history of the church in Dalgety

St Bridget's 12th cent church

A village of Dalgety stood at the head of the coastal feature Dalgety bay, but the ivy-clad ruins of the 12th century St.   Bridget's Kirk are all that now mark its site. The ruins which are maintained by Historic Scotland, retain many interesting features.   The loft remains accessible, and there is a well-preserved 'piscina' by the altar.   A piscina is a stone wash-basin for ritual rinsing of the communion chalice.

St ColmIn the church grounds facing directly onto the shore are a number of old gravestones and epitaphs.

St. Bridget's Kirk was in existence some time before 1178, as it is mentioned in a Papal Bull written by Pope Alexander III declaring that "The Church at Dalgetty with its appurtenances" be founded.   Appropriated at that time by Inchcolm Abbey, it was consecrated in 1244 by David de Bernham, Bishop of St. Andrews.  

By the time the Rev. Andrew Donaldson was appointed minister in 1641, the parish was in sore need of pastoral care and attention.   Donaldson was soon drafted into the Earl of Dunfermline's army as chaplain and went with the regiment to England.   On his return he started work on raising the respectability of the Parish by building a school near the church and insisting on education for all.   He worked hard for the poor and examined many people brought before the Kirk Session for failing to live decent and godly lives.

Donaldson was a staunch Presbyterian and refused to attend Presbytery to acknowledge a return to Episcopacy which Charles I was trying to impose on the Church in Scotland.   Although the Earl of Dunfermline had given him the Parish for life in 1664, he received letters deposing him from his charge.   Because he ignored the order Archbishop Sharp sent soldiers to eject him.   Summoned before the Privy Council, he was declared a rebel, became an outcast and as eventually imprisoned in Linlithgow for illegal preaching.   Families with whom he had contact were heavily fined (23 families were fined a total of 163 Pounds Scots, about a year's pay per family!).   However, the political and religious situation eventually changed and Donaldson was released from prison and reinstated as Minister of the Parish.

Body snatching was a lucrative 'occupation' in those days.   Burke and Hare were 'at large' in Edinburgh and supplies of bodies for experiments were always required.   Beadles were employed to keep a 'sharp look-out' for body snatchers but were not always effective.   There is a small 'keep' built into the wall surrounding the church grounds.   Dalgety 'old' church Legend has it that some of the 'beadles', rather than protecting the graveyard, would signal at night over the water to Edinburgh when there was a fresh grave at the ancient waterside cemetery.

Summer service at St Bridget's

St. Bridget's was used until the early 19th Century when became unsafe, and in 1830 it was 'unroofed'.   In June each year, there is an open-air service in St Bridget's Kirk.

A new church built in traditional Scottish 'Gothic' Kirk style and seating 500 was built about half a mile inland.

Inside Dalgety 'old' church These photographs show the exterior and interior of the 1830 'Old' Church.

In 1843, the Church of Scotland split over a dispute over the distinction between Church and State.   The Dalgety minister at the time left for the Church in England and the minister from Aberdour transferred to Dalgety.   The population base in the parish had shifted some miles inland towards Fordell and Mossgreen and a church was built there, mainly for the local mining population.

There is a gap in the accurate historical record of the parish, due to a fire in the manse in 1897, which destroyed Session minutes and also the 17th century communion silver plate.   The dwindling parish rendered the church in Dalgety uneconomic, and in 1940 it became a linked charge with Aberdour St Fillan's Church.   It survived the war and the proximity to the airfield at Donibristle, situated as it was virtually at the end of the main runway.

The first houses of the new settlement at Dalgety Bay were constructed in 1965, and the church link with Aberdour was dissolved.   Dalgety Kirk once again stood on its own, serving the ever-increasing population of the new town.   The property development expanded west, through the ground of the old airfield and away from the church.   It became expensive to maintain and was too small and somewhat marginalised from the new town.

After a great deal of prayer, thought and fund-raising, a new church was built in the centre of the town in 1981.   This was extended in 1989, and continues to serve the parish today after more than 800 years.

The record of the Church in Dalgety would not be complete without a mention of the Chapel associated with Donibristle House.   Originally a private place of worship for the family of the old house, the chapel today has been preserved, and can still be visited from the footpath off Chapel Villas in the town.

This material is based on the book -- Of Monks and Ministers -- published by the Church, but is now out of print!

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