Churches dedicated to St Michael have traditionally been placed on high ground and St Michael's Parish Church, Linlithgow, is no exception. Built on the rise between the town of Linlithgow and Linlithgow Loch, anywhere else this large church would command instant attention over a wide area. But here it shares the stage with its larger neighbour, Linlithgow Palace, which lies immediately to its north.
There was probably a church on this site from a very early date. The first documentary evidence dates back to 1138 when the the church was amongst the properties gifted to St Andrews Cathedral by David I.
On 22 May 1242 the Church of St Michael of Linlithgow was reconsecrated by the Bishop of St Andrews, but it was only to serve for a further 60 years. In 1301 Edward I's English troops fortified the area as their main base in central Scotland and the church became a storehouse.
After the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 the English departed, leaving St Michael's badly in need of the repairs that followed. But worse was to come. In 1424 an English attack led to the burning down of most of the town of Linlithgow as well as the royal manor house that predated the palace, and St Michael's Church itself.
The church was rebuilt over the 115 years that followed, with support from James I through James V who, over the same period, were building the neighbouring Linlithgow Palace. Completion of the new St Michael's was celebrated in 1540, though parts of the church came into use as they were finished.
When James IV was praying in the partially completed church in 1513 he was visited by a mysterious spirit who warned him not to go to war against the English. This may have been a put-up job by his wife Margaret Tudor, sister of Henry VIII of England: but he should have listened. Had he done so the mad adventure that culminated in the disaster at the Battle of Flodden, and his death, might have been averted.
St Michael's had been completed for just 19 years when in 1559 the Protestant Lords of the Congregation forcibly removed all signs of "popishness" from the church, smashing the many beautiful statues adorning its exterior and the altars within. Only the statue of St Michael, forming part of the structure at the south west corner of the nave, survived, and it was defaced. The Reformation had arrived in Linlithgow.
Over the following centuries various alterations were made to the church to meet the changing needs of its congregation. In the years following 1808 interior remodelling damaged parts of the fabric and resulted in a church in which, when it reopened in 1813, seats were only available to those able to pay for them.
In 1820 it became clear that the magnificent stone crown that had topped off the tower for 400 years was in danger of collapse, and the following year it was removed. In 1894 work began to restore the church to its condition prior to the 1808 work. The church was rededicated on 24 October 1896.
More recent changes have included the 1977 enlargement of the organ installed in 1877. And in 1992 the 750th anniversary of the church was celebrated with the installation of a new stained glass window in St Katherine's Aisle by Crear McCartney.
But the most striking change was the addition in 1964 of a crown to replace the one removed in 1821. This needed to be light to avoid overloading the tower, and the 58ft high crown you see today is made of anodised aluminium.
It would be easy for St Michael's Church to be overwhelmed by its massive and much better known neighbour, Linlithgow Palace. The fact that this has not happened owes much to the quality of work and vision of those responsible for its rebuilding in the 115 years to 1540: and the efforts of those since 1894 to remedy some of what was done to the church from 1559 to 1813.