Temple / Balantrodoch Parish Church

Temple Church, exterior, from south east

Summary description

The surviving structure, of probably thirteenth-century date and with high quality detailing, is likely to be the truncated east limb of the church of the preceptory of the Knights Templar, possibly adapted for parochial use at a date before 1426. Abandoned after being replaced by a church on a nearby site in 1832; that later church is no longer in ecclesiastical use, and has been adapted as a house.

Historical outline

Dedication: St John(1)

The early history of the parish church of Temple, or Balantrodoch as it was originally known, is bound up in that of the principal house of the military order of the Templars which was founded here probably in the reign of King David I.(2) There is no reference to the parish function of their church throughout the twelfth century and it does not appear in the records of the papal tax-collector in Scotland in the 1270s nor in those of the 1290s.  With the suppression of the Templar order in the early fourteenth century, their possessions in Scotland passed into the hands of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem.(3)

There is no record of the process by which the former Templar house became a simple parish church but it seems to have occurred before 1424, when John Binning was confirmed in his right of possession of the two churches appropriated to the Hospitallers in Scotland, those of Inchinnan in Renfrewshire and St John of Balantrodoch.(4)  A vicarage was in existence by the first quarter of the sixteenth century, with one John Meggot being named as vicar in 1522 and in 1533 Bartholomew Hamilton was the incumbent.(5)  In the Hospitaller rental of 1539-40 it was recorded that the teind sheaves of the parish of Temple were set to Andrew Lindsay for 100 merks yearly, the church itself being set for payment in victual.(6) At the Reformation the church was still in possession of the Hospitallers, it being noted that the vicarage, valued at £30 annually, pertained to James Sandilands, Lord St John.(7)


1. Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome, ii, 1423-1428, ed A I Dunlop (Scottish History Society, 1956), 129 [hereafter CSSR, ii].

2. I B Cowan and D E Easson, Medieval Religious Houses: Scotland, 2nd edition (London, 1976), 158.

3. The Knights of St John of Jerusalem in Scotland, eds I B Cowan, P H R Mackay and A Macquarrie (Scottish History Society, 1983), xxv-xxvi.

4.CSSR, ii, 129.

5. Registrum Magni Sigilli Regum Scotorum, iii, 1513-1546, eds J B Paul and J M Thomson (Edinburgh, 1883), no.275; Protocol Book of Dominus Thomas Johnsoun, 1528-1578, eds J Beveridge and J Russell (Scottish Record Society, 1920), no.65.

6. Knights of St John, 11, 12.

7. J Kirk (ed), The Books of Assumption of the Thirds of Vicarages (Oxford, 1995), 110.

Summary of relevant documentation


Synopsis of Cowan’s Parishes: Originally the principal house of the Templars in Scotland, the church passed to the Hospitallers in 1309, and had become parochial by 1426. The parsonage and vicarage teinds remained with the knights and the cure was served by a vicar pensionary.(1)

1424 Confirmation that John de Benying can hold for life the two Hospitaller churches of Inchinnan and St John de Baldrenddoch [identified by the editors as Temple].(2)

1533 Bartholomew Hamilton is vicar of Temple.(3)


Books of assumption of thirds of benefices and Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices: The Parish church vicarage pertaining to the preceptor of the Knights of St John, James Sandilands (£30).(4)

Account of Collectors of Thirds of Benefices (G. Donaldson): Third of vicarage £3 6s 8d.(5)

[Three chapels and possibly separate parishes of Temple, Clerkington and Morthwait/Moorfoot/Morphet were united to Temple in 1618 with the parish church located at Temple. There are no references in the Statistical Account or New Statistical Account to any remains of the chapels at Clerkington or Morthwait]

1593 (29 Mar) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Dalkeith approves the minister (George Glistie) and notes that reparation of the church is badly required, the laird of Newburgh to be consulted for funds.(6)

1626 (3 June) A visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Dalkeith reports that the minister regrets the ‘faultie’ church and that the parishioners need to help. The presbytery orders a stent to repair it.(7)

1627 (8 May) Report on the parish by the minister (Thomas Copland) describes the church as united to Clerkington and Muirfoot in 1618. The church is now in lay patronage (not specified).(8)

1630 (4 Feb) Visitation of Temple by the Presbytery of Dalkeith includes a meeting with the parishioners and heritors (Stephen Boyd of Temple, Thomas Meggot of Maisterton and Lady Arniston). The brethren, heritors and parishioners declare that the church to be ruinous that no one is able on any rainy day to sit within it, neither was it of large enough bounds to fit the parishioners. Stephen Boyd agrees to repair the church, both augmenting it by so many foot and also by putting a proper roof on the same and to thatch it and not slate it. He will do this under the condition that the three patrons along with the Earl of Lothian and Lord of Corstorphine undertook to contribute. If he had to build a new kirk he should pay for 1/3 of it. The brethren consider these conditions to tbe very reasonable (commissioners appointed to sort it out).(9) [see below, decision taken to allow Boyd to repair the church]

1630 (6 Nov) Report on the work at Temple to the Presbytery of Dalkeith concludes that the new position for the pulpit is fine but the pillar (of repentence) is not sited in commodious fashion.(10)

1631 (6 Jan) Complaint by the minister against Stephen Boyd that he has changed the place of the pulpit and has made the pillar of repentence in the place of the seat of the late Francis Cockburn, which insolence, presumption he desires the presbytery to take order with. [beginning of a long dispute involving the former pillar, see below footnote].(11)

1636 (22 Oct) Visitation of Temple by the Presbytery of Dalkeith finds that the seat built recently by Laurence Scot of Clarkington hinders the people from the sight of the minister. The presbytery suggests speaking to Laurence and asking him to alter the cover of his seat. They also report that the loft in the west side of the church belonging to Stephen Boyd is often empty, he seldom resides in the parish, and there is not enough room in the church at communion for the whole pairsh. (brethren suggest ‘sleekin up’ the loft.(12)

1654 (14 Sept) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Dalkeith notes that ‘repair of the roof of the kirk being thoroughly necessary’, the heritors are to sort it out.(13)

1683 (15 Aug) Visitation of the church by the Presbytery of Dalkeith finds the church to be in ordinary good condition and in no need of repair at present.(14)

1742 (19 Mar) James Rainy, slater, compears in front of a visitation by the Presbytery of Dalkieth and reports that necessary repairs to the parish church of Temple (mainly on the roof) will cost £336 12s which the heritors agree to pay.(15)

Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev James Goldie, 1791): ‘The church is an old gothic building, ill seated and very cold in winter, from the bad doors and no ceiling’.(16)

New Statistical Account of Scotland (Rev James Goldie, different man from above, 1839): ‘The old church of Temple is very ancient… In 1832 a new church was built’.(17) [new church on new site, ruins of the old church remain]

Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches (George Hay): 1832; detached session house, 1705 Maxwell bell; walls of medieval kirk extant and detached session house.(18)


1. Cowan, The parishes of medieval Scotland, 196.

2. CSSR, ii, 129.

3. Prot Bk of Thomas Johnsoun, 1528-1578, no. 65.

4. Kirk, The books of assumption of the thirds of benefices, 110.

5. Donaldson, Accounts of the collectors of thirds of benefices, 27.

6. NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1582-1630, CH2/424/1, fol. 274.

7. NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1582-1630, CH2/424/1, fol. 544.

8. Reports on the State of Certain Parishes in Scotland, pp. 93-100.

9. NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1582-1630, CH2/424/1, fol. 580.

10. NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1630-1639, CH2/424/2, fol. 2.

11. NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1630-1639, CH2/424/2, fols. 3 & 4. The presbytery decided to take no action regarding this complaint following further discussion with Boyd. However, in March a complaint was brought by Bessie Hutchison that the wrights who were repairing the church had, on the orders of Marion Boyd (wife of Stephen) , without any rights demolished and burnt the former pillar of repentence. (this somehow pertained to Bessie). This dispute continued for 18 months with the kirk session accused of complicity in the burning of the pillar, no obvious resolution was reached, NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1630-1639, CH2/424/2, fols, 6 and various passim.

12. NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1630-1639, CH2/424/2, fol. 81.

13. NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1652-1662, CH2/424/4, fol. 118.

14. NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1673-1688, CH2/424/5, fol. 198.

15. NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1731-1742, CH2/424/12, fols. 494-495.

16. Statistical Account of Scotland, (1791), xvi, 502-3.

17. New Statistical Account of Scotland, (1839), ii, 51.

18. Hay, The Architecture of Scottish Post-Reformation Churches, pp, 168 & 266.


NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1582-1630, CH2/424.

NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1630-1639, CH2/424/2.

NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1652-1662, CH2/424/4.

NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1673-1688, CH2/424/5.

NRS Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1731-1742, CH2/424/12.

Calendar of Scottish Supplications to Rome 1423-28, 1956, ed. A.I. Dunlop, (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.

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.

Protocol Book of Dominus Thomas Johnsoun, 1528-1578,  1920, eds. J. Beveridge & J. Russell (Scottish Record Society) Edinburgh.

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.

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

Architectural description

Temple, earlier known as Balantradoch, was the location of the principal Scottish preceptory of the Knights Templar in Scotland, and was probably founded by David I before his death in 1153. In about 1309, following the suppression of the Templars, their properties passed to the Knights Hospitaller. By a date before 1426 the church was in parochial use, the parsonage and vicarage teinds being both appropriated to the Hospitallers, with the cure served by a vicar pensionary.(1)

The church continued in parochial use after the Reformation, though by 1593 repairs were said to be badly needed.(2) The situation had not improved by 1630, when it was reported to presbytery that it was so ruinous that no one could sit in it on raining days, and Stephen Boyd of Temple agreed to repair and augment it, and to put a proper roof on it if others would contribute to the costs. It seems, however, that thoughts were already moving to the possibility of replacing it, and Boyd agreed to contribute one third of the costs if that were to be done.(3)

It was decided to carry out repairs, presumably as the cheaper option, though in the later stages of the work of the 1630s there was disagreement over the location of the pulpit and stool of repentance;(4) by 1654 roof repairs were once more required.(5) The church continued to be considered ill-fitted for worship, and by the late nineteenth century it was said to be ‘ill seated, and very cold in winter, from having bad doors and no ceiling’.(6)

It was eventually replaced in 1832 by a new church a short distance to the north, designed by Thomas Brown.(7) That church has now itself passed out of use for worship, and has been adapted as a house.

The roofless shell of the church,(8) is a rectangular structure that has evidently been rebuilt at its western end at some point in its history, since those western parts are stylistically later and are of poorer quality masonry, while rebuilding along part of the north wall suggests that an offshoot – presumably a sacristy - has been removed.

The east wall, the eastern two thirds of the south wall, and parts of the north wall, rise from a carefully proportioned base course, consisting of a narrow bottom chamfer below a deep upper chamfer and a string course in the form of a filleted roll. Those parts are built of ashlar and are articulated by buttresses that rise without break to gablets that have a trefoil finial at wall-head cornice level.

There is some variety in the window tracery. On the north side is a three-light window with intersecting tracery, while on the south side are two three-light windows without parallel elsewhere: the two uncusped side lights reach up to the window arch, between which is a large circlet, with no arch to the central light beneath it. The three-light east window has intersecting tracery with a pair of circlets within the intersections.

Externally, the window arches and hood mouldings are delicately moulded. Internally the east window is given added emphasis by a rear arch that is carried on engaged shafts and framed by a hood moulding. The other windows dating from the first phase of works have moulded heads to the rear arches but no engaged shafts. About two-thirds of the way down the church from the east end is a tall single lancet on each side, the lower parts of the rear arch of that on the north appear to have been disturbed. It may be suspected that these windows lit the area in front of a screen.

On the south side of the presbytery area are a piscina recess that may later have been adapted as an aumbry, and the robbed-out fragments of two-seat sedilia. A rectangular door has been cut through the wall at its east end. On the north side is a segmental-arched tomb recess framed by a hood mould, with arch mouldings that emerge from chamfers in the jambs. In this location the tomb may also have served as an Easter Sepulchre. To its west is a trifoliate-headed door framed by a roll moulding.

In attempting to assess the date of the primary work, it is probably best to start with the window tracery. Amongst antecedents for the type seen in the east gable wall is a window in the north presbytery flank of Sweetheart Abbey of the 1270s, though more precise analogies are to be seen in the triforium on the west sides of the transepts at Glasgow Cathedral, which must also be of the later decades of the thirteenth century.

While the two windows on the south side of the presbytery area, with their unsupported central circlets, are more puzzling, they are by no means out of place in the phase of experimentation that was taking place in the later thirteenth century. A late thirteenth-century date would therefore be generally acceptable for the tracery, and this gains some support from the way in which the windows were designed to have their glazing in frames on the inner side of the mullions and form-pieces, rather than in chases.

Beyond that, details such as the buttresses and base course would certainly be fully consistent with a late thirteenth-century date. On that basis, the balance of probabilities appears to suggest that the primary portion of the church is the cut-down eastern parts of the church of the Knights Templar, and, if that is the case, it must have been built before the order was suppressed in 1309, and probably some decades before then.

Most commentators on Temple Church have accepted that it does indeed present a thirteenth-century appearance, however, elements such as the tracery of the south windows, together with what could perhaps be described as a certain slickness to the detailing, have raised some doubts that it is as early as that. And yet, if it was not built for the Templars, for whom could such a finely finished structure have been built?

It was certainly in parochial use by 1426, and probably for some time before then; but it is difficult to imagine that such excellent detailing and such lavish provision of liturgical fixtures would have been provided for what was no more than a rural parish church. Another alternative is that it was rebuilt for the Hospitallers, who inherited the property of the Templars on their suppression. But the difficulty in that case would be that there appear to be no records of the Hospitallers having regarded Temple as one of their preceptories, rather than simply as a part of their land holding.

There can be no certain answer to this problem, though the balance of possibilities tends to the conclusion that the primary phase of work is indeed of the later thirteenth century, and that its high quality can be explained by its having been built for the Templars. The later work’s lesser quality could therefore be associated with its adaptation as a parish church, resulting from a decision that a building which was too large for what had become purely parochial functions should be cut down to a more manageable scale.

Since it is the eastern part of the building that is primary, it appears that it was the choir of the Templar’s church that was retained, and it has been suggested that the single light windows towards the west end of the primary work could indicate the location of the screen at the division between the choir and rest of the building. It seems, however, that the choir by itself was insufficient for the needs of the post-Reformation parish, because the western third of the building as it now stands appears to be of relatively late construction, and is perhaps attributable to the work that was under discussion in 1630.

It may be wondered why it was necessary to build those new walls at the west end of the church: why was more of the medieval fabric not simply retained? One possible explanation could be that there were transepts to the west of the choir, and that the new walls were required because there had been openings into the transepts at that point. However, without geophysical or archaeological investigation this can be no more than speculation.

Although the new walls were more roughly built than those of the medieval building, there was some effort to create a fitting appearance. A simple string course runs along the lower level of the south and north walls at about the same level as the upper chamfer of the medieval base course, and the west front was provided with an axially aligned round-headed doorway and Y-traceried window.

It may be assumed that the main source of the masonry for the new work was the demolished preceptory buildings. However, it appears that some of the masonry is of greater antiquity, because below the belfry that was raised at the apex of the east gable a number of stones with fragmentary Roman inscriptions have been identified.(9)


1. Ian B. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Scottish Record Society), 1967, p. 196;  Ian B. Cowan and David E. Easson, Medieval Religious Houses, Scotland, 2nd ed., London and New York, 1976, pp. 156.

2. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1582-1630, CH2/424/1, fol. 274.

3. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1582-1630, CH2/424/1, fol. 580.

4. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1630-39, CH2/424/2. Fols 2-6.

5. National Records of Scotland, Presbytery of Dalkeith, Minutes, 1652-62, CH2/424/4, fol. 118.

6. Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-99, vol. 16, p. 503.

7. Howard Colvin, Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, New Haven and London, 2008, p. 171; National Records of Scotland, HR 774/1.

8. This discussion takes as its starting point: Richard Fawcett, The Architecture of the Scottish Medieval Church, 2011, pp. 185-87; accounts of the church include: David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland, Edinburgh, vol. 2, 1896, pp. 486-91; Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory of Midlothian and West Lothian, Edinburgh, 1929, pp. 176-78; Christopher Wilson in Colin McWilliam, The Buildings of Scotland, Lothian, Harmondsworth, 1978, p. 446-47.

9. A. Reid, ‘Monumental remains in Pitlochry district, and churchyard memorials at Moulin, Temple, and Clerkington’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 46, 1911-12, pp. 389-432, at p. 409.



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

  • 1. Temple Church, exterior, from south east

  • 2. Temple Church, exterior, from north west

  • 3. Temple Church, exterior, from north east

  • 4. Temple Church, exterior, east window

  • 5. Temple Church, exterior, north door

  • 6. Temple Church, exterior, north wall, junction of two phases of work

  • 7. Temple Church, exterior, south wall

  • 8. Temple Church, exterior, south wall, windows

  • 9. Temple Church, interior, chancel, north wall

  • 10. Temple Church, interior, chancel, tomb recess in north wall

  • 11. Temple Church, interior, choir sedilia

  • 12. Temple Church, interior, choir, aumbry in south wall

  • 13. Temple Church, interior, choir, north window

  • 14. Temple Church, interior, disturbance below north window

  • 15. Temple Church, interior, east window rear arch jamb

  • 16. Temple Church, interior, from west

  • 17. Temple Church, interior, from west

  • 18. Temple Church, interior, looking east

  • 19. Temple Church, interior, looking west

  • 20. Temple Church, interior, piscina

  • 21. Temple Church, interior, sedilia

  • 22. Temple Church, interior, south wall, window rear arches

  • 23. Temple Church, interior, tomb recess in north wall

  • 24. Temple churchyard, gravestone

  • 25. Temple Church, plan (MacGibbon and Ross)

  • 26. Temple, later church