Historic Scotland

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History

The friends of God

St Mary’s Kirkheugh was a collegiate church - a church which housed a college of priests. It may have been established for the successors of the Celtic monks, or Culdees, who worshipped at the site before the Augustinian monks were established here.

These monks refused to acknowledge the Reformed monastic orders, and the community at St Andrews – then known as Kilrymont - was one of the most significant.

When Robert, Prior of Scone became bishop of Kilrymont in 1123, the 13 Culdees opted not to remain a separate body. St Mary’s Church was built as their permanent home between St Andrews Cathedral and the cliff edge, but outside its precinct wall.

In 1249 their church became the first college of secular priests in Scotland, and it enjoyed the protection of both kings and bishops. From about 1290 until 1500 it was regarded as a Chapel Royal.

In 1385 its leader, the provost, was allowed a place in the cathedral chapter. At the time of the Reformation in 1560 there were still at least 13 clergy in the college.

Church of the Culdees

St Mary’s Church was cross-shaped. Its choir was longer than its nave, which allowed more space for priests than lay worshippers. Only low footings remain of its the building.

The finest masonry is found in the eastern choir. This seems to be the latest part of the church and was part of extensions in the later 1200s after the church was made a college.

The base of the high altar is still visible in the choir. A projection from the south wall may have held the sedilia, or seating for use during Mass.

 

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