St. Fillan's Parish Church

National Grid Reference (NGR): NT 19320 85460, map


Address

Hawkcraig Road
Aberdour
Fife
Scotland

Also known as:

  • Aberdour Parish Church
  • Aberdour Kirk

Introduction

This church is situated in a graveyard at the end of a narrow path just outside the walled gardens of Aberdour Castle. Dating back to the early twelfth century, the church was granted to Inchcolm Abbey at its foundation in 1123. Originally a narrow rectangle, the church has been altered several times over its lifetime. The church was abandoned in 1790 because the Countess of Morton did not like the populace of Aberdour coming to worship so close to Aberdour Castle so a new church was built on the High Street (now church hall, site number: 7758). After falling into a ruinous condition, the church was restored in 1925-6.    Nearby, St. Fillan’s Well, also known as the Pilgrim's Well, was renowned for its eye healing qualities. It was situated to the south east corner of the churchyard but now lies in a private garden and is covered over and drained. In 1447 land to the north of the church was granted for the construction of a hospice, known as the Hospital of St. Martha, to accommodate the large numbers of pilgrims coming to visit the well.

St. Fillan's church is surrounded by the graveyard which is surrounded by walls to the north and west which separate it from the castle and gardens.   To the south there are views across the Firth of Forth to Edinburgh.   There is a variety of headstones and table stones, dating to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, some of which are placed at the side of the path near the entrance which is at the north east of the site.   The churchyard is at the end of a pathway which skirts the east and south walls of Aberdour Castle gardens 


Description (exterior)

The church has a stone built rectangular nave, a north transept, a sanctuary at the east end and a porch at the south-west. The slate roof is pitched and there is an ashlar bellcote on the western gable.

The southern elevation is composed of an aisle and a sanctuary to the east. Originally the church was a narrow rectangle and the nave and sanctuary would have been in line with each other. However, the addition of the south aisle to the nave in approximately 1500 made this side of the nave much wider than the sanctuary.

A new roof was added to in 1588 which covered the nave and additional aisle in a single slope (originally they were roofed separately), resulting in a more gently sloping roof and lower wall head here than on the northern side of the building.

In the sanctuary there are two narrow round headed windows with stained glass panels.. At the western end there is a low square headed door   In the wall of the aisle there are three square headed windows set in chamfered reveals. The easternmost of these is a bipartite window and all are filled with stained glass panels. Set between the central and eastern window is a carved memorial panel to Robert Blair, who was a minister at St Andrews and the chaplain of Charles I;   the memorial is dated 1666.

At the south-west there is a sunken gabled porch which was added shortly after the addition of the aisle. The pointed arch doorway is reached by stone steps. On the interior of the porch there are stone benches in the eastern and western walls. At the back of the porch, in the southern wall is a square headed doorway with a two leaf timber panel door with nail studs. Beside the door to the east is a holy water stoup.

The shape of the western gable was altered in 1500 with the addition of the south aisle, resulting in the southern side of the gable sloping down almost to ground level.   It was altered again in 1588, when the walls were raised and the crowsteps added. The two light pointed arch traceried window in the centre of the west gable wall was also added at this time. Set below this window is a panel which is inscribed with the words 'PANS (think) O PILGRIM THAT PASSITH BY THIS WAY UPON THYN END AND THOU SAL FEAR TO SIN AND THINK ALSO UPON THE LATTER DAY WHEN THOU TO GOD MAN (must) COUNT THEN BEST THOU NOW BEGIN?'. This panel, which may date to the late sixteenth century, is a reminder of the pilgrims' visits to the site and it originally stood nearby, possibly on the route from the hospice to the well. At the south west is a blocked square headed opening, originally a window to the south aisle;   this was converted to a door in the mid seventeenth century to give access to the gallery of the church which was added at this time.

The ashlar birdcage bellcote was added at the same time as the roof alterations were carried out. This has a square headed opening in each face and is topped by a pyramidal stone roof with ball finial. The original bell was recast but later disappeared. The present bell, which may be of pre-reformation origin,  was installed when the church was restored in 1925-6. This originally hung in the sister church of St. Bridget at Dalgety Bay (site no. 2227) which is a ruin.

The north wall head is much higher than on the opposite side (which is lower due to the addition of the southern aisle). There is a gabled transept paertley sunken below ground level.    This is called the Phin of Whitehill Aisle.   It was originally a sacristy and was repaired in 1608. (The restoration of this feature as a family aisle suggests that the furniture in the church was rearranged after the Reformation, as happened in many churches, with the eastern altar being replaced by a communion table in the centre of the church.) There is a square headed door at the eastern side of the northern face of the transept. The moulded string course above the door is interrupted in the centre by a large square headed window which is topped by a pediment inscribed with the date 1608. To the west of the transept in the north wall there is a round arched opening which is also partly sunken beneath ground level. This was originally a door but has been converted to a window with a stained glass panel. To the west of this near the wall head is a seventeenth century small square window. In the wall of the north wall to the east of the transept there is a single light narrow round arched window with a stained glass panel. In the eastern sanctuary, which is slightly set back, there is a single narrow lancet with stained glass.

A square-headed window is in the east gable. The sanctuary extends eastwards from the nave. Its east gable has a small early round-headed window with stained glass. There are large commemorative stones placed against the wall on either side of the window, dating from  the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. To the south of the sanctuary, in the south aisle, there is a blocked square headed window in the same position as that on the western gable. On the wall of the main body above the sanctuary a roof raggle is visible, from the original roof, which was removed in 1796;  the current roof was added in 1925-6.

 

 


Description (interior)

Entry to the church is through the sunken porch and door at the south west corner. The floor level on the interior of the church is also lower than outside, having been sunken at the same time as the south aisle was added (c.1500.    In the south wall there are three square headed stained glass windows. The south aisle is separated from the nave by a three bay arcade of broad round arches set on circular piers. The stonework on the arcades and on the walls has been left exposed and at the west end of the nave some of the original twelfth century stonework is visible. In the centre of the lower section of the west wall is a Leper Squint which is covered on the exterior by the pilgrim commemorative stone. Also in the lower wall section are five Morton Family brass coffin plates. Above this is a timber balcony supporting the organ pipes which flank the later Gothic window;    originally there was a gallery here.   In the transept the  Phin of Whitehill Aisle extends outwards from the northern side of the nave;   it is set above the floor level of the nave.   In line with it to the west is the former door (now a stained glass window). The transept has a round arched opening and a stone barrel vaulted roof.   To the east of the transept is a lancet with stained glass.   In the centre of the eastern wall of the nave there is a broad round arched opening with hoodmould which leads into the chancel. To the north of this is the twentieth century pulpit and to the south is the font (the basin was found in the graveyard at the time of restoration and set on a new stand). The floor level in the chancel is higher than the nave and there is a timber barrel vaulted ceiling. In the eastern (back) wall of the chancel is a deeply splayed lancet with stained glass window. There are two further windows in the southern wall and a single window in the northern wall. Below the northern window is a square recess with the date 1670, possibly an aumbry. There are fixed timber pews running down the side walls of the sanctuary and a twentieth century communion table towards the back of the space. The floor space in the nave and south aisle is filled by twentieth century wooden chairs and the area is covered by a timber roof with exposed beams.


People / Organisations:

NameRoleDatesNotes
Church of ScotlandDenomination1560-NOWHowever, the building was not in use as a church from 1790-1926.
Pre-reformation Church of ScotlandDenomination1123B-1560

Events:

  • Church: Build/construction (1123B)
    A charter of 1180 records that the Church of Aberdour belonged to Inchcolm Abbey, having been endowed to it at its foundation in 1123.
  • Church: Consecration (1178)
    Although the church was built before 1123 it was not concecrated until 1178.
  • Well: Build/construction (144B)
  • Church: Addition (1500)
    South aisle added and interior floor level lowered.
  • Church: Addition (1500 uncertified)
    South porch added soon after the south aisle was built.
  • Church: Alteration/conversion (1588)
    East and west gable walls raised and crowstepped. New roof added which covered the nave and south aisle in a single slope.
  • Church: Addition (1588)
    West elevation: insertion of Gothic window and addition of bellcote.
  • Church: Repair (1608)
    The northern transept, which had orignally been a sacristy, was reconstructed as the Phin of Whitehill Aisle.
  • Church: Addition (1640 uncertified)
    Addition of gallery at western end of the church, where the organ pipes are now located.
  • Church: Repair (1724 to 1728)
    Repairs carried out on the roof and alterations to three of the windows.
  • Church: Repair (1754)
    Repairs to roof.
  • Church: Closure (1790)
    The Countess of Morton did not like the populace of Aberdour coming to worship so close to Aberdour Castle so a new church was built on the High Street in 1790 (now church hall, site no 7758).
  • Church: Removal (1796)
    Roof removed.
  • Church: Restoration (1925 to 1926)
    Restoration campaign began in 1914 by Rev Robert Johnstone, work began in 1925 following a large donation by a local family. Re-opened for worship 7th July 1926.
  • Stained Glass: Installed (1930)
  • Stained Glass: Installed (2000)
    Two windows in south aisle marking the millenium (central and beside porch).

Archive References:

NameReferenceNotes
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 3608
Dictionary of Scottish Architects - Online databaseReference: M024547
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 50804
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 92631
Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 92633
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 6746St. Fillan's well
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 2142

Bibliographic References:

NameAuthorDateNotes
Buildings of Scotland: FifeGifford, J1988pp. 59-60
St Fillan's Church, AberdourRutherford, D.W.1980Restenneth