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Stirling, St John Street, Church Of The Holy Rude

Church (15th Century), War Memorial(S) (20th Century)

Site Name Stirling, St John Street, Church Of The Holy Rude

Classification Church (15th Century), War Memorial(S) (20th Century)

Alternative Name(s) Holy Rood Church; East And West Churches; Greyfriars Parish Church

Canmore ID 46221

Site Number NS79SE 39

NGR NS 79206 93710

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
Canmore Disclaimer. © Copyright and database right 2020.

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Administrative Areas

  • Council Stirling
  • Parish Stirling
  • Former Region Central
  • Former District Stirling
  • Former County Stirlingshire

Archaeology Notes

NS79SE 39.00 79206 93710 Church of the Holy Rude

NS79SE 39.01 79175 93778 Burial-Ground

NS79SE 39.02 79149 93856 Star Pyramid

NS79SE 39.03 79133 93768 Wilson Monument

(NS 7920 9370). Holy Rude Church: By the middle of the 12th century, Dunfermline Abbey owned two churches in Stirling, one of which was no doubt a predecessor of the present parish church. Of the earlier churches that may have occupied the site, very little is known and no fragments survive. In 1414, mention is made of a grant to the work of Stirling parish church which had been burnt; this presumably refers to the repair and restoration of an older church. In 1455 much destruction was done in Stirling after the fall of the Douglases, and the church may well have been damaged or destroyed at that time. In the following year, James II made a grant for building the parish church, and heraldic and architectural evidence confirm that the oldest portion of the present church is of that period. Other periods of building are shown on plan.

A college of secular canons was constituted in the church some time before 1546.


In normal use.

Visited by OS (JP) 6 December 1973

A watching brief undertaken during repair works to the Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling, particularly improvements to the drainage system around the outside of the building, revealed no structures. Much-disturbed skeletal remains were located in several trenches. These were re-interred.

L Main 1988.

Architecture Notes


Architect: James Collie 1869 (Alterations)

James Gillespie Graham 1818 (alterations)

Plans: NMRS Perspective sketch elevation of memorial altar etc. R. Lorimer 192(0?).


Publication Account (1978)

The parish church of the Holy Rude was granted to Dunfermline Abbey in the reign of David I (ESC, 1905, 168). The nave which dates from the early fifteenth century is the earliest surviving portion of this fine medieval parish church. Additionally the church boasts a western tower nearly eighty-five feet (25.91m) in height (RCAHM, 1963, 132), an aisled choir with an apse, and a crossing with modern transcepts. The choir dates from the early sixteenth century when the Town Council agreed o build 'ane gud and sufficient queyr' conformand to the body of the peroch kirk' (Cant, 194S, 13). That 1507 indenture was made between the council and Dunfermline Abbey who still enjoyed original right over the church granted by David I (RCAHM, 1963, 130). The building of the enlarged choir and Holy Rude's ultimate attainment of collegiate status demonstrates the pride of contemporary burgesses' pride in their parish church. A notable feature of construction which has survived is the medieval open timbered roof covering both the nave and the choir. The medieval church, however, did not have transcepts which were added during renovations of the late 1930s. In total, the length of the church is just short of 200 feet (60.96m) making it one of the largest medieval parish churches in Scotland (Cant, 1948, 12).

Information from Scottish Burgh Survey, ‘Historic Stirling: The Archaeological Implications of Development’, (1978).

Publication Account (1985)

The Church of the Holy Rude was the parish church of the medieval burgh, and its large size and imposing design reflect the importance of the town in late medieval times. Records show that there was a church in the burgh from at least as early as the 12th century, but the present building was not begun until 1456.

Work on the church was divided into two phases, presumably to help to defray the considerable costs of erecting such a large building. The nave was built first and was completed sometime in the 1470s; it is rectangular on plan, with north and south flanking aisles of five bays each, and it has a centrally placed tower at the west end. To this simple design wealthy burgesses soon added chantry chapels, which comprised rectangular projections from the aisle bays.

Of the three originally built, only St Andrews Aisle (dating from before 1483) now survives, the other two having been removed in the course oflater building work.

The second stage of the work began soon after 1507, with the construction of the chancel. It was to consist of projecting transepts with a substantial tower placed above the crossing, a choir which continued the form of the nave, and an apsidal presbytery attached to the east of the choir. Construction was slow, and work appears to have stopped by 1546 before the transepts or tower had been completed. In the 17th century a dispute among the parishioners led to the church being partitioned and the formation of two separate congregations. Further extensive internal and external changes were carried out early in the 19th century, greatly altering the character of the medieval work. At the beginning of the present century it was decided to undo some of the damage wrought during the past 150 years: between 1911-14 and 1936-40 the internal arrangements of the building were restored, as far as possible, to those of the late medieval church, and the transepts, originally planned in 1507, were finally added.

There are no medieval burial monuments in the graveyard, but it contains a large number of 18th and 19th century gravestones and memorials whose inscriptions testify to the activity of the towns folk and surrounding landowners and farmers.

Information from ‘Exploring Scotland’s Heritage: The Clyde Estuary and Central Region’, (1985).

Project (February 2014 - July 2014)

A data upgrade project to record war memorials.

Project (27 March 2015 - 28 March 2015)

GUARD Archaeology Limited was commissioned by the Friends of the Holy Rude to undertake a geophysical survey and trial trenching at the Church of the Holy Rude in Stirling. The geophysical surveys recorded two linear features at the exterior of the church, four potential burials within the church and what appear to be three voids in the south choir aisle. The trial trench excavation on the south side of the church uncovered the possible remains of a side chapel in trench 1 and a possible burial vault in trench 2 along with a range of artefacts that included medieval pottery and window lead.

Information from Bob Will and Christine Rennie (GUARD Archaeology Ltd) 19 June 2015.

OASIS ID: guardarc1-213275

Trial Trench (27 March 2015 - 28 March 2015)

GUARD Archaeology Limited opened two trial trenches to the S of Holy Rude Church.

While no graves were uncovered the presence of disarticulated bone fragments at a relatively shallow depth would suggest that graves had been disturbed at some point during building work to the church. In both trenches structural remains were uncovered that may be part of an earlier church or side chapel although the stone slab in trench 2 is more likely to be part of a burial vault within a now demolished side chapel.

Information from Bob Will and Christine Rennie (GUARD Archaeology Ltd) 19 June 2015. OASIS ID: guardarc1-213275

Resistivity (27 March 2015 - 28 March 2015)

GUARD Archaeology Limited undertook a resistivity survey around the S,W and N sides of Holy Rude Church. Readings taken at set points within temporary grids measure the resistance to the current at a point about 0.5m below ground surface.

In keeping with results seen at other graveyards, a great deal of ground disturbance was encountered, most clearly seen at the south-west of the graveyard, and at the south-west exterior of the church. Although the mottled appearance of the survey can be confusing, it does reflect the profusion of graves (white/light grey) and recumbent gravestones or stone features (black/dark grey) within the general area.

Information from Bob Will and Christine Rennie (GUARD Archaeology Ltd) 19 June 2015. OASIS ID: guardarc1-213275

Ground Penetrating Radar (27 March 2015 - 28 March 2015)

GUARD Archaeology Limited undertook a Ground Penetrating Radar Survey to the N of, within and to the south of the Holy Rude Church.

The survey recorded four potential burials within the church and what appear to be three voids in the south choir aisle.

Information from Bob Will and Christine Rennie (GUARD Archaeology Ltd) 19 June 2015.

OASIS ID: guardarc1-213275

Fabric Recording (October 2015 - April 2016)

NS 7920 9371 A survey of the stonemasons’ marks on the interior and exterior walls of the Church of the Holy Rude was undertaken three days a month over six months, October 2015 – April 2016, by the Mason’s Mark Project, with the help of volunteers from the Friends of the Church of the Holy Rude. The total number of marks recorded was 2,070, from which 92 different masons could be identified. Of this total number, 60 of the masons worked on the 15th- century West Church, five of whom also worked on the lowest stage of the tower. A group of seven others only worked on the St Mary’s Chapel or Aisle, while yet another group of six masons only worked on the 1st floor chamber of the tower which is of a later date. Thirty-two masons worked on the 16th-century East Church.

From the survey of marks it would appear that the masons who worked on the earlier West Church were paid for ‘piece work’, ie by the number of stones they cut, as marks were found in most locations. In contrast, the masons working on the later East Church were paid under contract, as very few marks were recorded on any ashlar block on the walls, with the majority of marks being found on the voussiors of the arches and around windows.

The results of the survey indicated that the tower was most likely built in three different stages, and could also suggest that St Mary’s Aisle was probably built at a slightly later date than St Andrew’s Chapel and the rest of the West Church.

Report: Stirling Council Archaeology Service


Sponsor: Friends of the Church of the Holy Rude

Moira Greig – Mason’s Mark Project

(Source: DES, Volume 17)


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