Kilconquhar Parish Church dominates the west end of the pretty village of Kilconquhar. Occupying a raised position on a small hill and surrounded by the graveyard, the village's main street points directly at the church's east end, only veering off when it reaches the wall surrounding the graveyard to pass around its north side.
The church you see today was built between 1819 and 1821 by the architects R&R Dickson, apparently based on the design used by Richard Crichton when building Cockpen Church near Bonnyrigg, Midlothian, in 1818. The two churches certainly look very similar, both having tall angle-pinnacled towers at the west end of the church, and a Gothic cruciform plan.
At Kilconquhar, the tower is some 24m high which, coupled with its elevated position in a generally low-lying landscape, gives it considerable prominence. Internally the church's dark wooden pews are offset by the white walls and the complex light blue ceiling.
The church was clearly built to accommodate an extremely large congregation, with three large galleries to supplement the ground floor seating. The galleries remain, but the ground floor areas in the north and south arms, which previously formed part of the main space of the church, have been partitioned off to provide a more flexible range of spaces.
The focus of the church lies at its east end, where the pulpit, communion table and organ all line up under an imposing stained glass window. This depicts "the acts of charity" and was added to the church in 1867.
Kilconquhar Parish Church is only the latest of a series of churches to have stood on this site, possibly dating back twelve centuries before it. The church that stood here previously was built in the 1400s, and when it was being demolished in 1819 its foundations were found to extend to a depth of as much as 15ft below ground level. Large quantities of human bones were also found, buried within and around the building.
These can be seen as signs of a series of churches standing on the same spot. The most compelling indication, however, is in the name of the church itself. Kilconquhar probably comes from the Gaelic Cill Conchubair meaning the church of Conquhar or Connacher. The theory is that an early Christian missionary of Irish origin established a chapel here, perhaps in the 600s, which over the centuries developed into the church known to have been bestowed on the convent in North Berwick in 1200. Over more centuries this evolved into the church built in the 1400s, and this in turn was replaced in 1821.
The church built in the 1400s seems to have extended considerably further east than the one that replaced it in 1821, and only those parts needed for the new site were completely demolished. The result is that to the east of today's church you can still see structural elements of the older church, apparently on exactly the same alignment. Over the past two centuries these have been turned into burial enclosures.
The most interesting relic to be found among the remains of the earlier church is a badly eroded and damaged effigy of a knight in armour. Known locally as Jock o' Bucklevie, he apparently occupied a niche within the church built in the 1400s, before being removed and left to weather outside after the Reformation in 1560. There is no denying that Jock has seen better days, but his presence adds considerably to the interest of an already fascinating part of the graveyard.
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Grid Ref: NO 522 015