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St Modan, Falkirk, Stirlingshire

(56°0′0″N, 3°47′8″W)
NS 88729 80025
pre-1975 traditional (Scotland) Stirlingshire
now Falkirk
medieval St. Andrews
medieval St Modan
now St Modan
  • James King
  • James King
13 August 2019

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Feature Sets

Inside the church of St Modan is a section of Romanesque cross, carved on two sides with one of the original cross arms missing. Repaired in 1632-3, the church was rebuilt in 1810-11, with only the lower part of the central tower (likely to be 15th century) and the upper section of about 1740 preserved from the previous church. This destroyed, earlier church appears to have been cruciform in shape and was likely a later-medieval building. No other part of the early church fabric was retained, though a few carved medieval stones survive.


Falkirk has a long history, going back at least to the Roman era. When the Antonine Wall was built across Scotland, it passed through what is now Falkirk. References to ‘Fawkirk’, 'Faukirk' and ‘Falkirk’ appeared before the end of the medieval period, but prior to this the place was usually called Egglesbreth, or variations of this (Gaelic: Eglais Bhris or Eglais Bhrec), with the church, itself, referred to as Varia Capella (thought to mean ‘speckled church').

In 1164, the church of ‘Eglesbrich’ and its lands were granted to the Augustinians of Holyrood Abbey in Edinburgh by the pope. Whether this grant was initially effective is uncertain, but in 1166 the bishop of St Andrews confirmed the possession of ‘Eiglesbrec’ to the Holyrood canons. It was at this time that the use of ‘Varia Capella’ first appears. Along with many other churches in the diocese, David de Bernham, bishop of St Andrews, dedicated the church in 1242 ('Eccl. que vocatur Varia capella, eodem anno pridie Id. Junij'). Just three years later, a perpetual vicarage was established at Falkirk, with a stipend of 10 marks attached to it. In the papal rolls of 1274-5, the church was assessed at 2 marks 6s 8d.

In the late 13th century, the name ‘Varia Capella' for the church of ‘Eglisbrich’ began to be less commonly used. In 1390 one hears of the church of ‘Faukirk’ in the Exchequer Rolls and in 1458 the area is called the ‘dominium of Falkirk’ in the Register of the Privy Seal. An attempt was made to make St Modan’s into a collegiate church in the mid-15th century, but in 1470 King James III of Scotland secured papal confirmation that only Holyrood canons would be able to serve the vicarage of Falkirk. At the same time, the vicarage was valued at £67 13s 4d. In 1533, another charter of the Great Seal refers to, ‘infra ecclesiam Variae Capellae’, while in the same charter is recorded a person who lives ‘in Villa de Fawkirk’. The name Fawkirk appears to mean ‘church at, or on the wall, or the boundary-line’, a name likely to refer to its proximity to the Roman Wall of Antonius.


Loose Sculpture


The early history, and location, of the cross remain unknown. A plaque (subsequently attached to the cross) records that it was found 'in the vicinity of this church'. It has been proposed that it had been used as a possible boundary cross or as a headstone for a grave. In 1935-6 the cross was recorded as being in the porch of the church, where it had been kept for at least thirty years. At a later date it was moved to the ground-floor corridor, where it was secured to its new base. A new fourth arm was added at the same time. Although only one side of the cross is now easy to view, both sides are shown in R. Hunter’s article.

The cross itself has been compared to the cross-heads at St Machar’s Church in Aberdeen and St Helen's in Kelloe (Co. Durham). Dates of the late-12thc or early-13thc have been proposed, with several writers suggesting circa 1200. On the whole, a date in the late-12thc remains feasible.

The identification of the St Modan commerated at Falkirk is uncertain, as more than one saint with this name are known. Although the Aberdeen Breviary states a specific one for Falkirk, it has been argued by some that the early-16th century Breviary conflated two different St Modans.


A. Anderson, Early Sources of Scottish History, 2 (Edinburgh, 1922), 259 fn. 4, and 522

The Bannatyne Club, Origines Parochiales Scotiae, 1 (Edinburgh, 1851), 502.

The Bannatyne Club, Liber Cartarum Prioratus Sancti Andree in Scotia (Edinburgh, 1841), xxvii and 29.

The Bannatyne Club, Liber Cartarum Sancte Crucis, Edinburgh, 1840, 64 no. 76, 66 no. 77, 79-83 no. 91, 169 app. I no. 1, 209-10 app. II no.4, 221 app. II no. 15, 225 app. II no. 18, 265 app. II no. 31, 265-8 app. II no. 32.

I. Cowan, The Parishes of Medieval Scotland, Edinburgh, 1967, 64.

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

A. P. Forbes, Kalendars of Scottish Saints (Edinburgh, 1872), 136 and 400-402.

A. Constable & Co.(publ.), Gazetteer of Scotland, 2nd edn.: enlarged and corrected, Edinburgh, 1806, 186-7.

J. Gifford and F. Walker, The Buildings of Scotland: Stirling and Central Scotland, New Haven and London, 2002, 465-7.

Gray, Marshall and Associates, 'Falkirk Town Centre Conservation Area Appraisal' (Edinburgh, 12 Jan. 2010).

R. Hunter, 'Notes on (1) The Parish Church of Falkirk, and (2) A Food-Vessel found at Camelon', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 70 (6th series: 10) (Edinburgh, 1936), 271-7.

J. Johnston, Place-Names of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1892, 107-8.

J. MacKinlay, Ancient Church Dedications in Scoltland, Edinburgh, 1914, 148.

P. Miller, 'Notes on the Derivation and Meaning of the Place-Name of Falkirk, as Ascertained from Charters and Other Historical Documents', Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 27 (3rd Series: 3) (Edinburgh, 1893), 58-65.

The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments: Stirlingshire , 1 (Edinburgh, 1963), 185-8 and Plate 34 D.

Scottish History Society, 'Bagimond's Roll', Miscellany of The Scottish History Society, 6 (Edinburgh, 1939), 33 and 56.

W. Watson, The History of the Celtic Place-Names of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1926, 289-90 and 349.

J. Wilson, 'Parish of Falkirk', The Statistical Account of Scotland, 19 (Edinburgh, 1797), 71, 73, 76-7 and 111-2.

C. Wordsworth, The Pontifical Offices used by David de Bernham, Bishop of S. Andrews, Edinburgh, 1885, xii and xxii.