St Cyrus / Ecclesgreig Parish Church

St Cyrus, Ecclesgreig, old churchyard, 2

Summary description

A fragment of the original parish church possibly survives in a churchyard by the shore. In 1632 a new church was built on higher ground, of which the shell of an aisle survives. A third church was built close by the church of 1632 in 1787, which was itself enlarged in 1830 and rebuilt in 1853-54.

Historical outline

Dedication: Giric/Gregorius

The naming of the church after the Pictish cleric Giric or Gregorius points to an early origin for the church of Ecclesgreig or St Cyrus as it is nowadays known.  Mackinlay suggested a double dedication to Gregory and Cyrus, ‘a child martyr from the East’,(1) but this seems to be an unnecessary and unsubstantiated interpretation of the dual form of the place-name.  When it first appears in a surviving record it is named as ‘the church of St Ciricus of Eglesgirg’, Ciricus being a latinised form of Gric.(2)  The recording of the name occurs in the charter whereby King William granted the church to the canons of St Andrews, issued in around 1172 or 1173.  The grant was to become effective after the death of the incumbent parson, Richard, who was the king’s clerk of the liverance, suggesting that the king had been using his patronage of Ecclesgreig to provide for the senior administrative members of his household.

Between 1189 and 1195 the king confirmed his grant in a fuller grant which included also the chapel of St Regulus and the half ploughgate of land within which the chapel was located, plus the land associated with the ‘abbacy of Eglesgirg’ and rights of common pasture alongside the king’s thane and the other tenants of that land.(3)  This reference to the lands attached to the abbacy of Ecclesgreig is one of the few historical records relating to what seems to have been a small community of unreformed Celtic clergy at this site.  An unnamed prior of the priory of Ecclesgreig was the donor of an unfortunately mutilated settlement in favour of the St Andrews canons, but no other record appears to survive.(4)

Confirmations of the grant of the church and the various items of land associated with the old monastery to the canons were issued by successive bishops of St Andrews and by popes Alexander III, Lucius III, Gregory VIII, Clement III and Innocent III.(5)  The simple confirmation of possession of the church suggests that all that had been granted by King William was the right of presentation, with the church remaining a free parsonage into the thirteenth century.  In January 1240/1, however, that ended when Bishop David de Bernham confirmed it to the canons in proprios usus, reserving ‘honest sustentation’ for a perpetual vicar to serve the cure.(6)  The parsonage remained annexed to the priory at the Reformation, with the church continuing as a vicarage perpetual. At that date it was held by Mr John Wilkie, regent of St Leonard’s College in St Andrews, whose duties were dispensed by a curate; the vicarage was valued at £53 6s 8d.(7)

Two years after his appropriation of the parsonage to St Andrews priory, Bishop David dedicated the church of St Cyricus the Martyr of Ecclesgreig on 7 August 1242.(8)  The vicarage of ‘Eglesgirg’ or ‘Eghisgyrg’ is recorded in the accounts of the papal tax-collector in Scotland in the mid-1270s, assessed at an annual sum of 20s 12d.(9)

Notes

1. J M Mackinlay, Ancient Church Dedications in Scotland. Non-Scriptural Dedications (Edinburgh, 1914), 376, 457.

2. Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree in Scotia (Bannatyne Club, 1841), 218 [hereafter St Andrew Liber]; Regesta Regum Scottorum, ii The Acts of William I, ed G W S Barrow (Edinburgh, 1971), no.134 [hereafter RRS, ii].

3. St Andrews Liber, 229-230; RRS, ii, no.352.

4. St Andrews Liber, 27; I B Cowan and D E Easson, Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland, 2nd edition (London, 1976), 48.

5. St Andrews Liber, 59, 63, 68, 71-81, 138, 149-52, 232-6; Scotia Pontificia: Papal Letters to Scotland before the Pontificate of Innocent III, ed R. Somerville (Oxford, 1982), nos 82, 119, 148, 149.

6. St Andrews Liber, 166.

7. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 395.

8. St Andrews Liber, 348; A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (Edinbugh, 1922), 522.

9. A I Dunlop (ed), ‘Bagimond’s Roll: Statement of the Tenths of the Kingdom of Scotland’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi (1939), 36, 61.

Summary of relevant documentation

Medieval

Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Granted to the priory of St Andrews by William I. The patronage alone appears to have been held until 1240, when the church was fully granted to the priory by St Andrews bishop David de Bernham, as a perpetual vicarage, the parsonage remaining with the priory.(1)

According to Mackinley the church was dedicated to St Gregory and Cyrus (a child martyr from the east).(2)

1172 x 1173 William I gave (dare) the church of St Cyrus (eglesgirg) with chapels, tithes, and lands to the priory; it stipulated a life-tenure for Richard, the ‘clerk of the liverance’, who can be indentified with Richard de Prebenda.(3)

1172 x 1178 Richard, bishop of St Andrews, gave (dare) to the priory the church of St Cyrus with the apdaine land. In addition, the bishop released to the priory the renders (redditus) owed to the bishops of St Andrews. This is likely a reference to cáin from the apdaine land. The bishop also confirmed the chapel of St Regulus and a half ploughgate of land. The bishop reserved the payment of synodals.(4)

1178 x 1184 Hugh, bishop of St Andrews, confirmed (general confirmation) the church of St Cyrus with chapels, lands, and tithes as a gift of William I.(5)

1178 x 1184 Hugh, bishop of St Andrews, confirms (general confirmation) the church of St Cyrus with chapels, lands, and tithes as a gift of Bishop Richard.(6)

1189 x 1195 William I gave (dare and pro anima) the church of St Cyrus with its apdaine land and the chapel of St Regulus with a half ploughgate of land. The charter also returned the church of Inchture, which was apparently also part of the collateral damage in the schism.(7)

 1189 x 1195 William I gave (dare) the church of St Cyrus with the apdaine of Ecclesgreig and common pasture throughout the whole parish to the priory; and the chapel of St Regulus with half a ploughgate of land.(8)

1189 x 1195 David, earl of Huntingdon, gave (dare) to the priory the cáin and conveth which the canons and their men owed him from their land of St Cyrus.(9)

1198 x 1199 Roger, bishop of St Andrews, confirms (general confirmation) the church of St Cyrus with apdaine land; and the chapel of St Regulus with a half ploughgate of land which pertains to the chapel as gifts of William I. In 1198 x 1199, Roger, bishop of St Andrews, confirms (gen. conf.) the church of St Cyrus with chapels and apdaine land pertaining to the church; Also, the rents which the bishop held as a gift by Bishop Richard (presumably cáin from the apdaine land).(10)

1198 x 1199 Roger, bishop of St Andrews, confirms (general confirmation) the chapel of St Rule with a half ploughgate of land adjacent to the chapel as a gift of Bishop Richard. 1228, Alexander II confirmed (general confirmation) the church of St Cyrus with its apdaine land and common pasture; and the chapel of St Regulus with half a ploughgate of land by its ‘ancient marches’ as a gift of William I.(11)

1174 x 1178 The priory received a papal confirmation from Alexander III of certain lands and churches including church of St Cyrus with tithes. 1183, Pope Lucius III confirmed the church of St Cyrus with its chapels as a gift of Bishop Richard. The church of St Cyrus is confirmed by Gregory VIII in 1187, Clement III in 1188, Innocent III in 1206, and Honorius III in 1216.(12)

1240 David de Bernham granted the churches of Markinch, Cupar ‘in Fife’, and St Cyrus ‘with all lands, tithes, and obventions’ to the cathedral priory in proprios usus.(13)

1246 Pope Innocent IV confirmed (general confirmation) that the cathedral priory held the advowson of the churches of Dairsie, Cupar, Markinch, Scoonie, Portmoak, St Cyrus, Lathrisk and Kennoway.(14)

1403 (21 Oct)Andrew de Lawater (1st year lecturer at the University of Orleans) provided to canonry of Ross, described as rector of Eglescrieg.(15)

1526 (13 Dec) reference in an unrelated charter to a tenement of Mr Robert Lawson, vicar of Eglisgreg [St Cyrus, Kincardineshire], situated in St Andrews.(16)

1532 William Lawson mentioned as holding vicarage.(17)

Post-medieval

Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage with priory of St Andrews, value £66 13s 4 d. Perpetual vicar James Wilkie, (regent of St Leonard’s College, St Andrews); value £40 for Wilkie and 20 marks paid to the curate (total £53 6s 8d).(18)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of vicarage £17 15s 6 2/3d.(19)

[New church in 1632. Synod/Presbytery and Kirk session records are not extant for that year]

1664 (16 Mar) Brethren agree a plan for the division of the church to accommodate the heritors. Lord Arbuthnott, has his seat opposite the south side of the east gabell wall. The laird of Lawreston has his aisle with the room on the south side of the wall from the east end of his pend to the door by which the minister enters the pulpit. A further reference is made to the Laird of Morphies (?).(20)

1683 (8 Aug) A visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Fordoun finds the minister (John Lammie) to have a stipend of 520 marks. Asked concerning the fabric of the church it was answered that it was in good care, it is appointed by the presbytery that the fabric of the church should be maintained by all the heritors according to their rents.(21)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev William Walker, 1792):

‘About 160 years ago (c.1632) the church of Ecclesgrieg stood below the Heughs of St Cyrus, on the shore by the mouth of the North Esk. In the year 1623 this very incommodious situation was changed, a new one was built on an eminence a little above the Heughs of St Cyrus, more convenient to the parish for its easy access and centrical situation. By reason of the increase of the population this church became too small to accommodate the parish. It was also ill lighted and narrow and going fast to decay. The heritors saw the benefit of building  a new one and in the year 1787 they finished a church.’(22)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Alexander Keith, 1841): ‘No remains of the (pre-1623) church now exist, but the site is marked by the old church yard, still used as the principal burying ground in the parish’.(23)

‘Church built in 1788 was enlarged in 1830’.(24)

Notes

1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 58.

2. Mackinley, Non-Scriptural Dedications, p. 376 & 457.

3. RRS, ii, no. 134.

4. Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree, p. 138.

5. Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree, pp. 147-9.

6. Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree, pp. 144-7.

7. RRS, ii, no. 333. A charter exists which suggest that the church of Inchture was granted to the priory by Bishop Richard, RRS, i, no. 240. That charter is a confirmation by Malcolm IV (1163 x 1164). However, a charter by William I uses the language of a grant (dare) (1165 x 1170). It appears that the use of the language in that charter is because the king is granting the chapel of Kinnaird, as a dependent on the church of Inchture, to the priory (RRS, ii, no. 23). William also gives credit to Bishop Richard for the grant of the church in a general confirmation from around the same time (1165 x 1169), RRS, II, no. 28.

8. RRS, ii, no. 352.

9. Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree, p. 238.

10. Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree, pp. 149-52.

11. Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree, pp. 232-6.

12. Scotia Pontificia, nos. 82, 119, 148 & 149, Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree, pp. pp. 71-6, 76-81.

13. Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree, p. 166.

14. Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree, pp. 92-5.

15. CPL, Ben, 114.

16. StAUL, Burgh Charters and Miscellaneous Writs, B65/23/238c.

17. Prot Bk of John Foular, 1528-34, no. 423.

18. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 16, 17 & 395.

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

20. NRS Presbytery of Fordoun (alias Mearns), Minutes, 1662-1685, CH2/157/1, fols. 16-17.

21. NRS Presbytery of Fordoun, Records of Visitations, 1677-1688, CH2/157/13, fols. 53-56.

22. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1792), xi, 105.

23. New Statistical Account of Scotland, xi, 269.

24. Ibid, 292.

Bibliography

NRS Presbytery of Fordoun (alias Mearns), Minutes, 1662-1685, CH2/157/1.

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

StAUL, Burgh Charters and Miscellaneous Writs, B65/23/238c.

Calendar of Papal letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon, 1976, ed. F. McGurk, (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.

Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree in Scotia, 1841, ed. T. Thomson (Bannatyne Club), Edinburgh.

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

Protocol Book of John Foular, 1528-34, 1985, ed. J. Durkan (Scottish record Society), Edinburgh.

Regesta Regum Scottorum, Acts of Malcolm IV (1153-65), 1960, Edinburgh.

Regesta Regum Scottorum, Acts of William I (1165-1214), 1971, Edinburgh.

Scotia pontificia papal letters to Scotland before the Pontificate of Innocent III, 1982, ed. R. Somerville, Oxford.

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

Architectural description

St Cyrus, which was earlier known as Ecclesgreig, was granted to the Augustinian cathedral priory of St Andrews by William I, at a date between 1172 and 1178. Initially it was only the patronage that was granted, but in 1240 Bishop David de Bernham granted the church to the uses of the priory, after which the cure was a perpetual vicarage.(1) Two years later that same bishop carried out a dedication, on 7 August.(2)

The parish church has a complex structural history the earlier phases of which were summarised by the minister in the Statistical Account:

About 160 years ago, the church of Ecclesgreig stood below the Heughs of St Cyrus, on the shore, nigh the mouth of North Esk. The churchyard there still continues, and is used as a burying ground by the parish in general. In the year 1632, this very incommodious situation of the church was changed, and a new one built on an eminence, a little above the Heughs of St Cyrus, more convenient to the parish, from its easy access, and centrical situation. By reason of the increase of the population, this church became too small to accommodate the parish. It was also ill lighted, and narrow, and going fast to decay. The heritors saw the necessity of building a new one; and in the year 1787, they finished a church, which, for elegance and accommodation, has met with universal approbation. It is adorned with a small spire, which is seen at a considerable distance.(3)

That third church was itself enlarged in 1830,(4) but was rebuilt in 1853-4 by David Mitchell.(5)

The church on the shore was presumably in origin the medieval building, and its site was still identifiable within the graveyard in the 1870s,(6) though nothing is now visible of the church. However, one possibility that may be worth considering is that a section of wall which has been retained behind the substantial pedimented monument of Alexander Webster, who died in 1759, could be a relic of the church that had been adapted for use as a burial enclosure after its abandonment for worship in 1632.

Of the church of 1632, on the high ground at Kirkton of St Cyrus, no more than a rectangular aisle that once projected laterally from the south side of the church remains; this has survived through adaptation as a burial enclosure for the Porteous family. A number of stones appear to have been recycled from the medieval church in the construction of the aisle. These include what appears to be a jamb stone with a filleted roll flanked by hollows, in the spandrel above the east end of the arch from the aisle into the church; an early sixteenth-century date appears likely for this stone. There is also a length of dogtooth-decorated string course, presumably of thirteenth-century date, that has been re-used as part of a wall-head cornice at the north-west corner of the aisle.

The aisle opened into the church through a wide round arch on its north side, and there was a rectangular door and a small window in its west wall. Rather puzzlingly, the part of the church to the west of the aisle appears to have been a little wider than the part to its east. The reason for concluding this is that the west impost of the arch into the church continues a short distance along the aisle’s west face as a string course.

The aisle appears likely to have risen a little above the general wall-head level of the rest of the church. Below the cornice at the north-west corner is a carved panel with the initials IS and EC in relief, both as single letters and as a combined monogram.

The north-east angle of the aisle evidently had to be rebuilt when the rest of the church was demolished. The quoins that were formed at that time are partly made up of window jamb stones, each with a rounded arris and a glazing chase.

The church of 1853-4, which may incorporate parts of the church of 1785 and 1830, is a basically rectangular structure that is treated more richly on the west side, which looks towards the village. It has a slender north tower with octagonal buttresses, and a needle spire.

Notes

1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 58.   

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

3. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, vol. 11, p. 105.

4. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 11, p. 292.

5. Jane Geddes, Deeside and the Mearns, an Illustrated Architectural Guide, Edinburgh, 2001, p. 37.

6. A. Jervise, Epitaphs and Inscriptions from Burial Grounds and Old Buildings in the North-East of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1875, vol. 1, p, 36.

Map

Images

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  • 1. St Cyrus, Ecclesgreig, old churchyard, 2

  • 2. St Cyrus, Ecclesgreig, old churchyard, 1

  • 3. St Cyrus, Ecclesgreig, old churchyard, Morphie Aisle

  • 4. St Cyrus, Ecclesgreig, old churchyard, memorial to Alexander Webster, d. 1759

  • 5. St Cyrus, Ecclesgreig, old churchyard, monument

  • 6. St Cyrus, 17thC church, from north west

  • 7. St Cyrus, 17thC church, from west

  • 8. St Cyrus, 17thC church, inscription at south-west corner

  • 9. St Cyrus, 17thC church, interior, re-used stones at north-west corner

  • 10. St Cyrus, 17thC church, south-west corner

  • 11. St Cyrus, present church