The Church in Stirling before 1694

St NinianThe earliest known Christian church in Stirling was established by the 9th century. This was at St Ninians, which was known as Eccles or Eggles. This name is revealing for two reasons. Firstly, it means simply �church�. To call a place simply �church� or �the church� implies that there weren�t a lot of them around. For example, if today someone in this area refers to �the wheel�, we can be pretty sure they�re talking about Falkirk. Secondly, the word is Brythonic, belonging to the P-Celtic language group of which only Welsh and, to a lesser extent, Cornish and Breton, now survive. The church may therefore date from at least the 7th century, when Brythonic was supplanted in central Scotland by Gaelic. Taken together with the name, �St Ninians�, we may speculate that a church was founded here either by St Ninian himself in the 5th century, or by one of his later followers, while the area was still Brythonic-speaking. The old church and cemetery at St Ninians might therefore have been a Christian site for at least 1,400 years. Another ancient church of St Ninian at Kirkintilloch may well belong to the same era. It would certainly have been on the direct route between St Ninians and the important church of St Kentigern at Glasgow.

Christianity in the area might also have have been influenced by St Columba of Iona (c.521-597), especially once it became Gaelic-speaking. The monastic foundations of St Columba and his followers stretched form Ireland through much of Scotland to Northumbria.  

Here are the Scots, saved by the CrossSt Margaret of Scotland (1046-1093), who had experienced court life in England and Hungary before marrying king Malcolm III (Canmore) of Scotland, initiated political and ecclesiastical reforms which brought Scotland firmly into the European mainstream. In 1127, her son, David I (c.1085-1153), established Stirling as a royal burgh. This made it one of the four main trading centres in Scotland, the others being Berwick, Edinburgh and Roxburgh. The earliest surviving burgh seal depicts the crucified Christ and bears the Latin equivalent of �Here are the Scots saved by the Cross�. David, also known as St David of Scotland, founded an astonishing number of religious houses during his 29-year reign. Around 1140. two important foundations were made near Stirling. These were Dunblane Cathedral and Cambuskenneth Abbey, which was endowed to Augustinian Black Canons from Arrouaise in France. The Canons were priests who lived as a monastic community, but who also ministered to layfolk in the outside world. St Ninian, St Columba, St Kentigern, St Margaret and St David of Scotland are all depicted in stained glass within Holy Trinity.

Eucharist of c. 1500During the 12th century, two new churches were erected in Stirling. These may have replaced earlier churches of which no record now remains. One was probably a Chapel Royal at the Castle and the other a parish church for the burgh, almost certainly on the site of the current Church of the Holy Rude. In 1150, the parish church was granted to the Benedictines of Dunfermline Abbey.

During the 13th century, the Augustinians and Benedictines were joined in Stirling by Black Friars (or preaching friars) of the Dominican order. Remains of the foundations of the Dominican Friary in Stirling were recently rediscovered, lying between the railway station and the foot of Friars Street. Unlike monks, friars went out and about in the community, preaching and ministering to layfolk, and also maintained themselves and their friary by begging for alms. In the 15th century, another group of friars, the Observant Franciscans (also known as Grey Friars, or Friars Minor) were introduced by Mary of Gueldres, wife of king James II. The site of the Franciscan Friary is now occupied by the Stirling Highland Hotel. Pilgrims� hospitals and a home for lepers were also established at various times.

The parish church, a wooden construction, was damaged by fire in 1414 and again in 1452 and 1455. The last two fires arose out of acts of defiance against king James II by adherents of the powerful Douglas family. A new stone church was then erected, financed partly by the burgesses of Stirling, the king and the Abbey of Dunfermline. The church was built in two phases, the first between 1456 and 1470 and the second between 1507 and 1555. Around 1545, it became a collegiate church - staffed by a group or �college� of priests - one of a number created in this period.

John KnoxHowever, the winds of change were blowing. Many influential people in Scotland had become disillusioned with the abuse of privileges by kings, courtiers and prelates and were influenced by Lutheran and Calvinist writings coming from England and from continental Europe. John Knox, the intellectual driving force of the Scottish Reformation, preached in the Church of the Holy Rude in 1559. The Queen Regent, Mary of Guise, widow of James V, tried to contain the Protestant upsurge, but when she died in 1560, the Scottish nobles, the �Lords of the Congregation�, seized the initiative and, by Act of the �Reformation Parliament�, severed the link with Rome and outlawed the Mass. All authority deriving from the Pope was abolished and Roman Catholicism ceased to be the established faith. In October 1560, the first Protestant minister in Stirling, Rev. John Donaldson, was appointed. The Augustinians abandoned Cambuskenneth and left their abbey to become a quarry of building stone for the burgh. The Dominicans and Franciscans were turned out and, in 1567, their lands and privileges were formally granted to the burgh council of Stirling.

Booke of Common PrayerFrom this point on, the most contested religious issue in Scotland was not that of Roman Catholic versus Protestant, but of what course the Reformed faith was to take. Should the church be Episcopalian - governed by appointed bishops, or Presbyterian - governed by elected assemblies? Should it be centred on the Eucharist, as favoured by the Episcopalians, or on the preaching of the Word, as favoured by the Presbyterians? In 1656, The Church of the Holy Rude was physically divided into two separate churches, with the staunchly Presbyterian Rev. James Guthrie officiating at the eastern end and the more Episcopally minded Rev. Matthew Simpson in the west. These subsequently became two separate parishes - Stirling East and Stirling West.

James VIIAfter alternating periods of hybrid (1560-1592), Presbyterian (1592-1610, 1638-1661) and Episcopal (1610-1638, 1661-1689) government, the Church of Scotland finally became Presbyterian in June 1690. This followed the Scottish bishops' refusal to renounce their oaths of allegiance to James VII in favour of William II and Mary II.

At this time, the ministers in Stirling were Rev. James Hunter in the West Parish and Rev. John Munro in the East. Both remained loyal to Episcopacy. Early in 1693, Rev. Hunter was violently deposed from his pulpit and had his house and possessions confiscated. Rev. Munro held out a little longer, his services being on occasion defended from �the rabble� by soldiers from the Castle, but succumbed in July of the same year. Up to this point, Episcopalian and Presbyterian had been two parties within the same church. From now on they constituted two separate denominations.

Next: 1694-1795