Strafontain / Trefontains Parish Church

Strafontain, possible site of medieval church

Summary description

Abandoned at the Reformation, leaving no upstanding remains.

Historical outline

Dedication: unknown

The early history of this parish church is utterly obscure.  It appears in neither the so-called ‘Bagimond’s Roll’ records of the papal taxation of 1274-6 nor does it appear as a parish church in the later thirteenth-century tax-roll for the archdeaconry of Lothian.  There is a long-standing tradition that Strafontain was the location of a cell of the nunnery of Berwick-upon-Tweed but the sources of that tradition are of doubtful accuracy.(1)  In the late thirteenth-century Lothian tax-roll, however, there is a reference to ‘Trefontaynes – the cell of the same’, with a verus valor of £6 and paying tax of 6s.(2)  There is no reference given to the monastery of which it was a cell but it immediately precedes the entry for the nunnery at Berwick in the roll.  There is, however, no reference to either a cell or appropriated churches in the nunnery’s tax details.

In 1391, with Berwick in the hands of the English and at the height of the Great Schism which saw Scotland and England supporting the Avignonese and Roman popes respectively, King Robert III issued a charter granting all of the nunnery’s properties in Scotland to the possession of the canons of Dryburgh.(3)  This was simply the first move in a protracted series of appeals and counter-appeals over possession of the nunnery lands and rights that continued well into the fifteenth century.(4)  None of the records of this process specifically identifies Strafontain/Trefontains as part of the nunnery’s portfolio that was being transferred into the possession of the canons.  There is, however, a note which describes Trefontains as a ‘church or hospital’ and which confirms that it was granted to Dryburgh in 1436-7.(5)

If the record of its award to Dryburgh is correct, the annexation of Strafontain to that house was very short-lived, for in January 1451/2 the lands and teinds of Strafontain were annexed to the new collegiate church of Dunglass, the annexation of the lands (but not the teinds) being confirmed by King James II under the Great Seal on 11 January 1451/2.(6)  A 1476 confirmation the endowment of the collegiate church by Alexander Hume lists its possessions as the churches of Hutton and Edrom and the teinds of Wester Upsettlington and Trefontains.(7)  This differentiation between churches and lands and teinds might indicate that while in the case of Hutton and Edrom the churches were being granted in proprios usus at Strafontain the patronage of the church did not pass to the collegiate church but control of its resources did, but it is made clear in post-Reformation records (see below) that the Humes held the patronage. 

How diligently the prebendary attended to his duties of maintaining the church at Strafontain is unknown.  In 1555 and 1556, however, Strafontain was named amongst twenty-two parish churches in the deanery of Merse whose fabric and furnishings were in an unacceptably poor state.  The Dean of Christianity of the Merse intimated to Archbishop John Hamilton that the buidlings’ condition was as much the result of lay patrons’ failures as it was the failure of appropriators to fulfil their responsibilities.  Hamilton instructed the dean to undertake a proper investigation and to seize the garbal and other teinds necessary to effect any required repairs.(8)  It is unlikely that any work had progressed far before the dramatic events of the Reformation intervened.

It is only in the immediately post-Reformation records of the income of benefices in Scotland that firm evidence for the annexation of Strafontain to the prebend in Dunglass emerges.  In the Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices, the sources of revenue which supported John Frost, prebendary of Dunglass, are recorded as the annexed parsonage and vicarage of Strafontain.  The value of the benefice was given as 16 merks annually, with no record of any provision for a vicar pensionary, chaplain or curate to serve the cure in the parish church.(9)  In the early seventeenth century, in a report on the condition of the church and parish of St Bathans, with which Strafontain had been merged, noted that the church of Strafontain was in the patronage of the Earl of Home as it was ‘a pendicle of the colledge kirk of Dunglas.’(10)


1. I B Cowan and D E Easson, Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland, 2nd edition (London, 1976), 149.

2. The Correspondence, Inventories, Account Rolls and Law Proceedings of the Priory of Coldingham, ed J Raine (Surtees Society, 1841), cxiv.

3. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, i, 1306-1424, ed J M Thomson (Edinburgh, 1882), no.832.

4. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, i, 1418-1422, eds E R Lindsay and A I Cameron (Scottish Record Society, 1934), 152-3, 196-7; Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, iii, 1428-1432, eds A I Dunlop and I B Cowan (Scottish History Society, 1970), 30-31, 66-8, 243-4; Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, ii, 1424-1513, ed J B Paul (Edinburgh, 1882), no.820 [hereafter RMS, ii].

5. Cowan and Easson, Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland, 150.

6. HMC, 12th Report, Appendix, pt VIII, The Manuscripts of the Duke of Athole, KT, and of the Earl of Home, no.127; RMS, ii, no.520.

7. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Papal Letters, xiii, 1471-1484, ed J A Twemlow (London, 1955), 644.

8. NRS Miscellaneous Ecclesiastical Records, CH8/16.

9. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 166.

10. Reports on the State of Certain Parishes in Scotland, 1627 (Maitland Club, 1835), 23.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: An early connection existed with the nuns of Berwick and the church passed with the nunnery  to Dryburgh at the beginning of the 15th century. This was only for a short time, as it was annexed to the college of Dunglass in 1459 (see Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, ii, 520).(1)

1476 Confirmation the endowment of the college of Dunglass by Alexander Hume with the churches of Hutton and Edrom and tithes of Wester Upsettlington and Trefontains.(2)

1556 (9 April) Church is one of 22 within the Merse included in two letters [the 1555 letter does not have a specific date] from John Hamilton, archbishop of St Andrews (1547-1571) to the Dean of Christianity of the Merse. The churches are described as in a particularly bad state. The walls of stone levelled to the ground, in others the walls or roofs were ruinous and threatened to collapse, they were without windows, fonts, altar vestments, missals or manuals. The dean was instructed to investigate the fruits, garbal teinds and other rights of the said churches.(2)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: John Frost holds a prebendary in Dunglass to which the parsonage and vicarage of Strafontaine are annexed, value 16 marks.(3)

[The parish of Strafontaine was united to Abbey St Bathans at the Reformation with the parish church at the latter location]

1627 (18 June) Report on the parish by the minister (George Redpat) describes the parishes of Strafontaine and Bothans as being conjoined together since the Reformation; the church of Bothans within the old nunnery has the king as patron, the church of Strafontaine was a pendicle of the College of Dunglass.(4)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev John Sked): [Nothing regarding Strafontaine]

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev John Wallace, 1835): ‘Its original designation as a hospital was changed to a parish church but at the Reformation public worship ceased to be performed there.(5) [mentions that ruins had disappeared within recent memory]


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, p. 189.

2. CPL, xiii, 644.

3. NRS Miscellaneous Ecclesiastical Records, CH8/16. Noted in Donaldson, Scottish Reformation, p. 23.

4. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 166.

5. Reports on the State of Certain Parishes in Scotland, pp. 23-24.

6. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1835), ii, 108-09.


NRS Miscellaneous Ecclesiastical Records, CH8/16.

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

Cowan, I.B., 1967, The parishes of medieval Scotland, (Scottish Record Society), Edinburgh.

Donaldson, G., 1960, The Scottish Reformation, Cambridge.

Kirk, J., 1995, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, (British Academy) Oxford.

McRoberts, D., 1962., ‘Material destruction caused by the Scottish Reformation’, in D. McRoberts, Essays on the Scottish Reformation, 1513-1625, Glasgow.

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

Reports on the State of Certain Parishes in Scotland, Made to his Majesty’s Commissioners for Plantation of Kirks, 1835, ed. A. MacGrigor (Maitland Club), Edinburgh.

Architectural description

Strafontain appears to have had a connection with the Cistercian nunnery at Berwick from an early date, and in the early fifteenth century it passed with that nunnery to the Premonstratensian abbey of Dryburgh for a period. However, in 1451/2 it was granted to the collegiate church at Dunglass, and a confirmation of that grant thirty years later indicates that the parsonage and vicarage teinds maintained two prebendaries at the college, one of whom was responsible for the cure of souls at Strafontain.(1)

On 9 April 1556 Strafontain was said to be one of 22 churches in the Merse that was in a ruinous condition,(2) and at the Reformation it was united with Abbey St Bathans, with worship taking place at the latter.(3)

The author of the entry in the New Statistical Account said that the ruins of the church had disappeared within recent memory.(4) Nothing of it now remains visible, though it is thought to have stood at NT 7488 6293.


1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 189.

2. National Records of Scotland, Miscellaneous Ecclesiastical records, CH8/16.

3. Reports on the State of Certain Parishes in Scotland, ed. A. MacGrigor (Maitland Club), 1835, pp. 23-24.

4. New Statistical Account of Scotland, 1834-45, vol. 2, pp. 108-9.



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  • 1. Strafontain, possible site of medieval church