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 from the north side Trinity College Kirk 03.jpg
Watercolour from the early 1840s depicting the church from the north side
1848 calotype by Hill & Adamson, shortly before its destruction Trinity College Kirk 02.jpg
1848 calotype by Hill & Adamson, shortly before its destruction
Plan of Trinity College Church 1814 Plan of Trinity College Church 1814.png
Plan of Trinity College Church 1814
New Trinity College Church on Jeffrey Street (with reconstruction of the choir and apse to the rear) in 1895 Trinity College Church as intact and sitting on Jeffrey Street in 1895.png
New Trinity College Church on Jeffrey Street (with reconstruction of the choir and apse to the rear) in 1895
Trinity College Kirk on Jeffrey Street showing the new church to front with reconstructed "Apse" to rear - new church demolished 1960s for office development - now a hotel. Trinity College Kirk on Jeffrey Street (pre-curtailment).png
Trinity College Kirk on Jeffrey Street showing the new church to front with reconstructed "Apse" to rear - new church demolished 1960s for office development - now a hotel.
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. [1] Queen Mary was interred in the church, until her coffin was moved to Holyrood Abbey in 1848. [2]


The original church design was never completed. Only the apse, choir (with aisles) and transepts were completed. [3]

The church was located in the valley between the Old Town and Calton Hill, but was systematically dismantled in the 1848 due to the construction of Waverley Station on its site. Although its stones were numbered in anticipation of rebuilding and were stored in a yard on Calton Hill, by 1872, when a replacement church was built on the newly formed Jeffrey Street, only a third were left which were used to construct a version of the choir and apse which was the hall of the new church.


The church was built of local sandstone from a quarry which was discovered only 500m to the west at the site of the Scott Monument on Princes Street. It was created in the cosmopolitan Scottish late Gothic style. [4] As was the taste of the time, water was discharged from the roof via gargoyles which were said to crouch in agony under the weight of their load. Unusually it is said the church had several monkeys within its decorations. [5]


The foundation of the college was for a provost, eight prebendaries and two clerks each being assigned particular benefices and land for their support. Income was derived from several sources in Scotland, either by the endowment of Mary of Gueldres (from her own allotted incomes), or added later. Incomes were received from Uthrogal, a leper colony at Monimail in Fife, and the parish church of Easter Wemyss in Fife. In 1502 a Dean and Sub-Dean were appointed, their stipends paid from the parish of Dunnottar. In 1529 incomes were added from the parishes of Soutra, Fala, Lampetlaw, Kirkurd, Ormiston and Gogar. [6]

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. [7] 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. [7] 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. [7] John Halkerston was made Master of Works. [8]

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. [9] 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. [10]

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. [11]

Early records of the construction of the church are lost. In 1463 a steward of Mary of Gueldres, Henry Kinghorn paid the master of works John Halkerston for one account of his building work at Trinity Kirk. [12] 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. [13] After Dingwall's death in 1533, the masons pursued his legacy left for completing the work. Only the apse, choir and transepts were finished. A nearby house, demolished in 1642, was called "Dingwall Castle" probably after the Provost Master.

After the Scottish Reformation in 1560 the church as a building passed from religious control to the Crown. Apparently the church was unused until 1567 when the whole of the property attaching to Trinity Kirk and Hospital was passed, in November 1567, by Regent Moray to the Provost of Edinburgh, Simon Preston of Craigmillar who then passed it to the community of Edinburgh for the purposes of a hospital for the poor and infirm. Building materials for alterations were to be brought from the demolished Blackfriars monastery to the south. 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. [14] In April 1568 the council sent four men, including Nicol Uddert, to find charitable donations for the hospital. [15] The provosts (ending with Robert Pont) continued to have a financial interest in the structure until 1585.

For about seventeen years it appears that the church was the church for the hospital until in 1584 it was made the official church serving the north-east quarter of Edinburgh. This lasted until closure. [16]

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. [17]

Dismantling and Reconstruction

Trinity Apse from Chalmers Close Trinity College Kirk from Chalmers Close.jpg
Trinity Apse from Chalmers Close
Ceiling of Trinity Apse Trinity Apse Ceiling DSCN1544.jpg
Ceiling of Trinity Apse

In 1844 the North British Railway received its Act of Parliament giving it the power of compulsory purchase over property in the area of its proposed railway station. This led to the demolition of the Trinity College Kirk and its Hospital, the nearby Lady Glenorchy's Church and the Orphan Hospital of Edinburgh. 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. [18]

The North British Railway Company paid £18000 in compensation to the owner, Edinburgh Town Council. 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. 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. [16]

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. David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson photographed the kirk before its demise. [19] [20]

As most of the congregation left, joining the Free Church, those remaining in the established Church of Scotland following the Disruption of 1843, only about eighty members, were allocated the Calton Convening Rooms on Waterloo Place as a temporary place of worship. Around 1857 the Town Council moved them to John Knox's Free Church at the Netherbow (close to the eventually built replacement church) and in 1861 moved them to a corner of the internally divided St Giles Cathedral.

The chosen site for the replacement church was on the newly created Jeffrey Street which had been developed in terms of the City Improvement Schemes. The church was the first building on the street.

The church opened for worship to the long-displaced congregation in October 1877 and held up to 900 people. The medieval font from the original church was repositioned in the church just before reopening. [21]

The new church fronting Jeffrey Street was wholly new and was designed by John Lessels. The remaining salvaged stones (about one third) from the original College Church were used to construct a version of the original choir and apse (called the Trinity Apse) attached to the rear of the new church and served as the hall of the church. In the 1960s, Lessels' church was demolished for an office development leaving the Trinity Apse in isolation on Chalmers Close. The office development has since been converted to a hotel.

In the 1980s Trinity Apse housed the Edinburgh Brass Rubbing Centre, under the auspices of the City of Edinburgh Council.

The rebuilt Apse, together with carved stone fragments and the boundary wall, is registered as a Category A listed building. [22]

Statuary and stone ornament from the church stand in the gardens of Craigcrook Castle in west Edinburgh (but it is unclear if these were moved at the point of demolition or "salvaged" during the period of being dismantled). [23]

List of provosts

Source: Watt & Murray Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae

List of ministers

Note: One of the founding members of the College of Justice, John Dingwall, 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:

Notable Burials

In the floor of the original kirk:

See also


  1. Rachel M. Delman, 'Mary of Guelders and the Architecture of Queenship in Fifteenth-Century Scotland', Scottish Historical Review, 102:2 (2023), pp. 211–231. doi : 10.3366/shr.2023.0611
  2. "Notes on the disputed tomb of Mary of Gueldres" (PDF).
  3. "Edinburgh, Leith Wynd, Trinity College Church And Hospital". Canmore. Historic Environment Scotland. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  4. Angie Brown, 'Mystery carvings came from dismantled royal church', BBC News, 9 April 2023
  5. James Grant, Old and New Edinburgh, vol. 2, p.304
  6. James Grant, Cassell's Old and New Edinburgh, vol. 2, p.303–304
  7. 1 2 3 Cowan & Easson, Medieval Religious Houses, p. 192
  8. Perth: The Archaeology and Development of a Scottish Burgh – David P. Bowler, Tayside and Fife Archaeological Committee, Perth, 2004, p. 21
  9. Louise Olga Fradenburg, City, Marriage, Tournament: Arts of Rule in Late Medieval Scotland (University of Wisconsin Press, 1991), p. 23.
  10. James David Marwick, Charters relating to the city of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1871), pp. 115-119.
  11. 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
  12. George Burnett, Exchequer Rolls of Scotland, vol. 7 (Edinburgh, 1884), pp. liii, 167-8.
  13. James David Marwick, Charters relating to the city of Edinburgh (Edinburgh, 1871), pp. 209-210.
  14. James David Marwick, Extracts from the records of the Burgh of Edinburgh: 1557-1571 (Edinburgh, 1875), pp. 242-4, 246.
  15. James David Marwick, Extracts from the records of the Burgh of Edinburgh: 1557-1571 (Edinburgh, 1875), pp. 247-8.
  16. 1 2 Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae; by Hew Scott
  17. Grant's Old and New Edinburgh vol 1
  18. A Calotype View of Trinity College Church, Edinburgh, by Hill & Adamson , Graham Smith, the Burlington Magazine, Vol. 126, No. 981
  19. "Calotype of Trinity College Church". City of Edinburgh Council – Capital Collections. Edinburgh.
  20. Grant's Old and New Edinburgh vol.2 p.287
  21. "Venues". 31 October 2017.
  22. Scottish Garden Buildings by Tim Buxbaum p.64
  23. James David Marwick, Extracts from the records of the Burgh of Edinburgh: 1573-1589 (Edinburgh, 1882), p. 433.

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