A Short History
A Short History by S H
The story of the present church stems from the acquisition of the lands of Corstorphine by Adam Forrester from William More of Abercorn in 1347. Adam Forrester, a very successful and influential burgess of
After he established himself in Corstorphine, Sir Adam sought and obtained the permission of the Abbot and Chapter of Holyrood to build a votice chapel next to the then-existing
Following Sir Adam’s death, his widow, Margaret, greatly increased the endowments of the chapel by providing funds for supporting two additional chaplains and two choir boys. His elder son, Sir John, who had succeeded Sir Adam in most of his state appointments, set about the physical enlargement of the chapel to accommodate the bigger establishment and founded, in 1429, the Collegiate Church of St John the Baptist. Confirmation of his foundation was ultimately granted in 1444 by Pope Eugenius and is commemorated in the present chancel by a memorial tablet to the first provost, Nicholas Bannatyne, who guided the development of the Collegiate church until 1473. So the two churches functioned side by side - normal parish worship taking place in the old
After the Reformation the College was dissolved and in 1593 parish worship was transferred from the old
Although many alterations and additions have taken place over the centuries much of the original medieval building remains. The tower, the south transept or baptistry, the chancel and the sacristy or vestry have survived relatively unscathed. The entrance porch was probably added about 1646 and may have been built from some of the remnants of the old parish
The main entrance to the church is now by the Porch door.
On the left are some carved stones, one of which bears an almost indecipherable inscription which has been translated by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of
‘Here lies Adam Forstar, son of Sir John Forstar, knight’
Before being identified by the Royal Commission experts, this was thought to be the tombstone of Sir Adam Forrester who died in 1405; it is now considered likely to have marked the resting place of his grandson. This ‘Adam Forstar’ was perhaps the clerk of the diocese of St Andrews mentioned in 1432 as being of noble race, but illegitimate (CSSR
Tower and Gallery
A spiral stair leads from the tower vault to the gallery above and beyond that to the bell chamber. Before this gallery was opened out in 1905, the chamber had served several purposes, including that of the Kirk Session prison. Indeed the Session minutes record in 1649 that a certain Betie Watson being held there on a charge of witchcraft, hanged herself from the bell rope rather than face her trial by ordeal. The bell was cast in 1728 after one donated in 1577 by Sir James Forrester had ‘rent in the steeple’ (in the words of the Minutes).
On the face of the gallery is a memorial to the Rev. James Fergusson the minister whose inspiration initiated the restoration of the building in 1905, while those of the parish killed in the First World War are commemorated on panels on the sides of the archway.
The early medieval stone font in the Baptistry which came from Gogar church was installed in 1955. The bowl is roughly hewn and originally would likely have been lined with metal. Gogar church lies a mile or so the west of Corstorphine but is no longer used for public worship, its congregation having united with Corstorphine Old Parish many years ago. The large south window is by Gordon Webster and replaced, in 1970, a nineteenth-century memorial window. The theme is Baptism and the Holy Spirit emanating from the enthroned Christ.
Adjacent to the tomb is a credence table (small table for holding the bread, wine and vessels of the Eucharist) and a recess which was previously the site of an altar into which a sculptured panel by Isobel Reid has been set and above which has been placed a tapestry by Dovecot Tapestries, Corstorphine, from a cartoon by Sax Shaw.
On the opposite wall is a six-ringed stone which at one time covered the burial vault of the Watsons of Saughton which lies beneath the floor in front of the transept. This memorial slab is dated 1620 and has a long Roman-lettered inscription from Ezekiel, Chapter 37 I the Authorised Version. The Watson family were influential landowners of Saughton House and estate in the parish of Corstorphine for approximately three centuries from 1537.
Pulpit and Nave
The pulpit was carved in 1905 from
The Readers Chair at the chancel arch was made from the oak taken from the now demolished Provost’s house of 1505, which stood on the site of the present High St Hall. On the wall behind the chair is a monumental stone inscribed to the memory of Alexander Tod in 1489, he was brother-in-law of Sir Archibald Forrester, the fifth of the line.
On the west wall adjacent to the Priest’s Door, behind the curtain, are seen commemorative dates the earliest of which, 1429, likely referring to the foundation of the Collegiate church and that of 1455 probably relating to the completion of the chancel. The significance of the date, 1769 is unknown. The first two dates are believed to be the earliest recorded in Arabic characters in the Lothians.
At the east side of the Priest’s Door is an ancient unidentified stone with a floriated calvary cross. Next to it is a recessed sediliar with basket arches and miniature rib-vaults inside. It has seating for three priests and alongside there is a piscine (fish) and credence table.
On the east wall of the chancel there is a the memorial tablet to Nicholas Bannatyne, the first Provost of the Collegiate Church in 1429 and on the same wall, at the other side of the great window is a tablet in memory of George Henderson already referred to as the architect in charge of the 1905 restoration.
The effigies in the recessed tombs on the north wall are thought to be, on the left, next to the chancel arch, those of Sir John Forrester, the founder of the Collegiate church and one of his wives. Sir John achieved great prominence in his lifetime, acting as depute chamberlain of the whole kingdom, under the Earl of Buchan and playing an important part in the release of King James I from the English in 1424. In recognition of his services that monarch appointed him Master of his Household and on the death of the Earl of Buchan he was made Lord High Chamberlain in 1425.
These could have been combined to surround a free-standing tomb and the most probable site of such a tomb would have been at the entrance to the present chancel. Again, as has been pointed out, the orientation of the animals at the feet of the effigies in the chancel suggests they were designed to lie on the south side of the church – not on the north side as they are at present situated. So doubts must remain over the earlier assumption that the effigies lie in their original positions. However, the placing in their present situations is likely to have been at a very early stage in the history of the church – most likely during the building of the final phase – as there is no evidence of damage or wear of any significance on their far sides. Until such time that documentary evidence comes to hand speculation must continue over the nature of the structural development and internal changes that have taken place over the years. Perhaps we shall never know for certain the true sequence of those events.
The sacristy, off the chancel, is now used as the vestry and has, at its east window, an ancient ‘mensa’ or alter slab, damaged at the corners but in situ, on which five consecration crosses are still visible. Alongside is a rather rough but well-preserved piscine which drains through to the outside wall. Projecting corbels indicate the level of the floors of the two upper chambers, the first of which would likely have served as living quarters for the priests on duty and the second chamber as a treasury or store.
The eighteenth-century pewter on the north window ledge is interesting, as are also the massive padlocks, which, if all tales be true, came from the old
The wooden chest is seventeenth century and could have been the poor box of the period. The communion token attached to its lid was discovered in a crevice in the box during its restoration and is dated 1680. Other well-preserved early examples of communion tokens are also on display.
As already stated this area was created in 1828 when additional seating was required. The memorial to those of the congregation who died in the 1939-45 war is on the stone pillar to the right of the
With the exception of the 1970 south transept window already referred to, all the stained glass was installed in 1904-05. The large window in the north transept depicting the ‘Works of Mercy’ is by Ballantine and Gardiner. The great east window in the chancel, the ‘Supper at Emmaus’ is by Ballantine & Son, as are the remainder, with the exception of one in the south-east nave, ‘Consider the Lilies’ and one in the south-east chancel. ‘The Good Shepherd and the Lamb of God’ which are by Nathaniel Bryson.
On the exterior of the church, above the porch door, are two inset heraldic shields bearing the arms of Forrester and Wigmer; the same arms are inset above the window of the south transept. The perpendicular tracery of the south window of the baptistry and the east window of the chancel is rare in
Above the great east window of the chancel is a niche containing a lamp. In medieval times this light guided travellers along the side of the loch and through the marshes to Corstorphine, probably to the Hospice there or perhaps, simply, home. The tradition is continued and a lamp still shines in the same niche from dusk to dawn!
The Corstorphine Trust has in its possession as custodian many historical documents, copy charters, writings and sketches relating to this church. These may be inspected at the Trust’s