Kirkforthar / Forthir / Forthar Parish Church

Kirkforthar Church, 1

Summary description

Abandoned in about 1636; the fragmentary shell of a structure is said to be what remains of the church, though it would be small for a church.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

The church of Kirkforthar has left almost no record in pre-Reformation sources.  It is first mentioned in a surviving source in the 1270s, when as the church of Forthir it was listed in the accounts of the papal tax-collector in Scotland, assessed for taxation at half a merk.(1)  As a ‘church’ it was evidently an independent parsonage and remained as such throughout the pre-Reformation period.  Named incumbent rectors are recorded from the early fifteenth century.(2)

At the Reformation the unappropriated parsonage and vicarage were together valued at £40, from which a 20 merks fee was deducted for the curate.(3)  It was also noted that there was a vicarage pensionary of Kirkforthar pertaining to David Donald, which had associated with it 3 acres of land, with three cows’ grass with their followers and one horse, valued at £4; also 15 teind lambs, worth annually 30s; 2 stones of cheese; 2 stones of teind wool, amounting to £3; and 3 stones of teind cheese, worth 30s annually.  The total value of the pensionary vicarage was £10.(4)


1. A I Dunlop (ed), ‘Bagimond’s Roll: Statement of the Tenths of the Kingdom of Scotland’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi (1939), 38.  Dunlop wrongly identified this church as Forfar, which was a dependent chapel within the parish of Restenneth into the seventeenth century and had no independent existence in the medieval period.

2. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, i, 1418-1422, eds E R Lindsay and A I Cameron (Scottish History Society, 1934), 36; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, vii, 1417-1431, ed J A Twemlow (London, 1906), 103; Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iv, 1433-1447, eds A I Dunlop and D MacLauchlan (Glasgow, 1983), 637, 736, 843; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, xii, 1458-1471, ed J A Twemlow (London, 1933), 429; Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, xvii, part 1, 1492-1503, ed A P Fuller (Dublin, 1994), 327, 851; Liber Officialis Sancti Andree (Abbotsford Club, 1845), nos 67-72.

3. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 86.

4. Kirk (ed), Books of Assumption, 84.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Listed as a parsonage in Bagimond’s Roll, the patronage of the church was with the archbishops of St Andrews at the Reformation.(1)

1419 John de Dagles holds church (20 marks value).(2)

1441 John Williams rector (student at university of Cologne) dead, John de Balfour (MA) provided to the church (value £16).(3)

1465 Alexander Young (BA in canon law) described as rector.(4)

1501-03 James Kyncrag is rector.(5)

1530 (25 Feb) James Symson, rector of Kirkforthar and official of St Andrews in the archdeaconry of Lothian adjudicates dispute of the legitimacy of Elizabeth Colville of Ochiltree (his brother David disputes that the marriage of her father, William to Elizabeth Kennedy was legitimate).(6)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage and vicarage valued at £40; 20 marks reserved to pay the curate. Vicar pensionary held by David Donald, value £10 from various teinds.(7)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of parsonage and vicarage £13 6s 8d.(8)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev John Thomson, 1791): ‘At the beginning of the seventeenth century the small parsonage of Kirkforthar was annexed to Markinch. The ruins of the church of Kirkforthar are still to be seen; they stand in the middle of the old church yard’.(9)

[In account for Markinch, no reference in New Statistical Account to ruins.]


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 120.

2. CSSR, i, 36, CPL, vii, 103.

3. CSSR, iv, nos. 637, 736, & 843.

4. CPL, xii, 429.

5. CPL, xvii, nos. 851 & 327.

6. Liber Officialis Sancti Andree, no.67. Also involved in several other cases, no.67-72.

7. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 84 & 86.

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

9. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1791), xii, 535.


Calendar of entries in the Papal registers relating to Great Britain and Ireland; Papal letters, 1893-, ed. W.H. Bliss, London.

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 1433-47, 1983, ed. A.I. Dunlop and D MacLauchlan, Glasgow.

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.

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

Architectural description

The parish of Kirkforthar, also known as Forthir remained unappropriated throughout the middle ages, within the patronage of the bishops of St Andrews.(1) The parish was suppressed and annexed to that of Markinch, in the early seventeenth century, though it seems that many local people continued to prefer burying their dead within the old churchyard. The annexation may have taken place around 1636, when the minister’s stipend was augmented to take account of it.(2)

What is thought to be the remains of the church and churchyard are about half a kilometre south-east of Kirkforthar Farm. The site is a mound surrounded by a wall, near the centre of which are the lower courses of a rubble-built rectangular structure measuring 10.4 metres from east to west by 5.9 metres from north to south. The only feature is a door in the west wall, which is evidently a secondary insertion. If this was the church, it was very small for that function.


1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 120; Simon Taylor, The Place-Names of Fife, Donington, vol. 2, 2008, pp. 400-01.

2. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99, vol. 12, p. 535.



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

  • 1. Kirkforthar Church, 1

  • 2. Kirkforthar Church, 2