New Abbey Parish Kirk

National Grid Reference (NGR): NT 08980 87310, map


Abbey Chancel, St Catherine's

Also known as:

  • New Abbey Parish Kirk
  • Abbot Street
  • Maygate
  • Monastery Street
  • St Catherine's Wynd


A Benedictine monastery and church founded by Queen Margaret of Scotland c. 1090 was established with abbey status by King David I of Scotland in 1128.    After the Reformation of the 1560s the east chancel end of the original abbey church was roofless and in poor repair.    The western (nave) half of the church was used as a parish church for Dunfermline from 1570 until 1818 -1821when this church, the New Abbey Church, was built incorporating some of the features of the earlier abbey building.  

The church precincts include the old graveyard  (see alo site  2260).   In 1832 an area in the southwest of the graveyard was used to bury victims of a cholera epidemic.   To the east of the church an enclosure behind cast-iron railings contains some gravestones and a tomb chest, and at the north of this is a monument to /Ralph Erskine also surrounded by railings erected in 2006.  The north east section of the graveyard contains some memorials and monuments.   To the north east of the graveyard is the nineteenth century gate house.    

While clearing foundations for the new parish church building in 1817, a skeleton believed to be that of Robert the Bruce was unearthed near the old chancel altar. This identification was based on the prominent position of the tomb as well as damage to bones in the chest indicating removal of the heart, which supported contemporary accounts of his death. The skeleton was re-interred underneath the present church and his grave is now marked with a memorial plaque.

Description (exterior)

The church is attached to the east end of the old Abbey Church, and covers the area that was once the choir which had collapsed between 1672 and 1753.    The new church is constructed of sandstone with ashlar dressings and has a slate roof.   It is cruciform with a central tower at the cross, and oriented E-W in line with the original 12-th century abbey chancel. The west door is the original Norman porch  with a sloping canopy.  Towers from the medieval building have been incorporated into the west end of the building, and each has a pointed arched window with intersecting tracery at the lower edges.    A similar window is above the main door and above this is a blind mullioned and transomed oculus.    At the apex of the gable is an arcade of four lights.   

The church is built in a gothic revival style and is gabled and aisled.   Its  main section consists of a seven bay nave and aisles, which are supported by massive stepped buttresses.    Above the aisles are clerestory windows.   . Buttresses at the corners of each wall are topped with conical spires.

The north and south transept walls both host large 5-paned gothic windows. They rise above the main walls of the nave and chancel and are gable-topped. At their eastern elevations they both host a triple-light main window and a clerestory window in similar styles to those in the nave walls.

 The cenrtral tower is square with conical pinnacles at each corner, and a decorative stone railing running around each side. Open text has been carved amidst the stone of the railing, spelling out the words of “KING ROBERT THE BRUCE” at each side. This style of stone lettering is thought to derive from that at nearby Hill House, a 17th century laird's house on Limekilns Road.

The eastern elevation and chancel end is gabled and aisled like the nave, with stone spires at the corners of each feature. An ornate six-light gothic window is at the centre of the east gable wall, with smaller three-light gothic windows at the ends of the aisle walls. Below the east gable wall is a semicircular construction, probably a sacristy, with surrounding single gothic windows. Directly to the east of this is the site of St Margaret’s Shrine, original to the earliest Abbey foundation. It is fenced in wrought iron and contains an informational plaque about the shrine.

The rectangular crossing tower is one hundred feet high.   There are two windows in the top stage in the east and west elevations, with single windows to the north and south.    Around the parapet, in four foot high stone lettering, are the words ‘KING ROBERT THE BRUCE’ with a series of crowns above.   There are slender pinnacles on each corner.

The cast-iron gates date from the nineteenth century, with sandstone gatepiers.   There is also a gatehouse built in 1897, now used for storage.    It is rectangular, built of sandstone with ashlar dressings, and is buttressed, with a crenellated parapet.

Description (interior)

The interior was modernized between 1904 and 1906 by Sir Robert Rowand Anderson.    It  is light and airy, with ornate white-painted columns separating the aisles to the north and south. A gallery runs around the entire length of the nave walls at the west, north, and south. It is panelled in dark-stained wood to match the pews below which are in a similar tone. The ceiling is vaulted and painted white with ornate gold decoration at the vault crossings. At the chancel end, the pulpit is placed centrally and a large organ is prominent at the northeast corner.  The nave and aisles are divided by massive round columns, two of which are decorated with a chevron pattern.   The aisles have rib-vaulted ceilings, and in the east corner of the north aisle a portion of a medieval painte d ceiling survives. The plaque which covers the tomb of Robert the Bruce was added in 1889.   The pulpit which covers it was a gift from the Earl of Elgin in 1890, and was carved by Edinburgh-based carpenter William Patterson.    It is to the north of the chancel and was most recently refurbished in 1967.

The lower part of the original medieval rood screen survives and is at the eastern end of the nave.    

The stained glass in the church was added between 1880 and 1974 by a number of stained glass artists, notably among them Douglas Strachan, and Ballantyne and Gardiner who were responsible for the large east window of the nave which depicts the Last Supper and the Resurrection.    Andrew Carnegie is among those commemorated.   The latest window to be added is the north transept window, dedicated in 1974 to Robert the Bruce on the 700th anniversary of his birth.

The south choir aisle was reconstructed as a war memorial chapel by architect James Shearer, and was dedicated on 11 May 1952.

The south transept is a shrine to the Bruce family.   There are memorials and recumbent effigies of Charles Bruce, Earl of Elgin, and of General the Hon. Robert Bruce.   These recumbent effigies are made of marble, the former (1870) by Matthew Noble  and the latter (1863-1868) by J.H.Foley.

People / Organisations:

William Burnarchitect1818-1821
R R Andersonoversaw alterations1905


  • Church: Build/construction (1818 to 1821)
    People: William Burn
  • Church: Repair (1835)

Archive References:

Canmore - Online database View Canmore Report Online: 49315
Historic Scotland Listed Building Reports - Online databaseView HS Listing Online: 25961
Scottish Church Heritage Research Archive - Offline databaseReference: 4677

Bibliographic References:

FIFE, in 'The Buildings of Scotland' seriesJohn Gifford1988pp 179-81.