Established in the 12th century, Holy Trinity Church has a chequered and fascinating history and has served the town of St Andrews for over 800 years. The first church was based close to the Cathedral at the end of South Street. Holy Trinity has been in its current location, in the heart of St Andrews since 1412, around the time of the founding of St Andrews University, after a donation of land by Sir William Lindsay in 1410. This first church in the centre of St Andrews was built under the direction of Bishop Wardlaw. Of the original church from 1412, only the tower and two interior arches remain. In around 1800 Holy Trinity was remodelled by Robert Balfour as a galleried preaching arena capable of seating around 2,200 people. And in 1907 the church was again pulled down and rebuilt (architect Peter MacGregor Chalmers), keeping close to the medieval church’s footprint. The church was rededicated on St Andrews Day in 1909. The total cost of the restoration, including stained glass windows, organ, and other furnishings, came to £30,000, over 3 million pounds today.
The rebuild in 1907 used much of the same tooled sandstone blocks used in the previous buildings, and many of the blocks still retain their mason’s marks. The large bell tower largely remains intact as it was built in the 15th Century, with the addition of the metal and bronze clock faces at a much later date. Holy Trinity Church is loosely based on a typical medieval cruciform plan containing nave, transept arms, chancel, and aisles. The vestry and southeast chapel (known as the Hunter Memorial Aisle) were added during the 1907 rebuild. The Hunter Memorial Aisle was originally built to hold up to 300 chairs and is now a flexible space that can be used for informal gatherings and café style worship.
Town of St Andrews
The church is bounded on all four sides by streets of the town (South Street to the South, Church Street to the East, and Church Square to the North and West), but has a small amount of garden space around it, which is well kept by the congregation. The floral displays each year are appreciated by locals and visitors alike.
There are numerous features of historic and artistic interest within Holy Trinity including the Stained-Glass windows, the Sharp Aisle, the pulpit, the Carillon, and the organ (to name just a few).
It can be argued that one of the most beautiful parts of Holy Trinity Church are the Stained-Glass windows, designed by artists such as Douglas Strachan, Louis Davis, Reginald Hallward, and James Powell & Sons. To find out more about our Stained-Glass Windows, please click here.
Tombs and monuments
The south transept, known as the Sharp Aisle, contains the tomb and monument to Archbishop Sharp (1618-1697), who was murdered by Covenanters at Magus Muir (near Strathkinness) when he was returning to St Andrews with his family. The monument is Dutch work and the iron railing is contemporary. They were erected in 1681 by his son, Sir William Sharp of Scotscraig. The Bishop of Edinburgh, John Paterson, preached the sermon at his funeral; and Andrew Bruce, Bishop of Dunkeld, composed the inscription on the tomb. The large window in the Sharp Aisle designed by Reginald Hallward shows, in the first three lights from left to right, the Resurrection, and in the last three, the Ascension. Ten inset medallions introduce subjects that bring out the principle of the Resurrection and Ascension and the reconciling of Earth and Heaven. On the west wall of the aisle is the 1914-1918 War Memorial; the fallen in the First World War are also remembered in the eighteen stained glass windows of the CLERESTORY which depict the badges of the twelve Scottish infantry regiments, the Royal Navy, the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, Royal Air Force and the Royal Army Medical Corps. These windows are by Alexander Strachan, brother of Douglas Strachan.
Holy Trinity’s pulpit is made of marble, alabaster and onyx, and is carved with the initials of the Holy Trinity ministers who have been Church of Scotland moderators. It was erected in memory of Dr A K H Boyd, Minister of the First Charge from 1865 to 1899 and Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1890. The pulpit is especially beautiful when lit from within, so that all the marbling can be seen in the stonework. Above the pulpit is a sculpture of the Dove of Peace.
The Holy Trinity Carillon is housed in the medieval church tower and sounds out over St Andrews before the church services. To find out more about the Carillon, please click here.
Holy Trinity’s organ is one of the finest in Scotland. It was largely rebuilt in 1966 by Harrison and Harrison (who still maintain the instrument). For more information, please click here.
Holy Trinity has been a significant part of St Andrews history for at least 6 centuries. When the church was at the height of its social and political power, it was served by Roman Catholic priests until the Reformation in 1559 when it was served by Protestant and Episcopalian priests. Since 1689 the ministers have been Presbyterian. Of note, during those times, John Knox (who is widely regarded as the founder of the Presbyterian denomination in Scotland) preached at Holy Trinity Church in 1559 and played his part in kick starting the Protestant Reformation. His time at Holy Trinity is commemorated by the John Knox Porch. It was in this church, and not in the cathedral, that he preached on 11th June 1559 on Jesus’ ejection of the buyers and sellers from the temple and thus inaugurated the Reformation acts and proceedings in Scotland. The inscription on the porch reads: ‘In this town and church began God first calling to the dignity of the preacher’. Knox said farewell to St Andrews on 17th August 1572, three months before his death.
Town and Gown
During much of its history, Holy Trinity was attended by members of St Salvator’s and St Leonard’s Colleges until the St Salvator’s Church on North Street was restored in 1761. Holy Trinity still has close ties with St Mary’s College and St Andrews University as a whole, hosting the University’s annual Carol Service as well as other events.
The town kirk continues to be an integral part of St Andrews life, hosting annual events such as the yearly Golf Service (with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club), the University Carol Service, Remembrance and St Andrews Day services, and is a sought-after concert and wedding venue.