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Anstruther Building


The church is situated on School Green, in the centre of Anstruther Easter, in a sloping graveyard and is surrounded by a coped wall.


The graveyard surrounds the church to the north, south and east.  The churchyard wall and rounded archway to the south date to 1631. There are several memorials with mortality symbolism

Under the direction of the minister at Kilrenny parish church, land was acquired in 1592 for a new church to be built in Anstruther, so that local residents could avoid having to make the journey to Kilrenny. The building of the church was completed in 1634, six years before becoming a parish separate from Kilrenny.

The church has recently undergone extensive repairs both external and internal supported by a Heritage Lottery grant.

Description (exterior)


The church consists of a central cell built of squared sandstone, which is harled to the north, east and west and bare to the south with a tower and north session house.   The church is rectangular.


The tower is in the the west gable.  The east gable wall faces across the churchyard. Above the windows is a blocked round opening, and at the apex of the gable are the remains of a platform which formerly held a finial.  Below the window is a series of memorials, including one to Captain David Henderson, inscribed with a ship.  At the bottom of the wall a table tomb is sunk into the ground, inscribed with mortality symbols and heraldry.

The south wall has four sets of three tall, round headed windows with clear glass spaced irregularly along the wall.  At the western end of the wall is a granite memorial to an Episcopal minister of Anstruther, dating to the mid-nineteenth century.  East of this is the outline of a gable, suggesting that there had previously been a porch here.  Under this is a semi-circular, chamfered blocked arch, a former doorway.  The date '1835' is inscribed into the doorway on either side of a panel which states 'ENTER YE IN AT THE STRAIT FOR WID IS THE GAT AND BROAD IS THE WAY THAT LEADETH TO DESTRUCTION'.  East of this an early nineteenth century memorial to a minister and a blind rectangular frame.  There is a decorated framed memorial and a rectangular, blocked entrance further along the wall. Above the door is the date '1634'.  Next to this is another decorated frame and a square-headed door with the date '1934' in the frame.

The north wall is harled with a set of three tall, round-headed windows, similar to those on the south.  To the west of this is a square-headed window and to the east is the session house. .

The tower is situated in the centre of the west elevation.  It is entered through a round arch, above which are six square-headed lights. There is a smaller, square-headed door to the north of the tower, which resembles the tollbooth tower at Pittenweem (site 1454). It is harled to just above the line of the roof of the church. Above this the church is built from coursed sandstone.  The tower was built to house a bell by a Danish bell foundry. According to the Kilrenny and Anstruther Burgh Collection, the bell carries an inscription "Andro Strang bougt this bell with his owne moneyes anno 1641".

The west elevation is the principal one.   This is pierced by a series of rectangular vents which follow the line of the stairwell.  Above this is a pair of louvered, rounded arches and a clockface, which is a late nineteenth century addition.  To the north the profile of the tower is stepped back with a north west stairtower and caphouse sloping down the gable. The stairtower is pierced by a small rectangular vent. The belfry stage is corbelled and pierced by two louvered, rounded arches.  There is a clock above.  This arrangement is mirrored to the east and south.  The tower is capped by a balustrade and parapet and lucarned stone spire with a weathervane.  The parapet has water spouts, squat pinnacles and images of anchors carved in relief.

The session house is situated in the centre of the north wall.  It covers the site of the Anstruther Aisle, which was blocked up in the 1830s.  The building is harled and has a Scottish slate roof.  It can be divided into two sections, one east-west, with a catslide roof and the other with a north facing, gabled facade, with three blocked round arch windows.  Next to this is a small, square-headed door.  The gable is capped by a small finial. The east-west section is entered through a small, square-headed door on its east elevation. The north elevation has two square-headed windows, the larger and more easterly of which is partially blocked.  There is another square-headed door in the west elevation.


Description (interior)

Entry to the church is by a central round-arched doorway in the west gable, which opens into a vestibule area and a stone stairway leading up to a gallery.  A new double doorway leads centrally into the nave, which has recently been re-modelled and decorated and the original pews removed.  Two passageways originally led to the sanctuary at the eastern end of the nave and provided access to the wooden pews, but these have now been entirely removed and replaced with moveable wooden chairs and tables.  At the west end of the nave is a fairly large gallery, which stretches partly along the north and south walls.  It is supported by slender cast-iron columns and has a simple wooden panelled front.  The space underneath the gallery was enclosed by a new wall to form two small new rooms out-with the nave. Large triple-pane windows in the south wall light the interior and there is a large stained-glass window in the east gable.  The interior walls are plastered and painted a cream colour, but interestingly a small area of older plasterwork has been revealed by the removal of a light fitting.  The surviving section of plaster has painted orange, black and grey stencil work, including stylised birds and leaves, which shows that the walls would have appeared quite different at an earlier time.


The sanctuary is placed along the east end of the church and is raised on two steps and was extended forward into the nave during the recent re-fitting.  The octagonal pulpit features fine carved wooden panels and columns, and there are winged cherubs in the upper portion of each panel.  In the centre of the sanctuary is a wooden communion table with open ogee-curved panels and a wooden lectern stands nearby.  A fine pipe organ by Taylor of Leicester is placed in the northern wall, close to the pulpit.

Other notable features include a six light mullioned east window with stained glass: St. Peter and St. Philip (1905), The Miraculous Catch, Christ Stilling the Storm, St. John and St. Andrew (1907).  Inside the church is the tomb of Master John Dykes who died during the building of the church.  He had assisted the minister, James Melville, who had initiated the building of the church.

Anstruther Parish Church Guide

The following is an extract from the account written in January 1837.

The parish was founded in 1636 from Kilrenny.  The first minister was settled in 1641 and the records of the kirk session have carefully minuted since then.  The Church, built in 1634 and renovated in 1834, is conveniently situated in a large burying ground surrounded by an excellent wall.  The church is now one of the most elegant country churches anywhere to be seen and has seating for 630.  The average number of baptisms during the last seven years is 16 and of marriages 10.  No accurate record of deaths has been kept.  There is only one school in the parish, the parochial or burgh school.  The average number attending is about 60.

Though it is still the best market town in the district, its decayed condition may be judged of by the ingle face that the tonnage belonging to the port, at the date of the former Statistical Account (1799), was 1400 and now only 964 (with eleven vessels).  As a result, part of the population cannot find employment here and old tenements have fallen into ruins. 

Formerly ship building was carried on here to a considerable extent, but for the past ten years it has entirely ceased.  There is a tan-work in the town, also a brewery and a rope & sail work.  About 600 barrels of cod are cured annually besides great quantities of herrings during February.  These are exported chiefly to the West India market.  Considerable quantities of haddocks are smoked for the home market.  Seamen's wages are about £2-10s per month.  A weekly corn (grain) market is held on Saturday.  The number of shops is considerable, and there is a mill for the preparation of all kinds of meal.  There is a post office in the town.

Population has varied little through time.  In 1744 it was 1000 and in 1831 it was 1007, but has since dropped.  The number of families in the parish is 255.

Around The Church

In the vestibule on the table to your right is the bust of Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847).  He was born on the 17th March 1780 in the house now known as 'Chalmers Birthplace' in Old Post Office Close, off High Street West, Anstruther and died on 28th May 1847 at his home in Morningside, Edinburgh.

Chalmers' parents were John Chalmers, Provost of Anstruther and respected general merchant, and Elizabeth Hall, daughter of a Crail wine merchant, both were committed Christians.  His great grandfather, James Chalmers, was minister of the parish of Elie from 1701.  Thomas was the sixth child of a family of 14, whose names are all recorded on the family grave in the local churchyard.  His brother Charles founded Merchiston Castle School in Edinburgh in 1883.

Thomas's academic achievements were such that he was admitted to St Andrews University at the age of 12.

He became minister at Kilrenny Church and became a truly inspired preacher.  Large crowds came to hear him, some even crossing by ferry from Dundee.  Kilrenny Church and Manse then became the centre of an astonishing spiritual influence.  Such was his fame that in 1815 he was invited to come to the Tron Church in Glasgow, with a parish of 12000 and an exceptionally depressed and poverty-stricken area.

It was while he was there that Chalmers embarked on a massive project of social reform involving his parish in the relief of poverty and in the providing of a superior education for some 700 poor local children.  He inspired his elders and church members to commit themselves to supporting his vision.  He said he had been much influenced by his own up-bringing in Anstruther where there had largely been a stable and caring community.  From preaching his first sermon in Glasgow he was established nationally as an inspired preacher.  In 1817 he was invited to London where he caused a sensation, and William Haslett the essayist was spellbound and remarked that Chalmers spoke with 'prophetic fury'.  He captivated William Wilberforce.

In 1823 he was appointed Professor of Moral Philosophy at St Andrews University, and later in 1828 he became Professor of Divinity at Edinburgh University.  However, the greatest if Chalmers' life as still to come.

He found himself more and more drawn towards events which culminated in what is known as the Disruption.  This was made in protest against the system of patronage which ruled the Church at that time.  Finally, in 1843 more than 400 ministers walked out of the Church of Scotland General Assembly, led by Thomas Chalmers.

The Disruption altered the entire course of Scottish history and the consequences echoed throughout the united Kingdom and abroad.  After the Disruption Chalmers' qualities of leadership, intellect and passionate zeal were unrivalled.  In the space of a few years he had raised enough money for the building of 700 churches and manses, 600 schools and three Theology Collages.

Over the years there have been several refurbishments of the church and on the outside south wall you can see two blocked up doors dated 1643, 1834 and the third, 1934, called 'the coffin door' remains in use today.

A refurbishment took place in 2012 under the ministry of Rev Arthur A Christie and encompassed total renovation of the sanctuary into a multi-purpose space whilst keeping the historicity and dignity of the church intact.  Two aisles have been removed and a central access point provides a light and airy vestibule.  The addition of a new kitchen allows for the holding of various functions.

The most recent refurbishment, completed in 2015, was to the exterior of the church and tower.  Much of the sandstone was badly worn, the mortar perished and along the with the existing render needed urgent replacing.  As the church is a Grade A listed building and required specialist restoration, the project was assisted with a grant from The Heritage Lottery Fund.  A photo gallery showing the change process can be seen on your left as you come into the church.

Before you walk through the archway, turn to your right and at the foot of the stairs you will see a fine set of restored stained glass portraits of church fathers.

The central panel was created to celebrate the completion of the external refurbishment and depicts two wild geese - the Celtic Christian symbol of The Holy Spirit.

We have used, we hope, Imagination, Inspiration and Interpretation, as no stained glass would have been installed originally, as this would be contrary to the character of the building as a Post Reformation church.  No Church of Scotland was built after the Reformation with stained glass until the late 19th century.

Rescued from the debris of the conflagration in 1992 when Chalmers Memorial Church burned to the ground were some of the stained glass portraits of the great reformers, and Church leaders who have shaped and contributed to the Reformation Heritage of the Church in Scotland.  After the restoration was completed, these portraits as you see were gathered together and framed and hung in the staircase of the church, in front of the clear glass window.  The light then illuminates them as they were first designed and they look down, we hope in approval, at the congregation in its witness and worship of the the early 21st Century.

It is not clear what some of these Reformers may have thought about the outreach events and community groups which now inhabit in the building, including the food bank and the social events of eating together which are now possible in the Church building given its new flexible arrangement.


What may be much more important is the fact they are there as a link to the past, and the perhaps represent the 'great cloud of witnesses' of the Book of Hebrews, demonstrating the continuity with the past heritage of the Church and the current lively mission, worship and witness of the congregations which gathers for worship there.

These inheritors of faith are a varied bunch.  There is no saying that each of them would have got on with each other.  That variety and contrast may be important for us to remember.

We are a similarly very varied bunch.  No church is filled, or should it be, if we listened to the accounts of the Book of Acts, with those who always agree with one another.  Instead we gather as Christians bringing our own perspectives, slants, insights and often prejudices on what we believe to be the Christian faith.

There is no monochrome or simple way to encapsulate or describe the portraits.  in the work of Martin Luther we might find a lot to admire, but some of his emphases are not what we would find comfortable.  It might also be interesting to wonder what the Dr Thomas Chalmers and his convictions about poor relief would have made of the existence in the church building of the food bank.  Perhaps he might have seen this as an imaginative and creative response by the Church to current needs.

The vivid portraits in stained glass demonstrate that the church is a gathering, like the first disciples of character, with faults, strengths and weaknesses.  There may be no easy mean of explaining of their association, other than their common faith in the redemptive power of Jesus and his message of love and grace.  A message that they bear witness to, and call us to, to be attentive so that we might respond in our own lives with our particular in our lives with our particular opportunities and gifts.

As you go through the arch towards the sanctuary, on the right you will see one of the newly created meeting rooms which contain the oldest feature of the church, which is the tomb of Master John Dykes (M.J.D.) in whose honour the room is named.  He was called by James Melville, minister of Kilrenny Parish, in 1596 to assist in the establishing the new parish of Anstruther Easter.  Unfortunately, he died as the church was being built and was accorded the privilege of being buried inside the sanctuary.  To your left is the second meeting room, the James Melville, so called after the famous reformer minister of our Kirk.

As you walk forward into the sanctuary you will see two etched glass doors representing

'The Harvest of the Land and Sea'

The doors in Anstruther celebrate the fact the church is placed in the heart of two harvesting communities - the sea which brings fish in abundance and the fields which have supplied food for generations throughout history.  The doors were part of the final stages of the restoration and renovation of the church building, developing and challenging the faith journey of those who came here.  The world in all its abundance is not to be forgotten and its richness is to be acknowledged before God, not just at Harvest Thanksgiving, but every time we gather for worship.  The process of fishing and farming provides labour and income for the community and this is a part of the design and compassion of God.

Left hand panel looking inward to the church.

The panel contains a tree with the roots entwined deep within the soil of the land.  The leaves are blowing in the wind and float towards and within the right hand panel.  The autumn tree symbolises regeneration as the circle of life continues.

On the earth we can see the imprints of a tractor which reaches up beyond and carry into the distance, reaching behind three wheat sheaves.  This represents human presence within the land and agriculture.  The three wheat sheaves have many meanings.  Firstly, wheat reminds us of the bread of life.  The number 3 is very symbolic within Christianity.  It represents the Trinity, the waters parted to reveal land and earth on the 3rd day, Jesus arose from the dead on the 3rd day.....  The theological virtues are faith, hope and charity and in addition, three divisions of time: past, present and future.

Right hand panel looking inward to the church.

As elements from the earth and land reach into the right hand window, the elements from the sea reach into the left.  A large shoal of fish swim through with the net poised above, about to take in the catch.  The plentiful catch of fish signifies the fullness of God's love.  The detail within the fish begins to simplify as it reaches into the distance.  They become the simple shape of the Icthus, the ancient Christian symbol from the Greek word for fish used by the early Christians as a secret sign.


The bubbles from the water become stones in the left side.  Elements get mixed, because everything is linked, everything is in perpetual change.  An image of the Chalmers lighthouse is etched in the upper half of the panel.  The light-beams shine through both panels as a clear and simple message of Jesus' guidance.  'I am the light of life, follow me'.

A bright light symbolises that the Bible shows us the Way in life and that the source of light spreads outward.

Once into the sanctuary you will see the pulpit dedicated in 1905 along with the lectern and baptismal font in memory of the Rev Thomas Murray.  In 1983 the pulpit was located to where it is today during a refurbishment instigated by Rev Alex Watson.  The original was moved in 1834 to the middle of the east wall.  The lofts were also removed at this time and box pews were provided, as in the early days there was no seating in the church, meaning that stools had to be carried to and from church.

The communion table was brought from Chalmers Memorial Church in 1983 after its closure in 1982 and subsequently this worderful landmark was destroyed by fire in May 1991.

The organ is by Taylor of Leicester, installed in 1907.

The window above the chancel is made up of six stained glass panels.  The top centre panel is of St Philip and the bottom centre is of St Peter.  These were installed in 1905 and were added to in 1938 with panels of St John, top left and the miraculous catch of fish, bottom left of the centre panel.  Top right is of St Andrew and bottom right depicts the stilling of the storm.

Moving to the outside of the Church, looking up you will see the steeple houses a clock on three sides.  This was paid for by public subscription and was put in place in 1878.  It was refurbished with the whole exterior in 2015.

The graveyard around the Church has many memorials and one of the most interesting is on the south wall of the Church.  It records the deaths of George Dairsie and his wife Tetua Ireiaiteraiatea, Princess Titaua Marama of Tahiti, Chiefess of Haapiti.  Another is of a surgeon whose life was cut short, therefore a column as part of his headstone, is not complete. 

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