775 years of worship at landmark Fife church

Old Kirk, Kirkcaldy
Old Kirk, Kirkcaldy

Kirkcaldy’s Old Kirk has been the site of a place of continuous worship in the town since 1244.

And over the past 775 years it has seen all phases of religion come and go, from the old Celtic worshippers through Roman Catholicism to the Reformation of 1560 and the preaching of covenanter George Gillespie.

How the Old Kirk used to look internally

How the Old Kirk used to look internally

The earliest records date back to 1244 when Bishop de Bernham of St Andrews consecrated the building to St. Patrick and St. Brisse (St. Bryce).

The tower dates back to the 15th century and various places of worship have stood there over the years.

In 1807 local landowners or heritors banded together to build a new church on to the existing tower when the old one became too dilapidated.

Throughout the centuries it has seen disasters such as the collapse of the gallery in 1828 and a devastating fire in 1986; drama in a series of witch trials back in the 16th century, which saw 18 people, mainly women, “tried” and executed between 1621 and 1652; and celebrity through its links with George Gillespie who helped lead the covenanters after the Reformation to the famous economist and philosopher Adam Smith.

Singing at the top of the tower on May Day

Singing at the top of the tower on May Day

To mark the milestone, the current custodians of the landmark, Kirkcaldy Old Kirk Trust which took ownership in 2011, has planned a year of celebrations from concerts and recitals to lectures, workshops and a major exhibition.

And it will also continue an ambitious programme of fundraising to enable it to restore the ailing 15th century tower which has dominated the town’s landscape for the past five centuries.

The celebrations will begin next month and run until March next year, according to the old Gregorian calendar as it was back in the times of the original church.

It kicks off in April with a series of recitals on the church’s beautiful pipe organ which was retained with the building when the Trust took over and is considered to be one of the best of its type in the country.

On April 20 local man Robin Bell, acclaimed organist and current accompanist with the East Fife Male Voice Choir, will perform. Following on from this there will be a recital each month, with Nancy Crook, former organ player at the Old Kirk, back in her old seat on May 18.

The Trust is also planning a series of stained glass window workshops to celebrate the church’s famous collection of windows which lights up the interior of the auditorium.

The earliest windows by English artist and designer Sir Edward Burne-Jones have been described by experts as “probably the best in situ” and were completed by William Morris, designer, poet, novelist and social activist associated with the British Arts and Crafts movement.

There are also works by Gascoigne of Nottingham which were donated by Kirkcaldy benefactor John Hunter; a pair depicting Biblical fire themes by John Clark which replaced those damaged by fire in 1986 and the latest by Crear McCartney which was installed in 1994 as part of the church’s 750th anniversary celebrations.

Repairs to several of the windows are currently being carried out by Mark Banbrough, an expert from Glasgow who, with some of his colleagues, has agreed to do a number of workshops.

There will also be a series of historical talks covering the history of the church, in conjunction with Kirkcaldy Civic Society. One of the highlights will be an anniversary concert featuring a special piece of music about the Old Kirk’s history composed by the late Bruce Fraser, called ‘From Sea to Sky.’

It had its first performance back in 2011 in a concert launching the Old Kirk in its new role as a community venue. The concert is expected to take place nearer the end of the year’s celebrations.

For more information and up to date events, visit www.kirkcaldyoldkirktrust.org.uk.