orr Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, Edinburgh, 1922, vol. 2, p. 523. 

3. National Records of Scotland, HR 194/3; New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 9, p. 333; John Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Fife, London, 1988, pp. 259-60; Howard Colvin, Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 4th ed., New Haven and London, 2008, p. 312.

4. Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, DP 032759.



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

  • 1. Kilconquhar Church, arcade

  • 2. Kilconquhar Church, arcade east respond

  • 3. Kilconquhar Church, arcade pier

  • 4. Kilconquhar Church, arcade west respond cap

  • 5. Kilconquhar Church, effigy

  • 6. Kilconquhar Church, exterior north aisle wall

  • 7. Kilconquhar Church, arcade (Walker)

  • 8. Kilconquhar Church, drawings by John Sime, 1

  • 9. Kilconquhar Church, drawings by John Sime, 2

  • 10. Kilconquhar New Church, exterior, 1

  • 11. Kilconquhar New Church, exterior, 2

  • 12. Kilconquhar New Church, interior, 1

  • 13. Kilconquhar New Church, interior, 2