Torphichen is an ancient settlement dating back at least as far as the establishment of a church here by St Ninian around 400AD. The name, difficult to spell either correctly, or consistently incorrectly, comes from the Scottish Gaelic "Torr Phigheainn" meaning "Hill of the Magpies".
St Ninian's church in Torphichen is said to have been visited by King Arthur during the 500s. Six hundred years later the site of the church was where King David I invited the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem to found a Preceptory.
After the Reformation the nave of the Preceptory became the Parish Kirk. In 1756 the nave was demolished and the T-shaped Parish Kirk on view today was built on its foundations at a cost of £300. This comes complete with three galleries and a laird's loft, the fireplace for which cost a further £12. Because of the box pews and low galleries, the interior feels smaller than it actually is.
For its first fifty years the Kirk had no pews, and the congregation either stood or brought their own stools. Once installed, the pews were rented to the highest bidders, with private boxed pews for families an irresistible reminder of corporate boxes at a modern sporting event: though perhaps without the champagne.
In the kirkyard is a relic that possibly predates even St Ninian's arrival. A sanctuary stone close to the path through the kirkyard marks the centre of an area of sanctuary that would have extended to outlying stone markers, one Scots mile to the north, south, east and west.
The east and west sanctuary stones still stand in their original positions. Many believe that the sanctuary here was pre-Christian and related to the Neolithic henge and burial mound at Cairnpapple Hill, to the east of Torphichen, a location from where it is possible to see most of central Scotland.
Torphichen itself is a remarkably attractive village. Clustered around a village green, its focus is the Jubilee Fountain installed for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1897. Behind this is the village post office and shop. On the opposite side of the main road through the village is the Torphichen Inn, carrying the cross of the Order of St John whose history in Scotland has been so closely connected with that of the village.
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