St. Andrews Cathedral

National Grid Reference (NGR): NO 51390 16670, map


Cathedral Precinct
St. Andrews
KY16 9QL

Also known as:

  • St. Andrew's Priory


Described as very possibly the first generation of Gothic architecture in Scotland (Fawcett, 2002). St. Andrews Cathedral was founded in 1160-1 and consecrated in July 1318.  It was the conventual church of the priory of Canons Regular of St. Augustine, which was founded by Bishop Robert in 1144. Of the buildings they constructed only part of St. Rule's Church (site 1472) still survives.   The cathedral was attacked in 1559 after John Knox preached against the Roman Catholic Church when graves were robbed and icons destroyed. By 1649 it was a ruin because the stonework was acquired for buildings within the town. In 1826 the Barons of Exchequer took possession of the ruins and had the remains preserved and consolidated. The rubbish and piles of masonry debris that had been deposited there were cleared away and the grounds were laid with turf.    To the west of the cathedral are the remains of an elaborate entrance gateway called the Pends.    It was an impressive structure, with a groin vaulted roof, moulded pointed archways and blind arcading above.   Built onto this was the priory wall which denoted the limits of the cathedral precinct. This had some 16 towers built into it, of which parts of around 13 still survive. The wall remains at over 20 feet in height and is 4 feet thick. There are a number of arched gateways built into the wall, including one at the harbour. In the grounds of the cathedral and priory were domestic structures, a tyth barn, mill and guest houses.


The cathedral was constructed of sandstone.    Parts of the cathedral and monastic buildings and cloister survive.

The cathedral was cruciform in plan and measured 391' by 168' across the transepts. The five-bay choir was completed by 1238. After being blown down in a storm the original west end was rebuilt by Bishop William Wishart between 1272 and 1279.   The nave was aisled. And the crossing of the transepts was marked by a central tower.    Much of the cathedral was built in the First Pointed Style, although the earliest phases (of which a little survives) were in the Transition style.

The sanctuary was one of the first parts of the cathedral to be built, along with the east gable and choir. It is located at the east end of cathedral behind the high altar. The sanctuary was not available for public access. All that remains of this area are foundations of the north and south walls.

A new east window was  inserted in the fifteenth century.. The great east end wall survives largely intact apart from its gable and about half of the impressive west end survives with remains of its traceried great window present.  Parts of other foundations, piers and walls are present too.   The east end wall originally had three storeys of three round arched windows but the top two storeys were removed in the fifteenth century and replaced by one massive traceried window, most of which survives today.   The east wall had massive angular buttresses incorporated into the structure in the fifteenth century, probably to add stability and strength to the wall.   The southern and northern walls had an arcade high up with small windows and a central passageway with blocked (blind) arcading.    Various (but similar) designs of windows were used in the walls, mostly pointed and round-arch windows often with arcading between them.    The cathedral originally extended further west than the remains do today, with foundations of the south and north wall extending some distance beyond the west end wall. The western section of the cathedral was damaged when the original gable fell and when rebuilt it was decided to shorten this section.

The north transept was at the west end of the choir and east of the nave. It had three chapels on its eastern side, which were divided from the transept by an arcade. This was mirrored by the south transept, and at the meeting of the two transepts was a tower. Today all that remains of the transept are foundations and there is a graveslab located at the northern end of the transept.

The south transept is at the west of the choir and east of the nave. It had three eastern chapels, which were divided from it by an arcade.    In 1409 its gable collapsed in a storm, causing damage to the transept and surrounding structures.   This was followed by a partial rebuilding.   All that remains of the eastern elevation of the transept are foundations and the bases of the piers of the arcade that divided the chapels from the transept (part of the southermost pier in the arcade is still visible). The south elevation of the transept is still partially intact, but ruinous.  At the southwest corner of the transept is the night stair, which would have led to the dormitory on the east range of the cloister.   The west elevation of the transept, which adjoins the cloister, is still standing.   It features a blind arcade, above which is another blind arcade and three round arched windows.

The cloister was built onto the south wall of the nave and west wall of the south transept. The east range of the cloister contained a passage (the slype) which led to the buildings outside. The undercroft of the east range contained the warming house, which was reconstructed in the 1890s and now houses the cathedral museum (which contains artefacts from the cathedral, graveyard and other surrounding buildings). Above would have been the dormitory, at the north end of which was the night stair leading into the cathedral through the south transept. The chapterhouse was connected to the east range of the cloister.

The south range of the cloister contained the refectory, to the west of which were the kitchens. The refectory now contains the visitor centre of the cathedral museum.

Of the west range of the cloister only the southern section of the undercroft is still standing. However, the south wall of the nave, where the north end of the west range of the cloister joined, provides evidence of the vaulting that would have run along the west range of the cloister. Above this, at the height that the upper floor of the west range would have been, there are the remains of decorative arcading on the cathedral wall.

RCAHMS information states that the priory land was enclosed before the 14th century. The original is credited to Prior John Hepburn (?-1522) and his nephew Prior Patrick Hepburn. The source of this information is from a Latin inscription on a tower of the wall;   'Here the excellent Patrick Hepburn in his turn embellishes the work of his predecessor with a tower of [de]fens'.   The existing wall may date to 16th century rebuilding.   The boundary reflects an area of garden associated with the 18th and 19th centuries.   Excavations revealed relics of late monastic activity, including one stone-capped drain that may have served the reredorter. The area south of the cathedral is assumed to have been a service area connecting to the harbour.

The nave was completed in 1279 after its length had been reduced from fourteen to twelve bays with a total length of 357'.    It was furnished in the fifteenth century the nave was furnished.   Most of the southern nave wall and parts of other foundations, piers and walls are also present.

Building of the choir was begun shortly after the founding of the cathedral in 1160 but was not completed until 1238. The choir was flanked by aisles, divided from the choir by an arcade, and at the eastern end of these aisles were chapels.

Today the walls of the choir aisles are reduced to foundations and, for most of the arcade dividing choir from aisles, only the bases of the piers remain, although some are more complete.   There are tombs built into the walls of the choir aisles, including a tomb at the east end of the south choir aisle believed to be that of Bishop Wardlaw.   At the east end of the choir is a paved area that marks the site of the high altar and to the east of this is the sanctuary and east gable of the cathedral.

The chapter house is on the east range of the cloister. It was originally built in the thirteenth century but by 1315 was converted to a vestibule serving a new chapter house on its east side. The walls of the vestibule to the chapter house are now reduced to foundations and of the chapterhouse itself only part of the south wall (which features a blind arcade) remains standing. The north, east and west walls have been reduced to foundations and only the base of the arch at the entrance to the chapter house remains. Several stone coffins have been found below floor level of the room.

The refectory was at the east end of the south range of the cloister, on a vaulted undercroft. Although the refectory itself is no longer extant, the undercroft of the refectory was reconstructed in the 1890s by Lord Bute and now is used as the visitor centre for the cathedral museum.


People / Organisations:

Pre-reformation Church of ScotlandDenominationC1560


  • Cathedral: Founded (1144)
    Augustinian priory was founded by Robert, Bishop of St Andrews.
  • Cathedral: Founded (1160)
    Cathedral founded by Bishop Arnold.
  • Cathedral: Build/construction (1160 to 1318)
    Building work started shortly after the cathedral was founded in 1160 and was ongoing until its consecration in 1318.
  • Chapter house: Build/construction (1200)
  • Cloister: Build/construction (1200sm)
  • Refectory: Build/construction (1200sm)
  • Cathedral: Addition (1236-1258)
    The dormitory, dining hall and guest hall were built at this time.
  • Cathedral: Addition (1238)
  • Cathedral: Damage (1270)
    West end of cathedral blown down.
  • Nave: Damage (1270)
    West front blown down.
  • Nave: Build/construction (1272 to 1279)
    The west front was rebuilt after further east after the original west front was blown down.
  • Cathedral: Addition (1279)
  • Cathedral: Alteration/conversion (1300sl)
    Openings leading to narthex were built up, blind arcade above west door.
  • Cathedral: Damage (1304)
    Damage caused by the English.
  • Cathedral: Consecration (1318/7/5)
    Consecrated by Bishop Lamberton.
  • Cathedral: Damage (1378)
    Damaged in fire.
  • Nave: Damage (1378)
    Damaged by fire.
  • Cathedral: Alteration/conversion (1400)
    East wall had buttresses incorporated into structure.
  • Nave: Addition (1400)
  • Cathedral: Damage (1409)
    Gable of south transept blown down causing damage to cathedral and priory buildings.
  • Transept: Damage (1409)
    Gable of south transept collapsed in storm.
  • Cathedral: Damage (1559)
    The interior of the cathedral was stripped.
  • Cathedral: Abandonment (1560)
    Abandoned after Reformation.
  • Cathedral: Custodial Transfer (1826)
    The Barons of the Exchequer took possession of the cathedral.
  • Cathedral: Build/construction (1845)
    New entrance to cathedral.
  • Cathedral: Build/construction (1890)
    Some parts of priory buildings rebuilt by Lord Bute.
  • Cloister: Build/construction (1890)
    Part of the cloister rebuilt, including undercroft of refectory and warming house.
  • Refectory: Build/construction (1890)
    Rebuilding of undercroft of refectory.
  • Cathedral: Custodial Transfer (1893)
    The third Marquess of Bute bought Priory House, which had a garden that incorporated the cloister.
  • Cathedral: Excavation (2004)
  • Cathedral: Alteration/conversion (a1280)
    Narthex added at west of nave.
  • Cathedral: Alteration/conversion (a1378)
    The two upper levels of windows on the east gable were replaced by a single large window. Also the floor was raised. Also, reconstruction of west gable.
  • Nave: Build/construction (a1378)
    West front partially rebuilt after 1378 fire.
  • Transept: Build/construction (a1409)
    Partially rebuilt.
  • Transept: Build/construction (b1318)
  • Transept: Build/construction (b1318)
    Building work on the cathedral was completed by 1318.
  • Choir: Build/construction (c1160 to 1238)
  • Sanctuary: Build/construction (c1160 to c1238)
  • Chapter house: Build/construction (c1315)
    The first chapter house was converted to a vestibule when a new chapter house was built to the east.
  • Cathedral: Destruction/demolition (c1380)
    Demolition of narthex.
  • Cathedral: Alteration/conversion (c1430)
    Reconstruction of east gable.
  • Cloister: Alteration/conversion (c1900)
    Exterior of warming house re-faced.

Archive References:

Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 40587
Dictionary of Scottish Architects - Online databaseReference: M013998
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 34299
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 40585
Scran - Online databaseReference: 000-000-025-574-CImage and research: John R. Hume. - Online databaseReference: St Andrews Cathedral/standrews/cathedral/index.html
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 40586
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 94369
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 184135
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 257103
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 34307Cathedral Museum.
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 283677
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 1473
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 34303

Bibliographic References:

St Andrews Cathedral: official guide.Historic Scotland1999Text: Richard Fawcett.
Buildings of Scotland: FifeGifford, J1988pp. 361-367.
The Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments and Constructions of Scotland - Fife etcRCAHMS1933Eleventh report with inventory of monuments and constructions in the counties of Fife, Kinross and Clackmannan. p. 231
Scottish Medieval ChurchesFawcett, Richard2002p207
Discovery & Excavation, Scotland 2010.Mary Markus2010Page 77. Inventory of carved stones; now in museum
Discovery & Excavation, Scotland 2010.Gordon Ewart2010WB for new signs. 1 fragment of medieval floor tile found.
Discovery & Excavation, Scotland 2009Mary Markus2009Page 81. Inventory of large amount of stone collection held by Historic Scotland's Collections Unit. Dating 12th - 16th C. column capitals, tomb slabs, vault ribs, sculptures, etc.
Discovery & Excavation, Scotland 2008Paul Fox2008WB at Priory. Vault 3. Large flat slabs against N & S walls, and SE and SW corners. Suggestive that room once had flagged floors. No other finds.