Burntisland Parish Church

National Grid Reference (NGR): NT 23350 85700, map


East Leven Street

Also known as:

  • Kirk Of The Bible (1601)
    On 12th May 1601 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met here in the presence of King James VI. A revised translation of the bible was proposed and accepted.
  • St. Columba's Parish Church
  • Scholar's Brae Church
  • Episcopal Church of Scotland



This church was constructed in 1594-6 and was one of the first post-Reformation churches built in Scotland. It was a replacement for the original Parish Church in Kirkton (site number: 2182), because increasing concentrations of people in the harbour area meant that the original church was becoming too small and inconvenient. The church building has undergone many alterations and additions over its lifetime. It has a large central tower and is at the top of a hill and would therefore have been highly visible, serving as both a landmark and a navigational beacon. On either side of the porch, in front of the wall face, there is a raised grassy area bordered by a low harled coped wall    The site is surrounded by high coped rubble walls;   the entrance gate is at the northwest corner.   It was at this church that The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met in the presence of King James VI in 1601 and a revised translation of the bible was proposed and accepted.

The graveyard which surrounds the church on the west, south and eastern sides has gravestones dating to the late sixteenth century and later. In general this graveyard is not in use. However, there have been recent exceptions as some members of the congregation had requested their ashes be scattered in the grounds. The graveyard is surrounded by a high rubble wall. There is a small roofless structure in the southwest corner of the graveyard against the wall, possibly used for storing tools required for use in the graveyard. There are two small burial enclosures in the graveyard, one each against the western and eastern walls. These are formed from low rubble walls topped by iron railings. In general the gravestones are simple moulded apex in style with inscriptions. At the northern end of the eastern wall there is a large Renaissance style monument to Captain Andrew Watson and his family. There is a family crest on the monument and the date 1689 is visible. There is a small gravestone with skulls flanking the apex with the date 1730 inscribed on it on the southern side of the graveyard.


Description (exterior)


The church is built to an unusual square-plan with butresses, corner tower supports and a large central tower.    It is harled, constructed of sandstone with a slate roof.

The main entrance is at the western elevation. This two storey harled wall is flanked by stepped diagonal ashlar sandstone buttresses.   These buttresses project past the height of the roof and have cushion finials. In the centre of the face there is an advanced single storey entrance porch which was constructed in 1659 and enlarged in 1789. In this porch there is a roll-moulded arched doorway with square headed wooden door with a glazed fanlight above it. Above the doorway there is a date stone (1592) with an upturned anchor. which represents the legend that men of the sea were anchored to God, rather than material possessions on earth.. On the main elevation, on either side of the porch, there are bipartite timber sash windows with white painted frames and twelve pane glazing. In the upper storey there are three bipartite windows. These were enlarged by David Vertue in 1822 when he raised the wallhead by 1.2 metres. There are three commemorative stones on the wall to the south (right) of the porch and one on the far north (left) of the porch.

At the north wall, there are three further bipartite timber sash windows with white painted frames and twelve pane glazing at both ground and gallery level. The windows on the ground floor are level with the ground level, whilst on the opposite (south) side they are raised slightly from the ground. The distance between the ground and the base of the windows diminishes on the eastern side, because the ground slopes slightly upwards to the north.

The east wall also hosts four bipartite timber sash windows with white painted frames and twelve pane glazing on this elevation, two each at ground and gallery level. These are set either side of the centre of the face. At the southern end of the face there is a stone stairway known as the Sailors' Stair, which was constructed in 1679.    The stair has an ashlar eastern face and stone balustrade with rectangular piers. There is a modern handrail attached to the wall of the church. The stair leads up to a timber door at gallery level, which gave access to the Sailors' Loft in the south east corner of the gallery. This allowed the sailors to leave the service if required "to catch the tide". In the cornice above the timber door the words "Gods providence is our inheritance June 6 1679" are inscribed above an inverted anchor.   A low rubble wall forms a small enclosure around the base of the stair containing several gravestones.

At the south wall there is a square headed timber door with glazed upper sections in the centre of the elevation which is surrounded by roll-moulding. This is flanked on the eastern side by a commemorative stone with hood moulding. This commemorative stone is surrounded by an enclosure formed by a low coped rubble wall topped by iron railings. On the western side of the door there is another commemorative stone which is also set in a small enclosure. To the far side of the each of the commemorative stones there are bipartite sash windows with white painted frames. At the western end of the face there is a low projecting vestry extension with a timber door in the southern face. There are three bipartite windows in

Black-painted decorative iron gates in the northwest corner of the boundary wall were completed in 1992 by Hurd Rolland Partnership. They are flanked by large square ashlar gatepiers, which may be of a later construction date than the rubble walls. They testify in gold  to  the construction date of the church (1592) and the year the gates were made (1992). There is also a decorative ship displayed on each gate.

The original tower on the church, by John Scott, was constructed from timber and lead and was completed in 1600. This was replaced by a stone built tower by Samuel Neilson in 1748. The base of the tower is constructed from four blank courses. In the western face there is a small square central window.  Repair to the base of the tower resulted in some of the original stones being replaced by blond sandstone blocks. This is evident on the western and southern sides. The first stage of the tower is set back slightly from the base. This stage has prominent alternate quoins. There is a pointed arch shuttered window in the centre of each face. There are banded pinnacles on each corner of this stage, which surround the set back octagonal upper belfry stage. There are louvered circular openings on alternate sides of this stage. There is a dentil course below the eaves of the octagonal slate covered spire which has a gilded weathervane with cockerel dated to 1600.


Description (interior)


Because of the square plan of the church the seating for the congregation is in aisles around each side of a square central nave. The central square area is formed by four large stone pillars which are linked by round arches. Each pillar is connected to a corner of the church by further arches which project out diagonally from each pillar to the corners. The stonework of the pillars and arches is visible, whereas the rest of the interior has been painted. On the ceiling there are decorative painted panels displaying notable dates in the history of the church. The centre of the ceiling displays the date 1992, marking the date of the renovation and repainting of the church. The canopied Magistrates' Pew, formerly called Castle Pew, was built against the northeast pillar in 1606 for Sir Robert Melville of Rossend. His coat of arms, along with his wife's (Lady Ross) is painted on the panelling. The wooden pews which surround the sides of the church mainly date to the early eighteenth century (two pews are marked with the dates 1725 and 1742),    before this worshippers brought their own stools to church. These box pews and pumfil pews (larger and with tables) were reserved for particular families and guilds. The current timber pulpit in the central bay was installed in 1922. Galleries were installed in the church in 1602-1603 round each side of the church; these do not intrude into the central bay. They are supported by fluted columns.   The north gallery was rebuilt in 1822. The front panels of the galleries are painted with the emblems of the different guilds that came to the church.  (For example the Sailors' Guild occupied the eastern half of the southern gallery and paintings were commissioned at various dates (1618, 1622, 1632 and 1733) to decorate this section of the gallery.)    Another example is the pair of scales and hanging balance on the western gallery which represent the Merchants' Guild. The church organ was gifted to the church 1908 by Andrew Carnegie. It was altered in 1937 and was moved to its present position  in the western gallery in 1962. There is a war memorial plaque on one of the pillars


People / Organisations:

Church of ScotlandDenomination1596-NOW
King James1601The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met in the presence of King James VI and a revised translation of the bible was proposed and accepted.


  • Church: Build/construction (1592 to 1596)
    The church was opened to worshippers and ordained 12th May 1594 but was not properly completed until 1596.
  • Church: Build/construction (1600)
    The wooden steeple by John Scott, wright in Leith, was completed in 1600.
  • Tower: Build/construction (1600)
    Construction of original timber and lead tower.
  • Church: Addition (1602 to 1603)
    Galleries inserted.
  • Church: Addition (1659)
    Addition of western porch, by Andrew Neilson.
  • Church: Alteration/conversion (1679)
    Alterations to interior.
  • Stair: Build/construction (1679)
  • Tower: Build/construction (1748)
    Construction of current tower.
  • Church: Build/construction (1784)
    The tower was rebuilt in stone by Samuel Neilson.
  • Church: Alteration/conversion (1789)
    Alterations by Alexander Hope.
  • Church: Alteration/conversion (1822)
    The wallhead was raised 1.2m and the windows were enlarged, by David Vertue.
  • Church: Alteration/conversion (1862)
    Extensive alterations to the interior and fanlight above the southern door.
  • Church: Alteration/conversion (1876)
    Alterations for heating.
  • Church: Repair (1877)
    Repairs to tower and roof.
  • Church: Restoration (1907)
    Re-opened 15th September 1907 after restoration and renovation.
  • Church: Addition (1909)
    Insertion of the organ, by Andrew Carnegie.
  • Church: Addition (1925)
    Electric lighting installed.
  • Church: Repair (1929)
    Included repairs to the Sailors\' Stair on the eastern side of the building.
  • Church: Repair (1939)
    Strengthening of the tower.
  • Church: Addition (1992)
    Entrance gates and western door, by Hurd Rolland Partnership
  • Gate: Build/construction (1992)
  • Church: Restoration (1999)
    Restoration and renovation.

Archive References:

Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 22778
Dictionary of Scottish Architects - Online databaseReference: M013821
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 22777
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 2183

Bibliographic References:

A Guide to the History of the Parish Church, Kirkgate, Burntisland 1592-1594Mackie, N.B
Buildings of Scotland: FifeGifford, J1988p. 110
Transactions of the Scottish Ecclesiological Society, Vol. XIII Part III, 'S. Columba's Church, Burntisland, 1592'Henry F. Kerr1941-1945Descriptions of the church 1708: Bell recast by Mrs. Isobel Meikle of Edinbrugh