Trinity College Kirk

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Trinity College Kirk c. 1647 Trinity College Kirk c.1647.JPG
Trinity College Kirk c. 1647
Engraved colour drawing of the church, done in 1825 Trinity College Kirk 01.jpg
Engraved colour drawing of the church, done in 1825
Watercolour from the early 1840s depicting the church Trinity College Kirk 03.jpg
Watercolour from the early 1840s depicting the church
1848 calotype by Hill & Adamson, shortly before its destruction Trinity College Kirk 02.jpg
1848 calotype by Hill & Adamson, shortly before its destruction
Trinity College Church as intact and sitting on Jeffrey Street in 1895 Trinity College Church as intact and sitting on Jeffrey Street in 1895.png
Trinity College Church as intact and sitting on Jeffrey Street in 1895
Trinity College Kirk on Jeffrey Street (pre-curtailment) showing the original north section which was demolished to create the tenements on Jefffrey St Trinity College Kirk on Jeffrey Street (pre-curtailment).png
Trinity College Kirk on Jeffrey Street (pre-curtailment) showing the original north section which was demolished to create the tenements on Jefffrey St
North Aisle Trinity College Church - North Aisle 1852.jpg
North Aisle
The Trinity Altarpiece (ca. 1478 - 1479) by Hugo van der Goes, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh Trinity Altarpiece.jpg
The Trinity Altarpiece (ca. 1478 – 1479) by Hugo van der Goes, National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh

Trinity College Kirk was a royal collegiate church in Edinburgh, Scotland. The kirk and its adjacent almshouse, Trinity Hospital, were founded in 1460 by Mary of Gueldres in memory of her husband, King James II who had been killed at the siege of Roxburgh Castle that year. Queen Mary was interred in the church, until her coffin was moved to Holyrood Abbey in 1848. [1]


The original concept was never completed. Only the apse, choir and transepts were completed. [2]

The church was originally located in the valley between the Old Town and Calton Hill, but was systematically dismantled in the 1840s (under the supervision of David Bryce) due to the construction of Waverley Station on its site. Its stones were numbered in anticipation of rebuilding and were stored in a yard on Calton Hill. Reconstruction did not begin until 1872, when it was moved to a site on Chalmers Close on the newly formed Jeffrey Street overlooking the original site.

Early history

The church and hospital of Soutra Aisle dedicated to the Holy Trinity, was held as a prebend of the chancellor of St Andrews. [3] In 1459/60 the chancellorship was vacant allowing the dowager queen to supplicate Pope Pius II for the annexation of Soutra to her Trinity College foundation – the sanctioning bull was published on 23 October 1460. [3] Queen Mary of Gueldres (widow of James II) issued a Royal charter on 25 March 1462 detailing the constitution for Trinity College in which the provost was to hold Soutra church as a prebend but had to maintain three bedesmen in the Soutra hospital. [3] John Halkerston was made Master of Works. [4]

In August 1463 Pope Pius II declared by Papal bull that religious visitors to the church during the feast of the Holy Trinity on 10 July and the following eight days, over the next five years, would be granted a plenary indulgence, if they contributed to the fund for completion of the building according to their financial ability. The money was to be put in a locked box with two keys kept by the Provost and the Papal Collector for Scotland. A third of the receipts were to be given to the Catholic church for its general work. [5]

The church was famed for its triptych altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes completed in 1479, now displayed in the National Gallery of Scotland. The four surviving panels depict James III, King of Scots, flanked by St. Andrew and his son, the future James IV, and his wife, Margaret of Denmark. The donor, the first Provost of the Trinity foundation, Edward Bonkil, and his coat of arms also feature. [6]

Early records of the construction of the church are lost, but on 8 April 1531 the Provost Master John Dingwall contracted with a mason Robert Dennis that Dennis would work to complete the building for his lifetime. Dingwall wished to complete the church conforming to the choir. To help finance the building, James V wrote to the Pope Clement VII asking if Dingwall could grant indulgences to visitors to the church and college on the feast of Holy Trinity and Octave who made contributions to the work. [7] After Dingwall's death in 1533, the masons pursued his legacy left for completing the work. Only the choir and transepts were finished. A nearby house, demolished in 1642, was called "Dingwall Castle" after the surname of one of the Provosts.

After the Scottish Reformation the kirk became the North East Quarter Church of Edinburgh. The college was refounded as a hospital for the poor in November 1567 by Regent Moray and the Provost of Edinburgh, Simon Preston of Craigmillar passed the property to the town. Building materials were to be brought from the demolished Blackfriars. The master of work for building the new hospital, Adam Fullarton, sold stones, lime, and sand in the Blackfriars kirkyard to the masons Thomas Jackson and Murdoch Walker. [8] In April 1568 the council sent four men, including Nicol Uddert, to find charitable donations for the hospital. [9]

From 1584 to 1833 it was the official church serving the north-east quarter of Edinburgh. In terms of structure (and conventional church layout) Trinity church was only a transept and apse, and lacked its nave. [10]

From 1813 to 1833, the minister of Trinity College was the Rev. Walter Tait. In 1833 it was reported that he "had given countenance to certain extraordinary interruptions of public worship in his church on the Monday immediately after the communion by a person pretending to speak in the spirit". That person was said to be 'the apostle' Thomas Carlyle. Tait was deposed in that year and went on to become the pastor of the Catholic Apostolic Church in Edinburgh, until his death in 1841. [11]

Dismantling and Reconstruction

Trinity Apse Trinity Apse north side DSCN1549.jpg
Trinity Apse
Ceiling of Trinity Apse Trinity Apse Ceiling DSCN1544.jpg
Ceiling of Trinity Apse

From 1834 the site of the church was earmarked for the location of a railway station by Act of Parliament. This also required the removal of the nearby Lady Glenorchy's Church, the old Edinburgh orphanage, and Trinity College (a separate building from the Kirk). James Bonar WS was an elder at Lady Glenorchy's and an Edinburgh lawyer. He drew up legal papers requiring the railway company to fund the rebuilding of each structure, and in the case of Trinity College Kirk, he argued that it should be dismantled and rebuilt rather than copied. The railway company were not used to such strongarm tactics but signed this, leading them to underwrite large parts of the cost of Lady Glenorchy's Free Church, relocated to Greenside 500m north, the Dean Orphanage on what was then a rural site to the west. The fairly unique plan for Trinity College Kirk required that the stones be numbered prior to demolition and then stored to await a suitable site for rebuilding. [12]

The North British Railway Company paid £18000 in compensation, but this appears to have been paid to Edinburgh Town Council rather than to the church, and the council proved obstructive in releasing the funds for a new church, "hoping that the congregation would disappear" i.e. be absorbed into other churches. Bonar's legal agreements saw a timely rebuilding of Lady Glenorchy's Church as Lady Glenorchy's Free Church at Greenside, but there was a degree of truth that there was an over-provision of churches at the time. However, that was not the point, Bonar's legal agreement (and other parallel agreements of the time) required a new for old in relation to the Glenorchy Church, but the Trinity College Church was to be specifically rebuilt as an artefact. The emphasis was on its historic value not on its function. However, a House of Lords decision reversed a Court of Session ruling that all £18000 must be spent on the church, and limited the cost of the rebuild to £7000, the implication being that the Council had spent £11000 on other things in the intervening period. [10]

The gothic kirk, and its associated hospital, were demolished in 1848 under the careful supervision of the Edinburgh architect David Bryce, despite a formal protest from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, to allow for the construction of Waverley Station. [13] [14] David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson photographed the kirk before its demise. The kirk was carefully dismantled and each piece of masonry was numbered with the intention of reconstructing the kirk on another site.

In the period between demolition and rebuilding the congregation still existed, but was split by the Disruption of 1843 which ironically resolved some of the problems. Those remaining in the established Church of Scotland, post-Disruption, were allocated the Calton Convening Rooms on Waterloo Place as a "temporary" place of worship. This was grossly inadequate in scale, holding only around 150 people. It is therefore likely that most moved to new churches within the 35 years of closure. Around 1857 the Town Council moved the congregation (ironically) to John Knox's Free Church on the Royal Mile (almost adjacent to its final siting) and in 1861 moved them to a corner of the internally divided St Giles Cathedral. [10]

From a purely functional point of view the Council would certainly have seen the expenditure of £11000 on a church for only 150 people as a waste of money, but their hands were tied by the legal contracts. The chosen site linked to the City Improvement Schemes and in particular the new street at Jeffrey Street, and the medieval edifice was originally given pride of place, as the first building on Jeffrey Street. This seems to have been overseen by James Bonar, who was still alive, and still interested in the project. [10]

Maps from the 1870s and one illustration in Grant's Old and New Edinburgh demonstrate that initially the whole church was rebuilt. [15] As rebuilt the structure was turned through 90 degrees to face northwards. The northern section was largely a new invention. Despite the gargantuan effort to rebuild the church, through all the reasons explained above, despite theoretically holding 900 persons, it was at best one-quarter full. At some point in the 20th century the centre and north section of the church was demolished to create a warehouse on Jeffrey Street. There is some indication that the demolitions related to a "new church" by John Lessels and that the truly medieval section still survives. However, comparing the existing structure to the 1830s structure, although known thereafter as Trinity College Apse, this is a clear misnomer. The extant structure is largely the transept, but with southern windows from the apse. [16]

Nevertheless. it is generally now called Trinity Apse. In the 1980s it housed the Edinburgh Brass Rubbing Centre, under the auspices of the City of Edinburgh Council. It is now privately owned and can be hired for wedding functions.

The rebuilt Apse, together with carved stone fragments and the boundary wall, is registered as a Category A listed building. [17]

Its manse, built around 1870, still survives on Jeffrey Street.

List of provosts

Source: Watt & Murray Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae

List of ministers

Note: One of the founding members of the College of Justice, John Dingwell, was Provost of Trinity College; and several Moderators of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland came from the Trinity College Kirk:

Second Charge

Not only was the church large enough to need two ministers but (more unusually) the second charge ministers often obtained fame in their own right including at least one rising to be Moderator. This is unique to Trinity College Church. This second charge was operational from 1597 to 1782, when the building of St Andrew's Church in the New Town took a large section of the congregation, no longer necessitating second services. Notable second charges were:

See also


  1. "Notes on the disputed tomb of Mary of Gueldres" (PDF).
  2. "Edinburgh, Leith Wynd, Trinity College Church And Hospital". Canmore. Historic Environment Scotland. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  3. 1 2 3 Cowan & Easson, Medieval Religious Houses, p. 192
  4. Perth: The Archaeology and Development of a Scottish Burgh – David P. Bowler, Tayside and Fife Archaeological Committee, Perth, 2004, p. 21
  5. James David Marwick, Charters relating to the city of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1871), pp. 115-119.
  6. Jill Harrison, 'Fresh Perspectives on Hugo van Goes' Portrait of Margaret of Denmark and the Trinity Altarpiece', The Court Historian, 24:2 (2019), pp. 120-138
  7. James David Marwick, Charters relating to the city of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1871), pp. 209-210.
  8. James David Marwick, Extracts from the records of the Burgh of Edinburgh: 1557-1571 (Edinburgh, 1875), pp. 242-4, 246.
  9. James David Marwick, Extracts from the records of the Burgh of Edinburgh: 1557-1571 (Edinburgh, 1875), pp. 247-8.
  10. 1 2 3 4 Fasti Ecclesiastae Scoticana by Hew Scott
  11. Grant's Old and New Edinburgh vol 1
  12. A Calotype View of Trinity College Church, Edinburgh, by Hill & Adamson , Graham Smith, the Burlington Magazine, Vol. 126, No. 981
  13. "Calotype of Trinity College Church". City of Edinburgh Council – Capital Collections. Edinburgh.
  14. Ordnance survey maps 1875, 1895 etc
  15. Edinburgh maps 1920 onwards
  16. "Venues". 31 October 2017.
  17. James David Marwick, Extracts from the records of the Burgh of Edinburgh: 1573-1589 (Edinburgh, 1882), p. 433.

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Coordinates: 55°57′10″N3°11′10″W / 55.95278°N 3.18611°W / 55.95278; -3.18611