Holy Trinity Church, St Andrews

National Grid Reference (NGR): NO 50910 16650, map


South Street
St Andrews
KY16 9NN

Also known as:

  • Town Kirk, St Andrews


Holy Trinity Church is located in a prominent location in the centre of the medieval burgh of St Andrews. It occupies a large plot on the corner of South Street and Church Street, and was close to the market place and town house when first built in the early 15th century. The church has a long and interesting history. It was first built in 1411/12 after a donation of 180ft of land by Sir William Lindsay Lord of the Byres in 1410. This first church was built under the direction of Bishop Wardlaw and was typical of a medieval parish church, with a nave and chancel, side aisles and a tower. The church was rebuilt on the same site (and to a similar layout) by Robert Balfour between 1798-1800. This new church was only to last 100 years, before it too was rebuilt in the style of a late medieval burgh church by renowned architect MacGregor Chalmers in 1906. But despite being largely an early 20th century building, some significant parts of the medieval church have survived and the design and layout is very similar to the 15th century original.

J Dowling 2017

Description (exterior)

Holy Trinity Church is loosely based on a typical medieval cruciform plan, with nave, transept arms, chancel and aisles. The vestry and the south-east chapel (known as the Hunter Aisle) were added during the 1906 rebuild. The church is built from tooled sandstone blocks, much of it re-used from the previous structures, and has slate roofs. It is set within small garden grounds and is surrounded on all sides by streets (South Street to the south, Church Street to the east and Church Square to the west and north).

The tall L-plan fifteenth century tower is the only part of Holy Trinity to survive largely untouched since first built. It stands at the north-west corner of the church and is built of local sandstone. It has two stone spires, one significantly taller than the other. The stonework of the tower rises uninterrupted in large sandstone blocks until it is divided by a sill course of masonry that runs just below twin round arched belfry openings (with trefoil carved stonework) near the top of the tower. Above these openings is a simple parapet which is built out on stone corbels. The main spire is of stone and has small openings (lucarnes). Just below the sill course are large metal and bronze clock faces, which were likely installed when the church was rebuilt by Chalmers.

The west end of the church is attached to the tower and features a large double doorway that leads into the nave. The west gable of Holy Trinity is partly hidden (from ground level) by a parapet, which features a carved sill course, blind arcading and impressive carved water spouts (by James Young, who created much of the carved stonework in the 1907 rebuild). The west end of the church is dominated by a group of five tall, narrow, round-arched windows with stained glass. Directly below is the large Romanesque-style round-arched doorway, thought to be based on that of St Mary's Collegiate Church, Haddington. It is partly recessed with chamfered margins and has a strong hoodmould above. Ashlar piers with carved capitols frame the identical round-arched doors. Above these doors, within an ashlar panel, is a small quatrefoil blind opening.

The south elevation of the church faces Market Street and is dominated by the south transept (built on the site of the original) and its massive gothic window. The pointed-arch window features intersecting stone tracery, carved hoodmould and stained glass. It is flanked by strong buttresses at the corners of the transept, which have empty canopied statue niches. The round-arched doorway below the window is based upon that of Dryburgh Abbey. To the west of the south transept is the tall, crow-stepped John Knox Porch, built in the same position as a fifteenth century original. It commemorates the preacher and reformer John Knox and is the main entrance into the church today. To the east of the south transept is the single-storey Hunter Aisle, which is attached to the chancel. It has a small entrance porch with a round-arched doorway and impressive traceried pointed-arch windows. It is topped by a crenelated parapet.

The east end of Holy Trinity fronts onto Church Street and again features a very large gothic window. This is centrally placed in the chancel gable and has similar stone tracery as found in the south transept window. It is based on a window found in Carlisle Cathedral. Attached at the north end is a side aisle or chapel, similar to the Hunter Aisle. From Church Street one can see the round-arched cinq-foil clerestory windows high up in the nave and chancel walls.

The north elevation faces into Church Square. The small side aisle or chapel at the eastern end is attached to a large two-storey organ chamber. Alongside is the north transept, known as the Playfair Aisle. It commemorates Lord Playfair of St Andrews and his family and was built during the 1907-9 works. It has a group of three round-arched windows with a round-arched doorway below. Attached on the west side of the Aisle is a gabled vestry.

J Dowling 2017


Description (interior)

The interior of Holy Trinity, like the exterior, takes much of its inspiration from medieval churches, including the original Holy Trinity itself. Indeed, some parts of the structure are the original medieval, saved when the building was reconstructed and incorporated into the new church. Some furnishings and memorials from the previous churches on the site have also been retained.

The long nave features large arcade arches, which separate the nave from the side aisles and transepts. The two westernmost arcades and most of the pier bases are medieval originals. Wooden pews with traceried detailing date from the early 20th century rebuild. The Hunter Aisle is used as a side chapel and has moveable wooden chairs. The chancel is at the east end and is raised slightly above the nave. It features impressive furnishings and fittings, including the striking pulpit, which is made of marble, alabaster and onyx. It was made by Galbraith & Winton and is a memorial to Dr A. K. H. Boyd. The impressive wooden communion table features intricate carved traceried openings and panels. There are many stained glass windows in the church, most of which are of early to mid 20th century in date.

There are numerous items that survive from the previous churches on this site. There are a number of 16th century wooden choir stalls. In the south transept is the tomb of Archbishop Sharp. There are two medieval repentance stools or pews and also a wooden pew bearing the royal arms of Mary Queen of Scots.

J Dowling 2017

People / Organisations:

Church of ScotlandDenomination1559-NOW
Mr Robert BalfourArchitect1798-1800Rebuilt church.
Jesse HallArchitect1863Alterations to church.
Mr Peter Macgregor ChalmersArchitect1907-1909Rebuilt church.
Pre-reformation Church of ScotlandDenomination1412-1559


  • Church: Founded (1410-1411)
    There had been a previous Holy Trinity Church beside the Cathedral. At this time the church transferred to South Street.
  • Tower: Build/construction (1411)
    Although most of the rest of the church has been rebuilt, the tower is still from the original building of the church.
  • Church: Build/construction (1411A)
    People: Bishop Wardlaw
  • Church: Consecration (1412)
  • Church: Addition (1500)
    Spire built.
  • Tower: Addition (1500)
    Spire built.
  • Transept: Installed (1679)
    The tomb of Archbishop Sharp was installed in the south transept.
  • Church: Alteration/conversion (1749)
    New roof.
  • Church: Build/construction (1798 to 1800)
    Church Rebuilt.
  • Church: Alteration/conversion (1863)
    New windows in church.
  • Church: Build/construction (1907 to 1909)
  • Chapel: Build/construction (1907 to 1909)
  • Transept: Build/construction (1907 to 1909)
    Built on the site of the south transept of the 1411 church.
  • Furnishing: Installed (1907 to 1909)
  • Porch: Build/construction (1907 to 1909)
  • Session house: Build/construction (1907 to 1909)
  • Transept: Build/construction (1907 to 1909)
  • Vestry: Build/construction (1907 to 1909)
  • Church: Opening (1909/11/30)
  • Chapel: Alteration/conversion (1948)
    Addition of memorial niche.
  • Chapel: Alteration/conversion (a1945)
    War Memorial Shrine and Book of Remembrance. addition of screen, porch and furnishing.

Archive References:

Scran - Online databaseReference: 000-000-108-812-cResearch and Image by Abby Hunt
Dictionary of Scottish Architects - Online databaseReference: M003149
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 4716Duplicated record.
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 40633
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 34347
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 1474
Scran - Online databaseReference: 000-000-108-812-CResearch and Image by Abby Hunt
CSA: Inventory of Scottish Church Heritage - HardcopyReference: 01474
Scran - Online databaseReference: 000-000-108-812-cResearch and image: Abby Hunt
Scran - Online databaseReference: 000-000-108-812-C

Bibliographic References:

The Parish Church of The Holy Trinity St AndrewsRankin, W. E. K1954
A Walk Round The Parish Church of The Holy Trinity, St Andrewshttp://www.holytrinitystandrews.co.uk/church.htm http://www.holytrinitystandrews.co.uk/church.htm
St Andrews Standard GuideFleming, D. H.pp. 17-26.
The Parish Church of Holy Trinity St. Andrews: A Short Account of its History and ArchitectureCant, Ronald G.1992
A New Guide to the Parish Church of the Holy Trinity, St. AndrewsChristine M. Wolfe1998