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St. Monans Parish Church

St Monans Church Fife

The name St. Monance, or St. Monans, seems to have come from an Irish missionary, MONANUS or MONANS or MONAN. whose shrine was situated at the mouth of the Inverie Burn. He probably came to East Fife about 832 in the company of Adrian, and he is said to have been the
first to preach the gospel in the Isle of May. It is recorded that he was slain by Danish invaders about 875.

St Monans Old Church Photograph

St. Monans Church. in close proximity to the shrine of the saint, was founded by Alan Durward about 1265-67. It is to King David II of Scotland. who reigned from 1329 to 1371, that we owe the building as it now is, although some parts of an earlier church may have been incorporated in it. The King seems to have conceived the church as a thank-offering to God. but there are two different stories about the particular occasion of his thankfulness. The first story tells how David was wounded by two arrows at the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346 and how one of the arrows was extracted from the wound only after he had made a pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Monan, when the arrow leapt from the wound. The second story tells how the king sailed across the Forth
to visit Ardross Castle, and how the queen, Margaret of Logie, and he were in grave peril when a storm arose. The king vowed that he would build a church to St. Monan if they reached the land in safety.

St Monans Church Photograph

Whatever his motive, it is recorded history that David II
commissioned Sir William Dishington of Ardross to build the church, and the Exchequer Rolls for the period 1362 to 1370 contain various entries of payments made to Sir William Dishington, Knight, Sheriff of Fife, for the building of the church. The complete cost seems to have been about about 750 Scots pounds. Work on the structure is recorded to have been begun in 1362. It is known that the roof timber was brought from Inverness and that the building was still in progress in 1370.

Sometime before 1477 the building was granted to the Dominican Friars, whose priory stood in what is now the new part of the cemetery. Spotiswood refers to the chapel as a large and stately building of hewn stone, in form of a cross, with a steeple in the centre, and he says it was given to the Black Friars by King James III at the solicitations of Friar John Muir. The reference to the building being ”in the form of a cross” is probably inaccurate. The original design would certainly be cruciform, and an arch in the west wall testifies that a nave was intended. But there is no reason to think that this was ever built.

In 1544 the church was burned by English invaders but the damage must have been made good, for in 1646 it became the Parish Church. In that year St. Monans was disjoined from Kilconquhar and united to the old parish of Abercrombie, no part of the stipend being disjoined.

The date of founding of Abercromhie Church is unknown but between 1163 and 1173 the church was gifted by the Bishop of St. Andrews to the monks of Dunfermline. Abercrombie Church was consecrated by David de Bernham on 24th October 1247 But no part of the present building, the ruins of which stand in Balcaskie Wood, is older than the 15 century.

St. Monans Church was first used as the parish church on 27th December 1646.

From 1646 until 1848 the choir alone was used for worship and the transepts were allowed to fall into disrepair. The interior of the building underwent changes. The pre-Reformation altars were removed, but fortunately the trefoiled sedilia and the piscula on the
south wall of the choir were allowed to remain. The pulpit was on the south wall and there were galleries extending across the east end of the choir and along the greater pan of the north wall, and to the west of the pulpit the Newark gallery. General Sir David Leslie of Newark being an elder of the kirk and a member of Presbytery. The
north gallery was the Sailors’ Loft. There can have been little enough headroom beneath the galleries, and the area beneath the west gallery was not seated. The worshippers brought their own creepies, or stools. Close to the north wall a single pew raised above the rest
olihe gallery was the Bailies’ Loft.

The four windows on the south wall of the choir were
originally the work of the Dominicans. but one of them, the second from the west, is a nineteenth century reproduction. There are two small windows, each of two lights, in the south wall of the south transept, which may be the oldest feature of the building. Expert opinions differ as to their date but agree thai it cannot he later than the 14th century. The only original door is the small one on the north side of the choir.

In the latter years of the 18th century the building had fallen into a sadly dilapidated state and the transepis were roofless. There was, of course, a wall shutting them off from the choir, and closing the arch at the west end of it. In 1722 an effort was made to have much-needed repairs carried out, but disputes about who should bear
the expense finished it. In 1826 a thorough renovation began under the architectural direction of William Burn of Edinburgh. The heritors defrayed the entire cost, about £2000. William Burn planned to bring the whole church into use again and met with vigorous opposition. A long list of objections was tabulated.

The fact that the congregation would be divided into three sections, in the choir and in the transepts, was held to be indecent for a Presbyterian Church. “Three congregations joining with one clergyman”, it was said. “where most may see, it is impossible they can all hear the same clergyman and they cannot see one another.”

Burn must, nevertheless, be given the credit for having made the best possible use of the interior space. The floor level was lowered some four feet, probably to give easy access without interior or exterior steps. Doors were broken into the east wall of the choir. The galleries were removed and the church was given its present
setting, the focal point of worship being shifted from east to west. Walls were plastered and plaster vaulting in the transepts reproduced the lovely stone—vaulted ceiling in the choir. To this restoration belong also the buttress pinnacles which are a striking feature of the church’s

In 1955, under the architectural direction of Mr. Ian Gi. Lindsay. a restoration was planned “whose aim was to have due regard to the orientation and architectural
conception of the church and to be at the same time functionally appropriate for modern Presbyterian worship”.

The main features of this restoration are (I) the raising of the floor level to the original height, (2) the building up of the dilapidated doors in the east end of the choir, and the opening of the sedilia and piscina to view at their proper level, and (3) the removal of wall plaster. A flat timber ceiling replaces the plaster one beneath the tower, and rounded timber ceilings in the transepts take the place of the vaulted plaster ones. The 1828 west windows behind the pulpit have been removed and a much smaller window high in the west wall replaces them. Walls have been lime-washed.

The following features, some of which have already been mentioned, should he noted.

1. Sedilia and piscina on south wall in east end of choir.

2. Aumbries on the north wall in east end of choir.

3. Twelve consecration crosses, six in north wall and six in south wall of choir.

4. Piscina in north transept.

5. Piscina and aumbry in south transept.

6. Piscina in sacristy (vestry).

7. Vaulted stone roof of choir, with heraldic shields of Bruce, Douglas, Dishington and Leslie.

8. Full-rigged ship of 1800.

9. Plaque, showing the arms of St. Monans and hearing the date 1792. This probably hung in front of a gallery prior to the 1828 restoration.

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