The History of Leith

July 20, 2012

The church of Corstorphine (c1883)

The church of Corstorphine is one of the most
interesting old edifices in the Lothians. It has
been generally supposed, says a writer, that Scotland,
while possessed of great and grand remains
of Gothic architecture, is deficient in those antique
rural village churches, whose square towers and
ivied buttresses so harmonise with the soft landscape
scenery of England, and that their place is
too often occupied by the hideous barn-like structure
of times subsequent to the Reformation. But
among the retiring minor beauties of Gothic architecture
in Scotland, one of the principal is the
picturesque little church of Corstorphine.
It is a plain edifice of mixed date, says Billings
in his ” Antiquities,” the period of the Decorated
Gothic predominating. It is in the form of a cross,
with an additional transept on one of the sides;
but some irregularities in the height and character
of the different parts make them seem as if they
were irregularly clustered together without design.
A portion of the roof is still covered with old grey
flagstone. A small square belfry-tower at the west
end is surmounted by a short octagonal spire, the
ornate string mouldings on which suggest an idea
of the papal tiara.
As the church of the parish, it is kept in tolerably
decent order, and it is truly amazing how it
escaped the destructive fury of the Reformers.
This edifice was not the original parish church,
which stood near it, but a separate establishment,
founded and richly endowed by the pious enthusiasm
of the ancient family whose tombs it contains,
and whose once great castle adjoined it.
Notices have been found of a chapel attached to
the manor of Corstorphine, but subordinate to the
church of St. Cuthbert, so far back as 1128, and
this chapel became the old parish church referred
to. Thus, in the Holyrood charter of King David I.,
1143-7, he grants to the monks there the two
chapels which pertain to the church of St. Cuthbert,
” to wit, Crostorfin, with two oxgates and six
acres of land, and the chapel of Libertun with two
oxgates of land.”
In the immediate vicinity of that very ancient
chapel there was founded another chapel towards
the end of the fourteenth century, by Sir Adam
Forrester of Corstorphine ; and that edifice is supposed
to form a portion of the present existing
church, because after its erection no mention whatever
has been found of the second chapel as a
separate edifice.
The building with which we have now to do
was founded in 1429, as an inscription on the wall
of the chancel, and other authorities, testify, by Sir
John Forrester of Corstorphifte, Lord High Chamberlain
of Scotland in 1425, and dedicated to St.
John the Baptist, for a provost, five prebendaries,
and two singing boys. It was a collegiate church,
to which belonged those of Corstorphine, Dalmahoy,
Hatton, Cramond, Colinton, &c. The tiends
of Ratho, and half of those of Addertbn and Upper
Gogar, were appropriated to the revenues of this
“Sir John consigned the annual rents of one hundred
and twgnty ducats in gold to the church,” says
the author of the “New Statistical Account,” “on
condition that he and his successors should have the
patronage of the appointments, and on the understanding
that if the kirk of Ratho were united to
the provostry, other four or five prebendaries
should be added to the establishment,, and maintained
out of the fruits of the benefice of Ratho.
Pope Eugenius IV. sanctioned this foundation by a
bull, in which he directed the Abbot of Holyroodhouse,
as his Apostolic Vicar, to ascertain whether
the foundation and consignation had been made in
terms of the original grant, and on being satisfied
on these points, to unite and incorporate the church
of Ratho with its rights, emoluments, and pertinents
to the college for ever.”
The first provost of this establishment wr,s
Nicholas Bannatyne, who died there in 1470, and
was buried in the church, where his epitaph still

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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