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St Drostan and St John the Baptist, Markinch, Fife

(56°12′16″N, 3°8′5″W)
NO 297 019
pre-1975 traditional (Scotland) Fife
now Fife
medieval St. Andrews
now n/a
  • James King
  • James King
26 July 2018, 14 Aug 2018

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Markinch is a village in Fife, Scotland. The present church of St Drosan and St John the Baptist consists of a 12th-century W. tower and post-Reformation nave, the latter orientated towards a pulpit on the S interior wall. It is possible that the central part of the E wall is medieval, but its date has yet to be proven. The church was enlarged by extending the south side of the church in the 17th century, with additional work on the church undertaken during the 18th century. Then, in the early 19th century, the church was extended on the N side and a new spire erected on top of the W tower. Extensive reorganisation of the church, including the blocking of the W tower arch, was undertaken in the 1880s. The upper stage of the W tower has double openings on the four faces, each of these having attached nook shafts with cushion capitals and a single en-delit shaft with four-sided cushion capital. Three stringcourses around the exterior of the tower separate the tower into four sections. The lower two stringcourses have a decoration of carved lozenges, but the top stringcourse is plain. Other carved decoration is found on a series of stones with chip carved saltires, three reused on the S exterior nave wall and one, now loose, found built into the N side of the church. This loose stone is definitely a voussoir and is presently kept inside the W tower. On the E face of the W tower arch is carved a simple cross with flared arms on one of the upper voussoirs, the date of the carving uncertain. North of the church, built into a separate building, is a worn medieval capital which is not of Romanesque type.


Maeldunus (Maldwin or Maoldhuin), Bishop of St Andrews, gave the church and land of Markinch to the Culdees of Loch Leven about 1055. By 1159, the patronage of the monastery of Loch Leven had passed to the priory of St Andrews (founded 1140/44) through a grant of Robert, bishop of St Andrews. Then, between 1165 and 1171 Duncan II, Earl of Fife confirmed the church of Markinch to St Andrews Priory. William, King of Scotland also confirmed to the priory of St Andrews the ownership of Markinch sometime between 1165-9. A series of papal confirmations followed in the late-12th and the 13th century. It was not, however, until 1240 that the church, itself, was granted to the uses of the priory by David de Bernham, bishop of St Andrews. It was at this time that the establishment of a vicarage was undertaken at Markinch and the parsonage thereafter annexed to St Andrews. In 1242/3, a re-dedication of the church took place, with St John the Baptist added to that of St Drostan. The names of perpetual vicars are recorded from 1284. The next centuries are devoid of surviving documentary reference to building work on the church. It does seem likely, however, that some work on the church was carried out during the late 15th or early 16 century through John Hepburn, prior of St Andrews (1483-1526), whose heraldic shield is carved on a stone built into the E exterior wall. Peter Watson, a member of the Chapter of St Andrews before the Reformation, was translated to Markinch before November1564. He was followed by, William Braidfute, also a member of the Chapter of St Andrews before the Reformation, who was translated to Markinch in 1576 and presented to the vicarage there by James VI of Scotland in September 1583.


Exterior Features

Exterior Decoration

String courses


Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

Loose Sculpture


In the past, a variety of dates for the early parts of Markinch Church have been put forward: early-12th century (Manson), towards the mid-12th century (Fawcett), and about 1200 (Gifford). Based on the historical and stylistic information, the Romanesque parts of Markinch Church would seem to fit most comfortably somewhere between about 1120 and the middle years of the 12th century.

Manson has pointed out that the arrangement of the upper W tower openings is similar to that on St Rule’s Tower in St Andrews. At both places, the central shafts and capital are in the same plane as the side shafts and capitals. As well, the head-stones over the two individual openings are separate, each carved from a separate block of stone. But unlike St Rule’s original side shafts (now missing), the Markinch equivalents are attached and coursed. Moreover, the capitals are quite different, those at Markinch having shields projecting slightly away from the lower part of the capital. Although this type of cushion capital is not unique to Markinch, it is relatively rare and is normally associated with buildings constructed before the middle of the 12th century (compare, for example, Durham Cathedral church and an early, loose capital at Dunfermline Abbey). Later types, as at Tyninghame are generally scalloped, with longer, defined cones.

The loose, chip carved voussoir of Markinch appears to come from a large arch. Although the outer label on the E side of the tower arch has been cut back, there is nothing to suggest that the various chip-carved stones, which may all have been voussoirs, come from this arch. The most likely original position for these would appear to be the chancel arch. Chip carving was used throughout the Romanesque period in the British Isles and elsewhere. Scottish comparisons of the Markinch type can be found, for example, at such places as Legerwood and St Machar’s Cathedral in Aberdeen. There is, however, a particularly strong similarity with those used on imposts of the W doorway of Dunfermline Abbey, with the lower edge profile consisting of a thin, undecorated band and groove between the lower chamfer and the chip-carved main face.

West towers with external stringcourses can be found elsewhere in Scotland, with that at Dunblane Cathedral having four bands like Markinch. Although the external stringcourses at Dunblane have no added decoration, sections of stringcourses carved with lozenges exist on the interior of the tower. In Scotland, the use of stringcourses carved with a decorative motif seems to first occur at some point between 1120 and 1140, and carved lozenges in series were used in Scotland as a decoration about the same time as, for example, in St Margaret’s Chapel (Edinburgh).


The Bannatyne Club, Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree in Scotia (Edinburgh, 1841), 33, 38, 43, 59, 63, 68, 73, 77, 92, 99, 103, 116, 121-2, 135-6, 143, 151, 166, 177, 216, 220, 230, 234, 242-3, 244, 245, 327, 348 and 420-1.

G. Barrow, 'The Earls of Fife in the 12th Century, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 87 (Edinburgh, 1955), 55 fns. 6 and 7.

I. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland (Edinburgh, 1967), 143.

Fawcett, The Architecture of the Scottish Medieval Church, 1100-1560 (New Haven and London, 2011), 18.

R. Fawcett, J. Luxford, R. Oram and T. Turpie, Corpus of Scottish Medieval Parish Churches, http://arts.st-andrews.ac.uk/corpusofscottishchurches

J. Gifford, The Buildings of Scotland, Fife (New Haven and London, 1992), 318-9.

A. Lawrie, Early Scottish Charters prior to A.D. 1153 (Glasgow, 1905), 6 and 233 (endnote), and 210 and 445 (endnote).

D. MacGibbon and T. Ross, The Ecclesiastical Architecture of Scotland, 1 (Edinburgh, 1896), 193-6.

B. Manson, MacDuff's Kirk?: the constructions and reconstruction of St Drostan's Church Markinch ([Scotland?]: Pittanhaigles Press, 2017).

Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, Inventory, Eleventh Report: Fife, Kinross and Cackmannan, (Edinburgh, 1933), 201 no. 410.

H. Scott, Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, 5 (Edinburgh, 1925), 57-8 and 112-4.