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Torphichen Preceptory

Torphichen Preceptory West Lothian Scotland

Torphichen Preceptory, is a church in the village of Torphichen, West Lothian, Scotland. It comprises the remains of the Preceptory, headquarters, of the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in Scotland. The Knights Hospitaller, established during the Crusades, were invited to Scotland in 1132 by David I. The Preceptory was built in the 1140s around an existing church, possibly of early Christian origin. During the 13th Century the Preceptory was expanded, and the buildings which still stand were first erected. The complex included a cruciform church, with a nave, central tower, transepts and choir, whose tower and transepts remain, and a number of domestic buildings including a hospital. After the suppression of the Knights Templar in 1312, their lands were transferred to the Knights Hospitaller. Torphichen was one of only two major Hospitaller sites in Britain, the other being the Priory of Clerkenwell in London, and benefited greatly from this transfer of land. The church was extended again in the 15th Century, and a cloister completed, of which only the foundations remain. Very unusually, this was situated on the north side of the church, a feature seen elsewhere in Scotland only at Melrose Abbey. William Wallace held his last parliament here, prior to the Battle of Falkirk in 1298. The only surviving document signed by Wallace was prepared here. After the battle, Edward Longshanks (Edward I of England) was brought to the Preceptory for treatment of the injuries caused when his horse stood on him, whilst he was encamped at Polmont before the battle. The Hospitallers fought on the English side during the Wars of Scottish Independence, and withdrew after the Scots victory at Bannockburn, returning during the rule of Robert the Bruce. The last Preceptor, Sir James Sandilands, was the second son of James Sandilands, Baron of Calder. Sir James's father and elder brother John had both backed the Reformation and been friends of John Knox. In order that the Preceptory would be spared the treatment which similar religious establishments suffered in the 1560s, Sir James Sandilands surrendered the Preceptory lands to the Crown, i.e. his relative, Mary, Queen of Scots, whereupon she gave the lands back to him as a re-grant, with the secular title Lord Torphichen. The Hospitallers were suppressed as an order from 1554. The nave of the Preceptory church was converted for use as the parish kirk, with the rest of the buildings falliing into disrepair. Nevertheless, the surviving crossing of the church (below the central tower) retains some of the best-preserved late 12th-early 13th century masonry in Scotland, with refined architectural detail. In 1756 the nave and domestic buildings were demolished, and a new T-plan kirk built. The kirk is furnished with early 19th Century box pews and galleries. The remnants of the Preceptory were used as a courthouse for a number of years. The central tower was re-roofed in 1947 and is now in the care of Historic Scotland. A 'sanctuary stone' in the kirkyard marks the centre of an 'area of sanctuary' that once extended one Scots Mile around. The east and west 'sanctuary stones' still stand in their original positions. It has been suggested that these stones are of much earlier origin than the medieval Preceptory, possibly being related to the important Neolithic henge and burial mound at Cairnpapple Hill, to the east.

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