Tarvit Parish Church

Tarvit, presumed site of church, 2

Historical outline

Dedication: St Michael(1)

Early references to the church of Tarvit are lacking, its first documented occurrence being in a note concerning a charter in the lost ‘Great Register’ of St Andrews by which Bishop William Malveisin in 1223 x 1238 had assigned the church to the archdeacon of St Andrews and his successors.(2)  It is next noted in 1245 when its dedication on 3 April by Bishop David de Bernham was recorded in the Pontifical Offices of St Andrews.(3)  Its non-appearance in the accounts of the papal tax-collector in Scotland in the 1270s indicates that the church had been fully annexed to the archdeaconry and was served presumably by a chaplain or curate.

The annexation to the archdeaconry was ended in 1363 when William de Greenlaw exchanged Tarvit for the church of Kinneff in the Mearns (qv).(4)  The exchange resulted in Tarvit again becoming an independent parsonage.  Through the fifteenth century the chief records of the parish church relate to disputes over possession.  It maintained its independence until 1512 when Archbishop Alexander Stewart annexed the teinds of the church of St Michael of Tarvit to the Pedagogy in the University of St Andrews, which he planned to develop as a full academic collegiate church, but this plan stalled with his death at Flodden in 1513.(5)  The plan was for the development of the Pedagogy was revived by Archbishop James Beaton, who in February 1537/8 received Pope Paul III’s bull founding the new College of St Mary.(6)  It was, however, only in 1558 that Archbishop John Hamilton annexed the parsonage and vicarage fruits to the ‘New College’.(7)  Possession was confirmed to the college at the Reformation, when the parsonage and vicarage were noted as valued at 60 merks and 15 merks respectively.(8)  It was noted separately that Mr John Acheson held both.(9)  The cure was a vicarage pensionary.


1. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, iii, 1513-1546, eds J B Paul and J M Thomson (Edinburgh, 1883), no.196; Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, iv, 1546-1580, ed J M Thomson (Edinburgh, 1886), no.1742 [hereafter RMS, iv].

2. Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree in Scotia (Bannatyne Club, 1841), xxxv, no.14.

3. A O Anderson (ed), Early Sources of Scottish History, ii (Edinburgh, 1922), 526.

4. Calendar of Entries in the Papal Registers Relating to Great Britain and Ireland: Petitions to the Pope, ed W H Bliss (London, 1896), 409.

5. Evidence, oral and documentary, taken and received by the Commissioners for visiting the Universities of Scotland (London, 1837), 356-359; RMS, iv, no.1742, rehearsing the original 1512 charter of Alexander Stewart.

6. I B Cowan and D E Easson, Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland, 2nd edition (London, 1976), 232, 233.

7. RMS, iv, no.1742.

8. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Benefices (Oxford, 1995), 73.

9. Kirk (ed), Books of Assumption, 88.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Annexed to archdeaconry of St Andrews by William Malvoison in 1223x28, the church was exchanged for Kinneff in 1363. It remained independent thereafter, until 1558, when it was erected as part of New College, St Andrews.(1)

Place Names of Fife vol. 4: Church dedicated to St Michael (see Register of the Great Seal of Scotland iii, 196, iv 1742, St A Lib).

1363 William de Greenlaw, archdeacon of St Andrews, exchanges church for Kinneff.(2)

1416 Thomas de Merton holds church, deprived and replaced by John Wincestre for adhering to Martin V.(3) Thomas successfully litigates 1418-21 against John de Castelcaris for re-admittance to church (described as ambassador of James I), dead by 1428.(4)

1428-29 Patrick Hamilton collated before resigning in favour of Robert de Dernweth. Litigation between Dernweth, John Lang and Henry Turyng over church. John collated by 1429.(5)

1445 John resigns the church, Henry de Murray (MA) accuses of John Christenson of holding the church unlawfully; Christensson claims that he was provided by the ordinary. Settlement in 1446; John resigns and John de Mertoun (illegitimate) is collated to the church.(6)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church parsonage and vicarage held by John Achesoun, with New College, St Andrews, £46.(7)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of parsonage and vicarage £16 13s 9d.(8)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev George Campbell, 1793): [Parish joined to Cupar in 1617]

‘The church belonging to the parish [of St Michael’s] stood on that beautiful spot, now known by the name of St Michael’s hill’.(9)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev John Birrell, 1843): ‘Small conical eminence on the opposite side of the Eden… It was the site of the church of the parish of St Michael’.(10)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 195.

2. CPP, 409.

3. CPL, Ben, 381.

4. CSSR, i, 1,16 & 261-63, CPL, vii, 467-68.

5. CSSR, ii, 197 & 237, CSSR, iii, 38 & 56, CPL, viii, 153.

6. CSSR, iv, nos. 1145, 1156, 1161 & 1304, CPL, ix, 542.

7. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 73 & 88.

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

9. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1793), xvii, 147.

10. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1843), ix, 5.


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

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

Calendar of Papal letters to Scotland of Benedict XIII of Avignon, 1976, ed. F. McGurk, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh.

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 1423-28, 1956, ed. A.I. Dunlop, (Scottish History Society) Edinburgh.

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 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.

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

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

Architectural description

Tarvit had a complex parochial history. At a date between 1223 and 1238 Bishop William Malvoisin annexed it to the archdeaconry of St Andrews; however, in 1363 the archdeacon exchanged it for Kinneff, with the consequence that Tarvit became once again a free parsonage. In 1512 Archbishop Alexander Stewart determined to annexe it to the Pedagogy in St Andrews University, at a time that he intended to form a new college, though this proved to be fruitless. It was only in 1558 that both parsonage and vicarage teinds were diverted to fund a part of the university, when they were united to the College of the Blessed Virgin. After that the cure was a vicarage pensionary.(1)

The parish did not long survive the Reformation, the area it covered being divided between the parishes of Cupar and Ceres in 1618,(2) and the church was subsequently dismantled. In the late eighteenth century the site of the church was remembered as having been on St Michael’s Hill,(3) at NO 3796 1456. The presumed site is now partly waste ground partly a Fife Council waste disposal facility, and partly the line of a railway track.


1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, pp. 195-96.

2. Simon Taylor, The Place Names of Fife, vol. 4, Donington, 2010, p. 270.

3. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99, vol. 17, p. 147.



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  • 1. Tarvit, presumed site of church, 2

  • 2. Tarvit, presumed site of church, 1