Athelstaneford Parish Kirk lies towards the west end of the village of Athelstaneford, in East Lothian, which in turn lies five miles south of North Berwick. Athelstaneford was built on a ridge offering open views to the north, and from the rear of the church it is possible to enjoy the broad views to North Berwick and North Berwick Law, to the Forth Estuary, and to Fife beyond.
The church you see today is little altered from the church that was built here in 1780, to serve the spiritual needs of the planned model village then being developed by Sir David Kinloch of Gilmerton. Cottages were strung along the east-west line of the main street, each comprising two rooms and most costing between £15 and £20 to build. The kirk was built on the site of an earlier church, which may in turn have been just the most recent of several previous churches on the site.
The first record of a church existing on this site was in 1176, when Ada, the mother of William I, built what was called the Ecclesia de Elstaneford here.
Athelstaneford Parish Kirk is cruciform in shape with a long nave being balanced by a small semi-octagonal apse-like chancel. There are three magnificent stained glass windows in the church made by C.E Kempe at the beginning of the 1900s, while the beautiful window in the north transept, showing Christ calling two fishermen to be his disciples, was made in 1958 by Mary I. Wood of Edinburgh. Internally, the church has undergone a sympathetic restoration that took eight years to complete. The result is a lovely space with an inviting feel.
The kirk has a close connection with the author Nigel Tranter. He was married here, and in April 2008 a permanent Nigel Tranter Exhibition was established in the north transept of the church. Included in the items on display are an example of the kind of typewriter he used, a number of manuscripts and books, and some personal items. It is good that the exhibition has found such a fitting permanent home after previously being housed at Lennoxlove House, and prior to that at Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott.
The kirk is intimately linked with the story of the founding of Scotland's flag, the Saltire. A doocot to the north-west of the church dating back to 1583 is now home to the Flag Heritage Centre, giving visitors an audio visual presentation of the most popular version of the story of the founding of the Saltire. In the kirkyard to the south-east of the kirk is a memorial to the founding of the flag. Also in the kirkyard is a beautiful example of an immortelle: these were complex china figures standing on the grave incorporating figures, foliage and birds, covered by glass domes and protected by wire outer covers. Extremely fragile, these date back to the Victorian era and very few now survive intact.