Kilconquhar Church

Kilconquhar has been thought a significant site even before Christianity. In the area around the village there is reported evidence of a Pictish dwelling in Balcarres estate and a lone standing stone can be seen on the brow of the ridge that runs towards Pittenweem. Mention of Saint Conquhar, a Scottish Saint, is found only in the Perth Psalter written towards the end of the 15th century and records his saint’s day as being the 3rd May.

Kilconquhar parish was a large and important one. Approximately nine miles in length and two miles inland and originally included Elie, Earlsferry, St. Monans, Kilconquhar, Barnyards, Colinsburgh and Largoward. Later in the first half of the 17th century Elie and St Monans became separate parishes.

Kilconquhar was a seat of the Culdee Church and the first mention appears in 1177 along with a chapel. During the 12th century the Culdee Church lost ground to the Roman Catholic/Episcopalian Church. In 1200 Duncan Earl of Fife bestowed the revenues of the church and parish to the Cistercian Nunnery in North Berwick. The Church was consecrated in 1243 by Bishop de Bernham and in 1499 records show that Patrick Dunbar, Laird of Kilconquhar, set up an altar to ‘Our Lady of Pitie’ in the church.

kilconquhar_arch.jpgThe old Church started off simply with a nave and chancel. Later alterations in the fifteenth century saw a north aisle linked to the nave by an arcade. Three of the arches with their Norman pillars can still be seen. Look carefully at the south side of the middle arch for the remnants of a carving thought to be a ‘Green Man’. This is a carving of a face often found in old churches and buildings and may be a symbol of rebirth or renaissance. On the south side there appears to have been a small chapel or south aisle and the main entrance porch to the Church.

The Church is said to have had an earthen floor, no heating and the main part would have been a large open space. The general congregation would bring their own benches or stools. The galleries were accessed by ladder. The only people with seats would be the great and the good. The Elders’ seats had a lock and key to the door, the heritors put up and maintained their own desks, and fishermen and tenants would be allocated seating.

Services tended to be long, and the Annals of Colinsburgh note that for special services like communion there may have been two or three sermons preached. This often meant that main body of the congregation were often restless, moving in and out of the building and at times inattentive. The Elders were expected to keep order and in 1649 records suggest that they were policing the galleries checking on those who did not pay attention, made a noise or left before the sermon, and admonishing the offenders.

Swan on Kilconquhar LochIn the South aisle or chapel area of the old Church lay a stone effigy of ‘Jock of Bucklyvie’ a knight in chain mail. Unfortunately with the destruction of the old church to make way for the new he has been exposed to the elements and is now very well weathered and has lost his feet. It is thought that there may have been an independent estate of Bucklieve or Balclevie and that this effigy represents one of the Lairds.

By 1818 the old Church was in need of repair and enlargement so it was decided to build a new church big enough to accommodate 900. The plan of the church being built at the time at Cockpen in the parish of Dalkeith was adopted and was not to cost more than £2500.

The perspective view of the new Church from 1819 prepared by Messrs R & R Dickson, Edinburgh Architects can be seen in the Church’s North Hall. Before the building was completed the plans were enlarged to seat 1035 and the heritors were canny enough to save money by using as much of the old building as possible. They also needed to take down the old church as the space was needed to accommodate the new building.

The building is a cruciform design with a clock and bell tower at the west end and was opened on 12th August 1821. It more or less came in on budget at £2761, the additional cost due to the changes to the design. In 1900 the chancel at the east end was added along with the organ, the communion tables and chairs.

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At the end of the 20th century this large drafty Church, with now antiquated amenities, had a smaller attending congregation. Also at the end of the 1990’s after great discussion a small working committee was convened to supervise the remodelling of the Church to bring it into the twenty-first century.

Briefly the two transepts were walled off to form two halls. The old vestry was redesigned to provide modern toilet facilities, disabled access, minister’s vestry and a neat kitchen area. The North Hall is the main meeting room and display room of Church artefacts. The South Hall as the kitchen next to it and is used by the Sunday school, for Church social events and by the community. These changes were completed in 2002 and in the South Hall the Heritage Award 2002 for the sympathetic redevelopment of the church can be seen.

There are a total of five stained glass windows in the Church. The one that is first seen as you come into the chancel of the Church is the magnificent stain glass window that depicts the Acts of Charity by Ward and Hughes installed in 1867

The window depicting four biblical warriors to the right as you face the main window was gifted by Mrs Andrew Grant in memory of the loss of her four nephews in the First World War