St John’s Kirk ~ a potted history


St John’s Kirk (Kirk of the Holy Cross of St John the Baptist) – St. John Street – Upon this site a church has stood since the 12th Century. Perth’s other(older) name St John’s toun is derived from this church of St John. The local football team still retains this name – St Johnstone FC. In 1126 David I granted the revenues of the church to the Abbey of Dunfermline. The building that can be seen today in Perth dates from the 15th century onwards; the key feature being the 155 foot tower and octagonal spire – it is also the oldest surviving building in the city. As the Burgh Church, St John’s Kirk was a centre of city life and government. In 1440 it underwent some building work – the Choir was reconstructed and the transepts and tower built. More globally the church is known for the sermon that John Knox preached (11 May 1559) attacking the established Catholic Church and idolatory which formed part of the Reformation in Scotland. As a consequence of that speech two monasteries were destroyed, that of the Friars and that of the Carthusians.

Significant repairs and reconstruction work took place in the 1820s (James Gillespie Graham) and in 1889 (Andrew Heiton). In 1926 the church underwent some restoration under the architect Robert Lorimer.

Occasional guided tours allow visitors to go up the tower and this is more than worth the perspiration required – not only for the views but for the construction and the bells housed near the top.

Further building work in the last few years has experienced some problems with vandalism of the ground gargoyles placed around the site.

Of note is the St John’s Kirk plate: “one of the most outstanding collections of church silver and pewter”. It comprises 16 items: communion cups and flagons; a silver parcel-gilt baptismal bath; and, collecting plates made in Dundee, Edinburgh, London and Nuremberg.

1126 – King David I gifted the church to the monks of Dunfermline Abbey.

1189/99 – A Charter of William the Lion. By this charter Henry Bald (goldsmith) receives a portion of land on front of the street that leads from the Church of St. John the Baptist to the Castle of Perth.

1242 – The church is consecrated by Bishop de Bernham.

1286 – Heart of Alexander III is buried in St John’s Kirk.

1296 – Edward I of England celebrates the feast of St John in the church.

1328 – Robert the Bruce orders repairs to the church and the bridge at Perth.

1335 – It is said that Edward III of England slew his brother John of Eltham in St John’s Kirk. (Fordun in Scotichronicon)

c1448 – new choir was built and stands today.

1511 – The central tower and steeple built.

In the early 16th century there were about 37-40 altars in St John’s.

11 May 1559 – John Knox preached in St John’s Kirk.

1582 – The Wrights’ Incorporation was granted permission to have seats in the church.

1596 – Seats were installed for the boys of the grammar school.

1598 – St John’s was partitioned and the nave became the West Church in 1618.

1604 – Queen Anne (wife of James VI and I) granted her rights to the church to the Provost and Magistrates of Perth.

1618 – The Five Articles of Perth were sanctioned by the general Assembly of the Church which met in St John’s Kirk.

1635 – Charles I attended service in St John’s.

1644 – 800 Covenanting prisoners were held in the church.

1650 – Charles II attended service in St John’s Kirk.

1745 – Bonnie Prince of Charlie attended service in St John’s Kirk.

1771/3 – A partition was built between the choir and the transepts to form the East and the Middle Church.

1823 – The north transept was shortened. Halkerston’s Tower was removed.

1874 – A pipe organ was installed in the East Church.

1889 – Andrew Heiton, city architect, put forward plans for the restoration of the church.

1925 – Ownership of the Church was vested in the Trustees of the Church of Scotland.

1926 – Sir Robert Lorimer’s restoration of the church was completed. St John’s was again just one church. Included in the restoration was the 1914-18 War Memorial.

1936 – A new carillon of 35 bells was installed.