The ruins of St Fillan's Church stand close to a minor single track road near Kirkton Barns, just under two miles south west of Tayport. You reach it by walking 50 yards or so along a broad grassy track that leads off to the south of the road. The church is marked as "Forgan Church" on Ordnance Survey maps, and is also known as "Forgan Old Parish Church". The sign on the gate tells you it stands within Forgan Churchyard.
There is another sign prominently placed between the churchyard gate and the ruins of the church alerting visitors to the danger from falling masonry. It is there with good reason: parts of the ruins are in a very precarious state and the north aisle in particular shows plenty of evidence of recently fallen stones. This is a ruin most safely viewed externally, and if you do decide to explore the interior, do so with great care.
There has been a church on this site since at least 1188, when it was granted along with the surrounding estate to the Priory of St Andrews by Alan de Lasceles. The church whose ruins you see today seems to have been a replacement for this first church on the site. It started life as a rectangular structure typical of a Scottish medieval church and was probably built some time in the years either side of 1300.
To this older structure was added, probably some time between the Reformation of 1560 and the end of that century, a north aisle linked to the rest of the church by an arch. Today the arch linking the rest of the church with the north aisle is the most impressive feature of the ruin. It seems likely that at the same time the church was shortened at its west end with the building of a new west gable. The north aisle seems to have been used to house a laird's loft accessed by an external staircase, with the ground floor probably used as a family burial vault. The door in the west wall of the aisle is known as the laird's door.
The dedication of the church to St Fillan is first recorded in the late 1600s, though it may date back to a much earlier period. The church fell out of use in 1841, largely because its location proved inconvenient in a parish whose population was increasingly focusing on Newport-on-Tay, on the south shore of the River Tay facing Dundee. The local worthies who had funded the fixtures and fittings reclaimed their property and the church was already in a very ruinous state by the 1890s. By 1927 the ruin was almost totally enveloped in ivy. Much of this was cleared in the late 1960s, though it has since partially returned.
The surrounding churchyard is home to a number of fascinating gravestones. A particularly well preserved stone to the south west of the church carries a fine set of trade emblems including digging implements, shears and a watering can for a gardener. A look at the east face of this stone reveals it commemorates John Christie, but the remainder of this face is so covered by lichen it is impossible to find out much more about him, including when he lived and died.
A fascinating horizontal stone near the west side of the churchyard carries the hour glass and crossed bone symbols of mortality often found on early gravestones, intermingled with what may well be more gardening implements. In keeping with an early trend to engrave stones just with the initials of the deceased, this one seems to mark the grave of WJ and KN. A very nice feature is the way the "N" has been carved backwards, presumably by an illiterate mason.
The churchyard is also home to a burial enclosure to the south of the church, while another butts up to the south side of the west end of the church.
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Grid Ref: NO 446 259