Standing close to the west end of the village of Gullane is the ruin of St Andrew's Kirk, sometimes referred to as St Andrews Church or the Old Church of St Andrew. It is good to report that in recent years the surviving elements of the kirk have undergone a program of consolidation which has seen centuries of overgrowth by ivy and other vegetation removed, and the stonework pointed and made secure. This ensures that St Andrew's will be around to be appreciated by future generations.
Gullane's origins are ancient and the original name for the parish was was "Golyn". A church was established on the site of St Andrews in the 800s, and this was replaced by a stone building in the second half of the 1100s. It is thought that parts of this first stone church remain on view within the surviving structure. During the 1200s the income from the kirk was granted to Dryburgh Abbey by the landowner (and resident of nearby Dirleton Castle) Sir William de Vaux. Such altruism was common at the time: and was usually seen as a means of easing the donor's path to heaven. It is thought that a number of changes were made to the structure of the church at this time.
More changes were to follow when, in 1446, St Andrew's became a collegiate church. This meant that it became home to a "college" or group of priors paid for by the then resident of Dirleton Castle, Sir Walter de Haliburton, to spend their time praying for his soul and the souls of the members of his family. Again, the eventual aim was to secure Sir Walter's progress in the afterlife.
It is unclear whether, as a collegiate church, St Andrews could also have served the needs of the wider parish. What does seem rather clearer is that St Andrew's role as a collegiate church would have been brought to an abrupt and definitive end with the Reformation of 1560: and it certainly served as the parish kirk for quite a large parish during the decades that followed. The north aisle appears to have been built in the 1500s.
On 23 October 1612, Lord Erskine of Dirleton, another resident of Dirleton Castle, received permission from the Scottish Parliament to build a replacement parish church on a new site in Dirleton. The stated reason for the relocation was that the existing kirk "is sa incommodiouslie situat beside the sea sand that the same, with the kirk yard thereof, is continewallie overblawin with sand, that nather the kirk servis commodiouslie for the convening of the parichiners, nor yet the kirk yard for their burial".
In other words, it was prone to inundation by sand and was in the wrong place in the parish to serve the majority of parishioners. Today the ruin of St Andrew's lies almost half a mile inland and it is difficult to imagine sand being a problem this far from the sea. And while coastlines and sand dunes can change over time, it is also interesting to note that sand appears not to have been an insurmountable problem at any time since a church had first been established on this site, some 800 years earlier.
Perhaps the truth was simply that the laird found it personally inconvenient to have to travel over two miles to church, and two miles back: and, after all, what's the point of being the laird if you can't change things? Whatever the real reasons, St Andrew's was abandoned almost immediately, and the congregation moved to as newly built Dirleton Parish Church, on a site much handier for the castle.
St Andrew's Kirk was converted for use as a series of burial enclosures, which is perhaps why a reasonable proportion of the walling has survived. The most striking feature is what was originally the chancel arch, dividing the nave from the chancel. This, like other windows and internal arches was blocked with stone during the conversion to burial aisles, but the the decoration can still be appreciated, especially from what was the nave.
An unusual feature in the surrounding churchyard is a set of three very large stone blocks, each with lifting eyes. These appear to have formed a mortsafe, being placed together on top of a fresh grave to stop bodysnatchers stealing the corpse within for medical research. You can find a number of different variants of mortsafes in Scottish graveyards, but this is the first we've seen which appears to rely on sheer weight and immovability to protect the body interred below.
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Grid Ref: NT 480 827