Sometimes when a day’s plans go “off-script”, the day turns out even better than expected. On a recent trip to St Andrew’s on the Scottish east coast, exactly that happened. We were planning to explore St Andrew’s Castle and St Andrew’s Cathedral that day but stopped for breakfast first (one needs all the energy one can get, before a long day of exploring 😉).
While enjoying breakfast at the Cottage Kitchen, I looked out the window and saw what looked like a typical church, across the lane. At first, it looked fairly modern, so I was not that keen to have a proper look. But breakfast was served quickly, and we had a small window of time before we were due to visit the Castle. So, we walked across to investigate. And am I glad we did! There is much, much more history to the Holy Trinity Church, than I thought initially.
History of Holy Trinity Church, St Andrews
The original 12th century church stood further down South Street, near the Cathedral. In 1410, however, Sir William Lindsay made a donation of land, and the church was moved to its current location in 1412. The building of the church was overseen by Bishop Wardlaw.
In around 1800, Holy Trinity Church was remodelled by Robert Balfour as a galleried preaching arena capable of seating around 2,200 people. And in 1907 the church was again pulled down and rebuilt according to designs by architect Peter MacGregor Chalmers, keeping close to the medieval church’s footprint. During this rebuild, much of the original sandstone blocks were used (some mason’s marks can still be seen today).
The large bell tower largely remains intact as it was built in the 15th century, with the addition of the metal and bronze clock faces at a much later date. Internally, two arches also remain from the original 15th century construction.
The Assassination of Archbishop Sharp
In the 1600s, Scottish religion was in turmoil. There were the many different factions – some following the old church in Rome, while others wanted a “reformed” church and followed Presbyterianism. The latter were known as Covenanters.
After the 1660 Restoration, the Covenanters lost control of the kirk and became a persecuted minority, leading to several armed rebellions and a period from 1679 to 1688 known as “The Killing Time”. Following the 1688 Glorious Revolution in Scotland, the Church of Scotland was re-established as a wholly Presbyterian structure and most Covenanters readmitted.
Sharp was appointed Archbishop of St Andrews and Primate of Scotland and consecrated at Westminster Abbey in December 1661. Archbishop Sharp was massively anti-Covenanter. He took an active role in suppressing the Covenanter-backed Pentland Rising in November 1666; he is reported as having condemned to death eleven prisoners who surrendered on a promise of mercy, telling them “You were pardoned as soldiers, but you are not acquitted as subjects”.
On 3 May 1679, a group of nine Covenanters were waiting at Magus Muir (near Strathkinness), hoping to ambush the Sheriff of Cupar. A Sharp appointee, the Sheriff was prominent in persecuting Covenanters but apparently heard about the proposed ambush and stayed home. Learning Sharp’s coach was on the road, they intercepted it instead. Sharp was stabbed several times, in front of his daughter Isabella, before being killed by a shot to the chest. One of the group, James Russell, claimed he told Sharp he “…declared before the Lord that it was no particular interest, nor yet for any wrong that he had done to him, but because he had betrayed the church as Judas, and had wrung his hands, these 18 or 19 years in the blood of the saints, but especially at Pentland…”
Sharp was buried beneath an imposing black and white marble monument in the Holy Trinity Church, St Andrews. Designed by his son, Sir William, it has two main objectives: commemorating his father as a martyr, rather than a turncoat, and confirming his privileged status as archbishop. When the tomb was opened in 1849, it was empty; the body was allegedly removed in 1725 and has never been found.
Church at the Heart of St Andrews
Holy Trinity has been a significant part of St Andrews history for at least 6 centuries. When the church was at the height of its social and political power, it was served by Roman Catholic priests until the Reformation in 1559 when it was served by Protestant and Episcopalian priests. Since 1689 the ministers have been Presbyterian.
Historical Sites Nearby
- St Andrew’s Castle is a 7-minute walk from Holy Trinity Church
- The ruins of St Andrew’s Cathedral are located a 5-minute walk away
- Dunfermline Abbey and Palace are 37 miles south-west of St Andrew’s Castle.
- Site visit and observation
- On site information boards
- The Parish Church of Holy Trinity information booklet
- Wikipedia website
- Holy Trinity Church website