Stirling St Ninian / Kirkton / Eaglis Ninian Parish Church

Stirling St Ninian, tower from south east

Summary description

Fragments of the south and east walls of the late medieval chancel were adapted as a post-Reformation burial enclosure; the west tower was reconstructed in 1734. The church was destroyed when in use as a powder magazine in 1746, and a new church was built to its east in 1750-511 

Historical outline

Dedication: St Ninian

There appears to have been a church on this site from a very early date, serving an extensive parish that in the twelfth century still served most of the area south of the Forth around Stirling and extending south and east into the valley of the River Carron and west into the Gargunnock Hills.  It is first recorded in the twelfth century in the record of an agreement made at Edinburgh Castle in the presence of King David I and his son, Earl Henry, between Bishop Robert of St Andrews and Geoffrey, abbot of Dunfermline, concerning the relationship between the church ‘of Eccles’ and the chapel of the castle at Stirling, which David had granted to the monks of Dunfermline.(1)  The agreement narrated that on the day that King Alexander I (1107-1124) had had the castle chaple dedicated he had given to it the teinds of his demesne lands in ‘the soke of Stirling’, whilst all other teinds continued to pertain to the church of Eccles.  Around 1144 x 1158 the church was granted to the canons of Cambuskenneth by Bishop Robert, along with its dependent chapels of Dunipace and Larbert, the gift being confirmed by Prior Robert and the chapter of St Andrews.(2)

Papal confirmation of the grant was received from Pope Alexander III in 1164.(3)  The confirmation refers to the grant as being made by royal gift which, if true, suggests that David I had been involved in some way.  No charter of David to this effect survives but, given the loss of so many of Cambuskenneth’s original muniments, this is not evidence to the contrary.  Nevertheless, King William’s confirmation of 1165 x 1171 makes no mention of any grant by his grandfather, referring simply to a confirmatory charter of Bishop Richard of St Andrews.(4)  Bishop Richard’s charter likewise makes no mention of any previous royal grant.(5)  Around 1200 Bishop Roger de Beaumont confirmed St Ninian’s in the possession of the abbey and in 1207 Pope Innocent III confirmed their possession in proprios usus.(6)

A rededication of the church by Bishop David de Bernham of St Andrews took place on 16 August 1241.(7)  The annexation of the church to Cambuskenneth had become effective by the 1270s, when in the accounts of the papal tax-collector in Scotland for the year 1275-6 it was noted that the vicarage of ‘Kyrkecon’ had yielded the substantial figure of 46s 8d.(8)  The appropriation is revealed by this record to have extended only to the parsonage teinds of the parish church and its dependent chapels, the cure for most of the thirteenth century being a vicarage perpetual.  In 1295, however, Bishop William Fraser of St Andrews annexed the vicarage also, citing the poverty of the abbey, and permitted the canons in future to serve the cure with chaplains of their own choice.(9)  The then current vicar, William Fowlis, was to resign the cure into the hands of the convent.  Papal confirmation of this annexation was received from Pope Gregory XI on 6 November 1372, his bull permitting the canons to serve the church with two chaplains thereafter.(10)

An attempt was made in a supplication to the pope of 15 July 1420 to dissolve the union.(11) The supplication, made on behalf of the parishioners by Adam Cristinson, a priest of Dunkeld diocese, claimed that the parish church of ‘Kirkton of St Ninian near Stirling’ was held by the abbot and convent of Cambuskenneth by the ‘pretext of a union, annexation and incorporation’ made during the Great Schism by Pope Clement VII (1378-94).  This union, it was alleged, had no reasonable, or at least true, causes.  The abbey, it was stated, caused the church to be served by a temporal vicar, ‘or more truly a hireling’, which suggests that a pensionary vicarage rather than the permitted chaplains had been instituted.  Cristinson’s supplication went on to state that the abbey was more than sufficiently well endowed and did not need the annexation of the parish church to sustain, and claimed that the parishioners wanted the cure of their souls to be entrusted to their own rector rather than a mere ‘hireling’ vicar.  The parshioners therefore supplicated that the pope, adhering to the constitution of the Council of Constance concerning such matters, would end the union, and provide the church (valued at £70 of old sterling), to Adam Cristinson.  The effort failed and the church remained fully appropriated to Cambuskenneth.

By a Great Seal charter of 20 May 1500, King James IV granted at mortmain to two chaplains, namely sir John Whitehead and sir William Melville, priests and their successors, celebrating within the church of St Ninian the confessor near Stirling, annual rents from lands near Stirling amounting to the substantial total of 50 merks.(12)  It is probable but cannot be confirmed beyond doubt that these two men represented the two chaplains through whom the cure was served at that time.  The substantial royal endowment provided a platform upon which to build a grander scheme.  A Great Seal charter of King James V, dated 26 June 1528, stated that since Alexander, abbot of Cambuskenneth, intended to divert the fruits of the parish clerkship of St Ninians to fund certain prebendaries, and that there already existed three chaplainries founded by King James IV, one at the abbey and two at the parish church, he instructed the transfer of the chaplainry from the abbey to the parish church.(13)   The king granted permission to the abbot and to John lord Erskine, sheriff of Stirling, and to the nobles, knights and parishioners of the parish, faculty to erect a college within the parish church.  There is no indication that a collegiate church was, in fact, instituted thereafter.(14)

There is one reference to an additional altar and chaplainry within the church.  On 19 June 1550 letters under the Privy Seal were directed to Sir William Cristesoun concerning the altarage and service of St Sebastian ‘situated and founded within the parish church of St Ninian’.(15)  There is no subsequent explicit reference to this altar.

At the Reformation both parsonage and vicarage continued to be annexed to the abbey of Cambuskenneth and their fruits were accounted for within the total revenues of the monastery.  It was noted that Mr Alexander Chalmers held a chaplainry within the parish church (not stated as to whether this was that of St Sebastian or one of those founded by King James IV) plus chaplainries in the abbey and at Holy Rude in Stirling, together valued at £10.(16)


1. Registrum de Dunfermelyn (Bannatyne Club, 1842), no.4 [hereafter Dunfermline Registrum].

2. Registrum Monasterii S Marie de Cambuskenneth (Grampian Club, 1872), no.109 [hereafter Cambuskenneth Registrum].

3. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no.24; Scotia Pontificia: Papal Letters to Scotland before the Pontificate of Innocent III, ed R Somerville (Oxford, 1982), no.55.

4. Regesta Regum Scottorum, ii, The Acts of William I, ed G W S Barrow (Edinburgh, 1971), no.36.

5. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no.112.

6. Cambuskenneth Registrum, nos 26, 59.

7. A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (Edinburgh, 1922), 521 [Pontifical Offices of St Andrews].

8. A I Dunlop (ed), ‘Bagimond’s Roll: Statement of the Tenths of the Kingdom of Scotland’, Miscellany of the Scottish History Society, vi (1939), 55.

9. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no.114.

10. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no.119.

11. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, i, 1418-22, eds E A Lindsay and A I Cameron (Scottish History Society, 1934), 215.

12. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, ii, 1424-1513, ed J B Paul (Edinburgh, 1882), no.2536.

13. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, iii, 1513-1546, eds J B Paul and J M Thomson (Edinburgh, 1883), no.601.

14. I B Cowan and D E Easson, Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland, 2nd edition (London, 1976), 228.

15. Registrum Secreti Sigilli Regum Scotorum, iv, 1548-1556, ed J Beveridge (Edinburgh, 1952), no.807.

16. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 551.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: The church with its chapels of Dunipace and Larbert was granted to Cambuskenneth by Robert, bishop of St Andrews. At first the abbey only enjoyed the parsonage teinds, with the cure a vicarage perpetual, but this too was annexed to the monastery  in 1295. By the sixteenth century the cure had become a vicar pensioner.(1)

1144x53 Church given to the abbey of Cambuskenneth by Robert, bishop of St Andrews, confirmed by prior of St Andrews and chapter.(2)

1164 Church confirmed to abbey by papal bull of Alexander III, states that it was a royal gift (perhaps David I involved in original grant).(3)

1165x71 Confirmation of possession of the church of Egglis by William I (to be held as in the charter of Richard of St Andrews) with chapels, teinds etc.(4)

c.1170 Confirmation of gift of church by Richard, bishop of St Andrews.(5)

1195 Papal confirmation by Celestine III, church gift by Roger, bishop of St Andrews with chapels of Dunipace and Larbert.(6) [no reference to royal donor]

c.1200 Confirmed to the abbey by Roger, bishop of St Andrews.(7)

1207 Confirmed to the abbey in ‘proprios usus’ by Pope Innocent III [suggestion by G Ratcliff that this early use of the phrase is irregular and suspicious].(8)

1295 Vicarage annexed to Cambuskenneth; charter citing poverty of the abbey. Current vicar William de Fowlis to resign.(9)

1372 Papal bull by Gregory XI confirming union of the vicarage to Cambuskenneth. Church to be served by 2 chaplains.(10)

1500 (30 May) Double chaplaincy founded in the church by James IV (no dedications mentioned).(11)

1527 Walter Stewart, vicar of Monikie, granted a 20 marks pension and a fixed glebe from the church.(12)

1544 James Murray is chaplain and curate of the church of St Ninian’s near Stirling (personal chaplain of the Cunningham of Polmuirs family).(13)

Altars and chaplaincies

St Sebastian

1550 (19 June) Letters to Sir William Cristesoun concerning the altarage and service of St Sebastian situated and founded within the parish church of St Ninian near Stirling.(14)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of chaplainry of St Ninian’s £3 6s 8d .(15)

1581 (8 Aug) On the erection of the presbytery of Stirling, Patrick Gillespie was minister of the church.(16)

1583 (2 July) Reference to ‘a place appointed for penitents’ in the parish church of St Ninian’s.(17)

1586 (11 Nov) A visitation of the church finds the minister Patrick Gillespie of good report, and the fabric of the ‘church at very good point within and without, except the choir pertaining to the abbot of Cambuskenneth is somewhat ruined in the roof and the windows unglassed’.  It is ordained that there should be no further burial in the church.(18)

1587 (13 June) Following the death of Patrick Gillespie, three men brought before the kirk session to be examined and interviewed (to test their knowledge of literature, their manner of living and their conversation) over the post.(19) The elders choose two of the three (Henry Laing and Henry Levingstone); both are tested through a public reading of a text and presenting a sermon in front of the parishioners (Henry Levingstone eventually chosen).(20)

1588 (10 Aug) Question raised in the Synod and passed on the Presbytery of Stirling regarding the size of the parishes of St Ninian’s and Falkirk. Some parishioners of St Ninian’s rarely attend service and as an excuse cite the long distance required to travel to the church (due to the strange shape of the parish).(21)

1590 (10 Feb) Thomas Davie, Andrew Allan, Alex Allan younger and senior and Robert Anderson, called before the presbytery of Stirling for breaking of the floor of the church of St Ninian’s to make a burial, contrary to the act of the General Assembly. They also admit to acting violently when admonished by the minister.(22)

1591 (22 July) Visitation of the churches of Bothkenner and St Ninian’s by the Presbytery of Stirling finds the ministers to be diligent with further details recorded in the book of visitation [unfortunately no longer extant].(23)

1592 (28 Nov) Report to the Presbytery of Stirling (probably stemming from a visitation of 21 Nov) that the kirk of St Ninian’s is prophaned by ‘d..ting and pinsaw’ [unclear] and certain other monuments which were born before the corpse of the late Sir Robert Drummond of Carnock…whereby the eyes and minds of the people are drawn away from hearing and learning of the word of by the said monuments. Presbytery orders the elders to order the heritors to remove them.(24) 5 Dec the minister reports that they have not been removed. After long reasoning in the matter with Robert Drummond (son and heir) two options are provided, either, that all the monuments be removed from the church or, that a board be put up, that may hide all such of the said monuments from the people. A sufficient wall is to be built from one side to the other, separating a piece of the east end of the kirk to be used for burial.(25)

1683 (25 July) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Stirling finds that the fabric of the church was found in sufficient repair by a yearly pension paid out of the box for that effect. Further reference to the church 1683 (5 Sept) noted that the steeple was ruinous and needs to be built anew with convenient bells (recommends to the elders and heritors that a voluntary stent or a use of mortification money should be used to fund this).(26)

1750 (29 Apr) Petition to the presbytery by James Mackie, minister at St Ninian’s on behalf of the heritors, notes that the church of St Ninian’s should have been built and seated with less than two years, yet it is not near finished after 4 years and a half. A subsequent visitation on 13 September reprimands the heritors [arguments amongst them with regard to the seats have delayed the building of the church].(27)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev Mr Sheriff, 1792): ‘In 1746, the church, which the Highland men had converted into a magazine, was blown up…. It is remarkable enough that the steeples remained entire. It stands at a considerable distance from the present church. The new church was built soon after [the explosion].(28)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev C Grieg, 1841): ‘The parish church was built in 1750’.(29) [no reference to the Steeple]

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches (George Hay): 1750; recast 1940; of previous kirk 1734 tower extant, also 1774 bell and c.1735 gate piers.(30)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 124.

2. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no.109.

3. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 24, Scotia pontificia, no. 55.

4. RRS, ii, no. 36.

5. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 112.

6. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 25.

7. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 59

8. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 26.

9. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 111.

10. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 119

11. RMS, ii, no. 2536.

12. Cambuskenneth Registrum, no. 120.

13. SCA Stirling, Prot Bk of James Graham, 1543-75, B66/1/3, fol. 13.

14. RSS, iv, no. 807.

15. Donaldson, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, 16.

16. Stirling Presbytery Records, p.1.

17. Stirling Presbytery Records, p. 144.

18. Visitation of the diocese of Dunblane and other churches, pp. 57-59.

19. Stirling Presbytery Records, p. 267.

20. Stirling Presbytery Records, pp. 269-70, 274, 276-77, 280 & 287.

21. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1581-90, CH2/722/1, fol. 360.

22. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1581-90, CH2/722/1, fol. 509.

23. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1589-96, CH2/722/2, fol. 154.

24. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1589-96, CH2/722/2, fol. 234.

25. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1589-96, CH2/722/2, fol. 237.

26. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1662-1688, CH2/722/7, fols. 221-225 & 225.

27. NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1745-1760, CH2/722/14, fols. 154-155.

28. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1792), xviii, 403.

29. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1841), viii, 334.

30. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp. 77, 174, 230 & 276


NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1581-90, CH2/722/1.

NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1589-96, CH2/722/2.

NRS Presbytery of Stirling, Minutes, 1745-1760, CH2/722/14.

SCA Stirling, Prot Bk of James Graham, 1543-75, B66/1/3, fol.

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.

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

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

Registrum monasterii S. Marie de Cambuskenneth, 1872, ed. W. Fraser, (Grampian Club), 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.

Stirling Presbytery Records, 1581-1587, 1981, ed. J. Kirk (Scottish History Society), Edinburgh.

Visitation of the diocese of Dunblane and other churches, 1586-89, 1984, ed. J. Kirk (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh.

Architectural description

A combination of its alternative name of Eccles and the dedication to St Ninian suggest that this church occupies a site of some antiquity. The earliest artefact associated with the site is a cross-head with wedge-shaped arms,(1) which has been compared to a cross head at Hoddom that has been dated by one writer to the tenth or eleventh centuries,(2) though its condition is too weathered for certainty over the date.  There was certainly a church here by around 1150, when it is mentioned in a charter.(3) The large number of chapels that were once dependent on St Ninian’s, including Dunipace, Gargunnock, Kirk of Muir and Larbert,(4) would be consistent with its having been a minster or mother church. It is therefore not surprising that in its final medieval state it appears to have been a building of considerable size, consisting of a rectangular chancel, an aisled nave and a western tower, with a total length of around 43 metres.

The principal structural evidence for the existence of nave aisles in the medieval church is the spurs of masonry that project on each side of the rebuilt western tower, which evidently embodied parts of a predecessor tower. On the north side the spur appears to incorporate the south jamb of a window of uncertain date, above which is a short section of cavetto cornice. A relocated section of an arcade pier has been set up as a monument adjacent to the north-east corner of the tower. It is of cylindrical form, with a re-set moulded cap, that can be dated to the fifteenth century.

The most complete medieval fragment of the church is a 7.65 metre ashlar-built length of the south chancel wall and sufficient of the east chancel wall to indicate that it was 7.75 metres wide. The east wall was evidently blank, presumably to accommodate an altar retable internally. The junction of east and west walls was unbuttressed, but there is a buttress to the west of the east bay, with a single offset and a gabletted head. The wall rises from a chamfered base course, and there is a cavetto wall-head cornice. The complete window in the south flank of the east bay is rectangular and of three lights, with no cusping at the light heads. The reveals have a hollow chamfer corresponding to that of the mullions, with an outer hollow chamfer framing the window as a whole; there is no hood moulding. In the western stump of the south chancel wall there is the eastern reveal of a second window, at the point where the eastern bay of the chancel has been walled off to form a burial aisle. Internally the surviving window has broadly splayed jambs, but the form of the rear-arch is now unknown. Towards the south end of the east wall of the chancel there is said to be an ogee-headed piscina recess with two associated arched recesses, but this was covered by collapsed masonry and vegetation at the time of the visit. In view of the high level of finish of the chancel, it would be attractive to associate it with a proposal to erect a college within the church of 1528, and certainly the architectural details would not be in consistent with such a date; the proposal was evidently abortive, however.(5)

It is possible that at some point after the Reformation, the chancel was adapted for use as a burial place for the Murray of Touchadam family, a function it was certainly to serve after the abandonment of the church as a place of worship. However, while in 1586 it was said that the main body of the church was in good repair, the choir, which was still regarded as a possession of the abbot of Cambuskenneth was ‘somewhat ruined in the roof and the windows unglassed’.(6)

Major works were carried out on the church in the early eighteenth century, and it is said that an aisle, which was presumably a lateral projection, was added in the ministry of Mr Logan (1695-1727).(7) This was presumably part of the work that was said to have been carried out by the mason Robert Henderson of Alloa by 1725,(8) though no structural remains of it have survived.

The greatest architectural contribution of this period was the reconstruction of the tower in 1734 by Robert Henderson and Charles Bachop, with a contracted cost of £100.(9) It is an unusually elegant structure of four rubble-built storeys demarcated by string courses, and with block-rusticated quoins. The belfry stage has arched windows below a strongly marked cornice, above which rises an ashlar dome of parabolic profile, with urn finials at the angles; the dome itself is capped by a circular domed cupola from which a tall weather vane emerges. Against the west side of the tower, and clearly contemporary with it, is the Auchenbowie burial enclosure, entered through handsome gatepiers built by Henderson and Bachop.

The remodelled church had a short life. Its use as a powder magazine by the Jacobite army in the rising of 1745 led its destruction when the magazine exploded in 1746, with some loss of life.(10) It was decided that the best course of action was to abandon the old church, apart from the tower and the burial enclosure within the eastern part of the chancel, and to build a new church to its east. This was completed in 1750-51.(11)


1. Illustrated in Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of Stirlingshire, Edinburgh, 1963, vol. 1 pl. 42B.

2. C.A. Ralegh Radford, ‘Hoddom’, Proceedings of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, vol. 31, 1952-3, p. 190.

3. A.C. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters prior to 1153, Glasgow, 1905, no clxxxii.

4. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland, Scottish Record Society, 1967, p. 124.

5. Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, vol. 3, no 601.

6. Visitation of the Diocese of Dunblane and other Churches, 1586-89, ed. James Kirk (Scottish History Society), 1981, pp. 57-59.

7. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 8, p. 321.

8. John Gifford and Frank Arneil Walker, The Buildings of Scotland, Stirling and Central Scotland, New Haven and London, 2002, pp. 749-50. 

9. W.B. Cook, 1902-3, ‘The Old Parish Church of St Ninian’s’, Transactions of the Stirling Natural History and Archaelogical Society, vol. 10, 1902-3, pp. 105-122, at p. 118.

10. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-9, vol. 18, p. 403.

11. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 8, p. 321.



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

  • 1. Stirling St Ninian, tower from south east

  • 2. Stirling St Ninian, tower lower storey south face

  • 3. Stirling St Ninian, tower lower storey from north-east

  • 4. Stirling St Ninian, choir south flank

  • 5. Stirling St Ninian, choir window, interior, 1

  • 6. Stirling St Ninian, choir window, interior, 2

  • 7. Stirling St Ninian, choir, window reveal at south-west corner

  • 8. Stirling St Ninian, relocated pier fragment