What a " Relief " - a tale about our religious past and a forgotten Kirk that still stands!

                                              The first Episcopal Church in Lodge Street

The new Relief Kirk aka Crieff Primary School Dining Hall


Crieff's first Baptist Church
                                     The Relief Kirk as depicted in Porteous about 1910

Crieff's unknown buildings !
The Relief Kirk 2012
When future generations  study the social history of Strathearn and particularly the town of Crieff ,  one  specific  thing will no doubt  stand  out as being somewhat  different  from other parts of rural Scotland .  I refer specifically to the incredible  number of places of worship wide  scattered around with many located in the most surprising places. I am no expert in the ecclesiastical idiosyncrasies of our fore fathers but in  the course of a number of  years I have realised that much of what has  been written about the last few centuries fails  to stand up to scrutiny when  one applies the basics of historical analysis .

One associates  religious  discord  as being  a West of Scotland  phenomenon where the  clash of Christian ideologies has tarnished much of  both present and past . Strathearn historically can sadly compete on a similar scale and accounts of disruption and conflict abound throughout the tumultuous centuries that followed the Reformation. The troubles started in this airt in 1559 and had its roots in the Fair City of Perth when Knox ( who had  been ordained as a Catholic Priest) , preached in St Johns Church in the heart of the town . His sermon concerned his opinion about regarding the idolatry of the Mass. In it, Knox spoke of the odiousness of idolatry to God, of God's commandment to destroy all idols, and of the Mass as an abomination to God. Shortly after Knox finished the sermon, a priest attempted to serve a Mass in Perth, erecting an alter with an image upon it. A young boy, so taken back by the scene, cried, "This is intolerable! When God by His Word hath plainly damned idolatry, shall we stand and see it used in despite?" At this, the priest struck the young boy, who retaliated by throwing a stone and breaking the idol. Thereafter, the enraged crowd began breaking all that had to do with idolatry in the town. Tolerance was no longer an option

The multitude became so inflamed that the preachers, magistrates, and nobles could not contain them. Knox refers to this mob that destroyed not only the altar but also three Catholic monasteries in Perth as "the Rascal Multitude" Neither Knox nor the leaders in Perth incited the destruction of churches or monasteries. They believed that “ these remnants of idolatries should be peacefully converted and their churches used for the true and proper worship of God.”

The immediate  post Reformation format of the Scottish Kirk was essentially Episcopalian and not Presbyterian .Immediate post Reformation records  regarding the beliefs and attitudes of Crieff’s parish ministers paint an interesting picture as to what line the good citizens followed in pursuing their faith . Let  us  look briefly at  who these incumbents  were and in what they believed .

Ministers of Crieff Parish Church from the Reformation

1560 : Alexander Christie – Catholic Priest joined Reformed Church- reader in Monzievaird in  1567 .

1563 : Thomas Drummond – probably knew John Knox ( Heavenor )

1572 : Hugh Currie Rector of Crieff could have been Catholic  but pointed out  that titles such as Rector could date back to 1560 “ an elementary but not uncommon error  to believe  that there was any religious significance in the use of such titles .

Everyone  who held office  in the Church  in 1560  continued for the rest  of his life to be designated as he had been in 1560 “

1574 : William Drummond  began his ministry . Probably both William and Thomas  were connected  with Drummond Castle  . The Parish Ministers in those days   often were poor  relations of influential families . William was a contemporary of Andrew Melville At this time Church half Presbyterian and half Episcopalian

1592 : David Drummond was MA of Glasgow Gave up in 1636 and went to Ireland 

1635 : David Drummond ( nephew of  above ) an MA of St Andrews had been his uncle’s assistant . Son of James Drummond  , 5th Laird of Monzie – succeeded to lands of Kincardine and Trytoun and purchased  lands of Callander near Barvick.  These supplied considerable income from tiends towards his stipend .

1638 : National Covenant signed  pledging support  for Presbyterianism .David Drummond  supported  the  but when Civil war broke out he supported Royalists .Called  before Synod to answer charges  that he raised soldiers  for the royalist cause . Charge was proved  and sentence of deposition passed in 1649 . Appealed  but sentence  not lifted . Continued to preach and take stipend . Got  fed up and resigned in 1658 and  became Rector of Omagh in N Ireland .Later was murdered for unknown reason .

1658 : Gilbert Murray an MA of St Andrews succeeded . Claimed he had made  a pact with Drummond  to share the stipend . Presbytery raised matter but Murray  refused to appear  . Probably connected to Murrays of Ochtertyre . Trimmed his sails  according to the religious wind  ! At outset  was  a staunch Presbyterian but became an Episcopalian and allowed  to continue his ministry .

1682  : His son William Murray also an MA of St Andrews appointed  his colleague and successor . Proved  to be  convinced Episcopalian .Lord’s Prayer used in worship and the Doxology was sung by the congregation  and the Apostles’ Creed was repeated at Baptisms – all of these frowned upon by the Presbyterians of the time .

1688 : The “ Revolution”  brought William and Mary to the throne .Murray did  not  support them  and was deposed for reading part of Psalm 118 after the Jacobite victory at Killiecrankie  - “ This is the day God made , in it  we’ll joy triumphantly ”

1690 : Episcopacy  was overthrown and Presbyterianism established officially . Crieff  Church vacant for 9 years ( 1699 )

1699 : Appointment of John Drummond ( Glasgow University ) First problem  was when the Presbytery reported  “ horrid abuse  committed by some persons in the town of Crieff ,by their drinking King James’ health publicly at the Cross and abusing several inhabitants in the town .” Drummond  was asked  to draw up a list of offenders for the attention  of the Queen’s Advocate . Strict Presbyterianism had  arrived and Session Minutes  reflect the discipline  which now prevailed . It  notes “ the frequent profanation  of the Lord’s Day  by unnecessary walking  in the fields , idle talking , bearing of water . taking in of kail and the like “ Elders were asked  to “ take  strict notice  “ of such  infringements  with a view to discipline ” .

1754 : John  Drummond died

1755 : Succeeded by Thomas Stewart

1770 : Stewart suspended for life because of drunkenness which had been reported to them in 1763 .
Over two hundred years of resolute independence and free thinking against the national trend clearly indicates that here in the Strath , the reformed religion very much followed a pattern not dis similar to that of the pre Knox era ! Indeed  the great reformer  must  be blrling in his grave at the behavioural attitudes of the likes  William Murray and  the Drummonds !

As a card carrying member of the Kirk I find  the  outpourings  of the Victorian Presbyterians  totally unacceptable in  a context of today’s World and their distortions of the truth should be acknowledged without hesitation .

Enough of the rant ! Distortions of historical facts concerning matters such as politics and religion are a serious failing. Regrettably scholars of my generation  were subjected to these in a plenty .I recall in particular the attrocious  syllabi which were  presented to students in my vintage school days of yesteryear . Boring and pointless to the extreme they  put off countless numbers  with their failure to deal with matters closer  to home than Caesar’s Gallic Wars or indeed the Battle of Hastings !

I started this little essay with a promise to look at  some of the more obscure places of worship in and around Strathearn . Pictured  above are two buildings  with an interesting pedigree. The first in Lodge Street Crieff was the initial Episcopal Church in the town  before it moved to Perth Road  in a slightly older format than the present occupant ! The other  was , I believe the first Baptist Church in the town located at the junction of Church Street and Cornton Place . The third picture is probably a total mystery to most readers . It is a pic of the old Relief Kirk hidden in comparative obscurity between High Street and Addison Terrace . Last occupied as far back as the 1850s as a church it is a real microcosm of the past . The Relief Church was one of the many Seceder groups  to abandon the established Kirk in the 18th Century . The Crieff congregation were formed when, in 1782, a number of members  took exception to the doctrine  being preached by the incumbent minister the Rev Stirling and  departed  for the newly formed relief Church in Auchterarder . Perhaps it was a reflection on the attitude of the Crieff Kirk  but  Relief  numbers swelled and eventually they determined  to build their church in Crieff . Half an acre of ground was  bought at Gavelbeg near what was called the “ Bogle House “. It was not a great success  perhaps  for its distance  from the  centre of the town . Their  new minister John Baillie found himself  in conflict  with  his congregation  and a period of disharmony resulted in his departure  and  the  arrival of a fresh face in he Rev William Bell . The revitalised congregation determined  to move into the centre of the  town and land was purchased to the rear of Cook’s the saddlers ( oldies  will recall Charlie Farr who ran the business in the 1980s ) and what is now McNees , the excellent deli near the cancer shop . The church continued in this unlikely spot until 1856  under the guidance of the Rev John Martin . It was then decided  to move tpo larger premise  and  ground was purchased at the east end of Commissioner Street . The beautiful little church is  now the Crieff Primary School Dining Hall . But what of the little beut stuck between High Street and Addison Terrace ? Abandoned ! Doors  closed , land locked and forgotten! My pic  above shows  it as it stands in 2012 – a microcosm of the town’s somewhat tempestuous religious past !!


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