Font Size

100% 150% 200%

Background Colour

Default Contrast
Close Reset

Recording Your Heritage Online

Event ID 565665

Category Descriptive Accounts

Type Recording Your Heritage Online


St Michael's Parish Church, principally 1425-1532, probably John Frenssh

Perhaps the finest parish church in Scotland, first dedicated by David de Burnham, Bishop of St Andrews, in 1242. John Frenssh, and his son Thomas, undertook the rebuilding after a fire in 1424 and work was still continuing to the chancel and parapet in the 1530s. Cleansed by the Lords of the Congregation, 1559, it was equipped with new galleries for town magistrates, significant merchants, and the monarch. In 1606 and 1608, it acted as host to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. In 1638, one of the national covenants was signed within.

It decayed during the 18th century, making it vulnerable to restorations in the 19th. In 1812, James Gillespie Graham demolished the chancel arch, erected galleries in the chancel, a solid wall across the choir, and replaced the medieval timber roof with fake-masonry plaster vaults. In 1821, the superb crown steeple was removed because of threatened collapse. In 1894 and 1896, Honeyman & Keppie sensitively removed the galleries, rebuilt the chancel arch, and added the choir vestry on medieval foundations. Without its crown steeple, the tower looked strangely truncated and, in 1964, Geoffrey Clarke's lightweight, laminated, spiky, timber crown, covered in gold anodised aluminium, was consecrated. The design of the new crown derived from the skills, techniques and economics of the 1960s. It would form the latest of many additions to the new church, and should be in the same bold spirit as those additions which reflect the time in which they are made. This approach would demonstrate a living church and a living community.

The church comprises nave, transepts, choir and apse, the tower situated ' as in Stirling, Dundee and St Andrews ' at the west end, and not over the crossing. Unusually luminous interior lit by its array of triforium and clerestory windows, and glowing with the huge Perpendicular windows of the apse, is broad and spacious. A commanding geometric hand has been at work: like a miniature cathedral, the aisles are half the width of the nave and chancel, both nave and chancel are just short of being square. Transept and belltower are both virtually square.

Nave and aisles are continuous, like a vast ship, with a semi-octagonal apse for a prow, entrance tower as poop: the effect enhanced by the way that the beautiful south entrance porch and the two transepts stand proud of the body of the kirk, roofed and gabled, as the aisle roof runs behind. The homogeneity is more apparent than real: look at the elegant south parapet to the choir, probably the work of Thomas Frenssh. The rib-vaulted south porch is a gem, niches flanking the entrance, oriel window above lighting the priest's room reached by a circular tower in the re-entrant The south wall of the south transept, or St Katherine's Aisle ' a plain, square, mystical vaulted space ' is almost entirely glass; swirling Scots tracery and stained glass depicting the Pentecost by Crerar McCartney. The effect is absolutely stunning. It is a huge, curved-sided, equilateral triangle containing cusped circles and daggers within, sitting upon six cusped columns. The west door, divided by a trumeau (French-style) like Haddington, St Giles and Dundee, is grossly under-appreciated. St Michael the Archangel on the south-west buttress was the only statue to vanquish the Cromwellian dragons. Internal oak screen to the Queen's Aisle by William A Cadell, 1985. External restoration and neat internal toilet 'pod' by The Pollock Hammond Partnership, 2000 and 2003.

Twelve consecration crosses elegantly incised in a circle, possibly dating back to 1242, three aumbries (cupboards), a piscina, a window by Burne-Jones, the blocked royal door in the north side leading to the palace, the ornate Gothic timber pulpit by John Honeyman. In the atmospheric but very regimented kirkyard, note the Livingston Burial Vault, 1668, with its mort-safe. St Michael's Manse & Church Hall, 1974 and 1988, William A Cadell, form a neat group in crisp white harl and grey-slated monopitch roofs. Manse extended, 2004, by Pollock Hammond Partnership.

Taken from "West Lothian: An Illustrated Architectural Guide", by Stuart Eydmann, Richard Jaques and Charles McKean, 2008. Published by the Rutland Press

People and Organisations