Marykirk / Aberlethnott / Aberluthnot Parish Church

Marykirk Church, Thornton and Barclay Aisles

Summary description

Demolished after a new church was built nearby in 1806, leaving only two burial aisles.

Historical outline

Dedication: Our Lady

First mentioned in respect of its dedication by Bishop David de Bernham of St Andrews on 9 August 1242,(1) it had probably already been annexed by that date to the Hospital of St Germains in East Lothian.(2)  It occurs next in a surviving medieval source on 5 June 1291, when the pope granted an indulgence of 140 days for visitors to the church of St Mary, Aberlethnot on four main Marian feasts and the anniversary of foundation of the church.(3)

No charters survive to record the date of its gift to St Germains, the donor, or the nature of any settlement relating to the cure.  It is only in 1428 and again in 1434 that the church is mentioned explicitly as having been annexed to the Hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem (St Germains).(4)  The nature of the vicarage settlement is recorded in a supplication to Rome dated 9 July 1448, when the cure was identified as a vicarage pensionary, held by John Deacher MA, and valued at £2 sterling.(5

The pensioner was normally one of the brethren, which resulted in tensions within the community.  Between 4 March 1470 and 7 September 1477, disputes within the Hospital resulted in litigation at the curia between John Chambers and Patrick Pyot over the vicarage.(6) Both the parsonage and vicarage fruits were disjoined from the Hospital in 1497 and annexed instead to Bishop William Elphinstone’s new college at Aberdeen, which award was made fully effective on the second foundation of King’s College in 1505.(7)  The annexation remained in force at the Reformation, when the value of the teind sheaves was assessed at £200 and the vicarage at £20, which was disbursed to 46 masters and students at the University of Aberdeen.(8)

Aberlethnot was the focus of the spiritual life of the rising local family of Strachan of Thornton in the late fifteenth century.  Endowments made by that family to the church of ‘Abirluthnott’ have been thought to relate to Arbuthnot, but Thornton lies within the boundaries of the former parish of Aberlethnot.  A Great Seal confirmation by King James IV, dated 10 November 1490, confirmed at mortmain the grant by John Strachan, lord of Thornton, and David Strachan, his son and heir apparent, feuar of the same, dated 7 July 1490.  Their grant, which comprised of rents from various properties within their lordship in the Mearns, was made to sustain a chaplain – named as sir Thomas Smith and his successors - at the altar of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the aisle dedicated to that saint which they had built on the south side of the parish church.(9

This original endowment was increased by David Thornton on 31 October 1514 and confirmed at mortmain under the Great Seal on 2 June 1517.  The new gift was made in augmentation of the chaplainry founded by himself and his late father and granted a further annual rent of 43s 4d from lands in Thornton to sir Alexander Young and his successors, chaplains, celebrating at the altar of the BVM in the aisle on the south side of the parish church of Arbuthnot.  This inceased endowment was made for the souls of David and of Margaret Hay his wife.(10)

Notes

1. A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (London, 1922), 522 [Pontifical Offices of St Andrews].

2. I B Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society, 1967), 3.

3. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland; Papal Letters, ed W H Bliss, i (London, 1893), 538 [hereafter CPL].

4. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iii, 1428-32, eds A I Dunlop and I B Cowan, (Scottish History Society, 1970), 32-33; Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iv, 1433-1447, eds A I Dunlop and D MacLauchlan, no.135.

5. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, v, 1447-71, eds J Kirk, R J Tanner and A I Dunlop (Glasgow, 1997), no.181.

6. CPL, xii, 337-38, 356-57; CPL, xiii, 58.

7. Cowan, Parishes, 3.

8. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 405.

9. RMS, ii, no.1987.

10. RMS, iii, no.171.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Church held by hospital of St Germain (East Lothian, Bethlemite order) by at least 1418 (but probably earlier). Vicarage served by one of the Brethren. Both the parsonage and the vicarage fruits were annexed to the university of Aberdeen in 1497, becoming fully effective by 1505.(1)

1291 (5 June) Indulgence of 140 days for visitors to the church of St Mary, Aberluthnot on four main Marian feasts and the anniversary of foundation of the church.(2)

1428 Church mentioned as annexed to the hospital of St Mary of Bethlehem.(3)

1448 (9 Jul) John Deacher MA recorded as vicar pensionary, value £2 marks sterling.(4)

4 Mar 1470-7 Sept 1477 Problems with mother house to which church is in union; litigation between John de Camera and Patrick Pyot over vicarage.(5)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church annexed to Kings College, Aberdeen. Overall value 200 marks. Vicarage 20 marks ‘quhen it was well paid’. Return by Alexander Skene, procurator of the college.(6)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of kirk of £80.(7)

1610 (9 Sept) Visitation of the church finds the minister (Richard Lownane) to be competent and the kirk fabric to be in good estate and the gentlemen have promised to repair the windows with glass. The kirk yard dykes need to be built according to the Act of Parliament.(8)

1682 (26 July) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Fordoun finds that the minister (Robert Rait) has a stipend of 350 marks. Being asked concerning the fabric of the church it was answered that it needed no present reparation save only the pointing of the east… which was to be gone about individually, the heritors agreed that the fabric of the church be repaired as necessary.(9)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev John Brymer, 1793): ‘The parochial church, which is ill situated in the middle of the village, has long been in a state of decay and bears the marks of great antiquity. It is 96 feet long and 17 broad. There is an aile (aisle) on the fourth wall, opposite the pulpit (built 1615). The church received a new roof 6 years ago (1787), in the previous ceiling were carved a cross, a crown, St Peter’s keys, the armorials of bishops Elphinstone and Dunbar and several other eminent bishops. There was also removed an escutcheon of the family of Lord Halkerston, thought to be a fine painting’.(10)

‘The manse was built in 1732’.(11)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev AC Low, 1842): ‘Parish church (built in 1806) occupies a site near the centre of the village, different from that of the old one which stood in the middle of the church yard’ (no further mention of the old church).(12)

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches (George Hay): 1806; renovated 1893; of former kirk 1615 Thornton aisle and Balmacewan vault extant.(13)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 3.

2. CPL, i, 538.

3. CSSR, iii, 32-33.

4. CSSR, v, no.181.

5. CPL, xii, 337-38, 356-57, CPL, xiii, 58.

6. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 405.

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

8. NRS Records of the Synod of Fife, 1610-1636, CH2/154/1, fols. 2 & 3.

9. NRS Presbytery of Fordoun, Records of Visitations, 1677-1688, CH2/157/13, fols. 41-44.

10. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1793), xviii, 612-13.

11. Ibid, 614.

12. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1842), xi, 302, 306.

13. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, p. 260. 

Bibliography

NRS Presbytery of Fordoun, Records of Visitations, 1677-1688, CH2/157/13.

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

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

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1447-71, 1997, ed. J. Kirk, R.J. Tanner and A.I. Dunlop, 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.

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.

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

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

Architectural description

Marykirk Church, which was initially known as Aberlethnott, was a possession of the hospital of St Germain’s in East Lothian from at least 1418, and possibly from the time of the hospital’s foundation in the later twelfth century. The vicarage was served by one of the Bethlehemite brethren of the hospital.(1) There was a dedication by Bishop David de Bernham on 9 August 1241.(2) In 1497 steps were taken to appropriate both parsonage and vicarage to King’s College in Aberdeen, a change which became effective in 1505.

By the late eighteenth century the church was in a poor condition. According to the minister of the time it had:

long been in a state of decay, and bears the marks of great antiquity. It is 96 feet [29.25 metres] long and 17 [5.2 metres] broad. Its walls are much sunk in the earth, and the floor and area are in different places, at least 4 feet below the burial ground on the outside of the wall. There is an aisle, on the south wall, opposite to the pulpit where the Strachans, Forbeses and Foulertons, who were proprietors of Thornton, have been buried. In this aile, built anno 1615, there is a stately monument to D. Elizabeth Forbes, lady of Thornton; and of Sir James Strachan Bart. Her husband....On the ceiling of this aisle, which is of oak, there is a numerous list of honourable and ancient families (with their coats of arms beautifully painted,) who were connected with the family of Sir James Strachan of Thornton. In the east corner of his aile there is a Font; and on the north-east wall of the church 2 presses near to each other, in which were preserved the sacred utensils....About 6 years ago the church received a new roof. By taking down the old one, which was oak, there was destroyed a ceiling of the same wood, on which was beautifully carved a cross and crown, St Peter’s keys, the armorials of bishop Elphingstone and Dunbar, and several other eminent bishops.(3)

The heraldic roof with the arms of medieval bishops of Aberdeen, which is mentioned in that account is a particularly sad loss. Evidently dating from after the appropriation of the church to King’s College, it may be wondered if it bore any similarities with Bishop Gavin Dunbar’s heraldic roof over the nave of Aberdeen Cathedral. The references to the two ‘presses’ in the wall suggest that the church was provided with liturgical fixtures, perhaps as part of a late medieval refitting of the chancel.

The main body of the medieval church was demolished after a new church was constructed a short distance to its south west in 1806,(4) a building that was modified by James Matthews in 1893.(5) The only relics of the previous building are the two aisles, which flanked it to south and north, the former for the owners of the Thornton estate, and the latter for the Barclays of Balmakewan. Those aisles are the only reminders of the width of the medieval building.

The Thornton Aisle was dated by inscription to 1615, and opened into the church through a wide roll-moulded arch. Of the Balmakewan Aisle, which is said to have been dated 1653, only a barrel vaulted burial chamber survives, though it may be wondered if there was an upper part for a loft. A skewputt with the arms of Barclay and the initials of a member of the family have been re-set at the south-east angle of the aisle. This was done at the time of a campaign of consolidation of the two aisles in 2008.

Notes

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

2. Alan Orr Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, 1922, vol. 2, p. 522

3. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99, vol. 18, pp. 611-12.

4. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 11, p. 306.

5. Jane Geddes, Deeside and the Mearns, an Illustrated Architectural Guide, Edinburgh, 2001, p. 42.

Map

Images

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

  • 1. Marykirk Church, Thornton and Barclay Aisles

  • 2. Marykirk Church, Barclay Aisle

  • 3. Marykirk Church, Barclay Aisle, inscribed stone at south east corner

  • 4. Marykirk Church, Barclay Aisle, interior

  • 5. Marykirk Church, Thornton Aisle, from north east

  • 6. Marykirk Church, Thornton Aisle, from south east

  • 7. Marykirk churchyard, gravestone, 1

  • 8. Marykirk churchyard, gravestone, 2

  • 9. Marykirk Church

  • 10. Marykirk Church, 2