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Scroll through the timeline to discover some of the key events in Fife’s religious past

c.300 – 400

Arrival of Christianity in Scotland

Christianity was introduced to Southern Scotland during the Roman occupation of Britain. It is possible that some Christian communities survived the departure of the Romans and the subsequent period of migration and political change.

c. 400 – 600

First Evidence for Christianity in Fife

The earliest evidence for Christianity in Fife comes from Christian symbols on carved stones and in caves. Early examples include the carvings on the Skeith Stone (which was found near Kilrenny) and cross markings at Caiplie Caves. These carvings probably date from the fifth and sixth centuries, and suggest that Christian missionaries were active in Fife at this time. St Serf (who is often associated with the areas around Loch Leven and Culross) and St Ethernan (who was supposedly buried on the Isle of May) were perhaps part of these early missions.

c.600 – 800

Missionaries from Iona and Northumbria

The seventh and eighth centuries saw increasing conversion of the Picts (who then inhabited Fife and much of Scotland north of the Forth). Missionaries seem to have come from the island of Iona in the west, and from the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria in the south.


Early Evidence for a Religious Centre at St Andrews

St Andrews was an important religious centre from an early date. There seems to have already been a monastery here in 747 when the death of the abbot Tuathalán was recorded. The spectacular stone monument known as the St Andrews sarcophagus probably also dates from the eighth century. Its carvings show similarities with religious art from Continental Europe.

c.900 – 1050

Céli Dé (or Culdee) Communities Established in Fife

In the ninth and tenth centuries a new monastic movement known as the Céli Dé arrived from Ireland. Céli Dé means servants of God and is sometimes spelt as ‘Culdee’ in English. Communities of Céli Dé were established at St Andrews and Loch Leven, as well as several other locations in Scotland.


First Recorded Pilgrims to St Andrews

By the tenth century St Andrews had become one of the most important churches in the kingdom of the Scots. In 965 the brother of the King of Tara died while on pilgrimage to St Andrews. This incident is the earliest evidence for St Andrews as a place of pilgrimage.


Queen Margaret Supports Religious Change

Around 1070 King Malcolm III’s wife Margaret (later known as St Margaret of Scotland) brought a group of Benedictine monks to Dunfermline. The Benedictines were the commonest monastic order in Western Europe at that time. Over succeeding years Margaret tried to bring religious practices in Scotland in line with customs in Continental Europe. Margaret also encouraged pilgrimage to St Andrews, and set up a new ferry and hostel for pilgrims crossing the Forth. This was the origin of North and South Queensferry.

1124 – 1153

David I Reorganises Scottish Parishes and Dioceses

King David I (one of the sons of Margaret and Malcolm III) supported major changes in the Scottish Church. He increased the number of bishops and gave them oversight of dioceses organised in a similar fashion to Continental Europe. He also backed a rearranging of Scottish parishes, to make them function more like parishes in France and England. The parish boundaries established in Fife at this time survived for many centuries, and in some places still affect the shape of parishes today.

c.1130 – 1230

New Religious Orders Introduced to Fife

The late eleventh and early twelfth centuries saw a wish for monks to follow stricter rules. A number of new religious orders such as the Cluniacs and the Cistercians were founded, who led a more austere way of life. The Scottish royal family proved enthusiastic supporters of the new monastic orders and helped introduce them to Fife. The period between about 1130 and 1230 saw the Cluniacs established on the Isle of May, new Cistercian monasteries founded at Balmerino and Culross, and a Tironesian Abbey set up at Lindores. At this time the Augustinian order also founded communities of canons at St Andrews, Loch Leven and Inchcolm.

c.1160 – 1318

A New Cathedral is Built at St Andrews

In the 1160s work began on a grand new cathedral at St Andrews (to replace the smaller church now known as St Rule’s which was then in use). The new cathedral was the largest roofed space constructed in Scotland in the Middle Ages. It took more than 150 years to build, and was eventually consecrated in 1318. The consecration ceremony (when it was officially blessed) was attended by King Robert the Bruce.


The Roman Catholic Church Officially Backs the Doctrine of Purgatory

In 1215 the Fourth Lateran Council officially declared the Roman Catholic Church’s belief in the doctrine of purgatory. This was the idea that most people did not proceed directly to heaven when they died, but spent time in an unpleasant waiting area where they suffered and were purged of their sins. To lessen the time a soul spent in purgatory it was important to lead a good life, sincerely confess sins, and have prayers and masses said after death. In the late Middle Ages a number of churches in Fife were adapted to make space for more altars where chaplains could perform masses and prayers for the dead. Most ranks of Scottish society from kings down to craftsmen invested in prayers for the souls of the dead.

1249 – 1250

Margaret Becomes a Saint

Queen Margaret (the wife of Malcolm III) seems to have been regarded as a saint by the residents of Fife soon after her death in 1093. Miracles were recorded at Margaret’s tomb in Dunfermline in the twelfth and early thirteenth century. Margaret was formally canonised by Pope Innocent IV in 1250 following a long campaign supported by the Scottish and English kings.


The Declaration of Arbroath Describes St Andrew as Patron Saint of the Scots

The origins of the close connection between St Andrew and the people of Scotland go back into the early Middle Ages. However, during the wars between Scotland and England in the 1290s and 1300s a particular emphasis was placed on St Andrew’s role as a protector of the Scots. In 1320, the famous letter known as the Declaration of Arbroath referred to St Andrew as the ‘patron for ever’ of the Scottish people. At this time St Andrews Cathedral was increasingly portrayed as a symbol of the Scottish nation.


Friars Settle in Fife

During the thirteenth century some people felt that monasteries had become too wealthy. In response new religious orders of friars were created. The friars were committed to extreme poverty and earned much of their income from begging. Unlike many monks who shut themselves away from society, the friars spent a lot of time out in the world preaching and supporting the poor. The Franciscans (founded by St Francis) and the Dominicans (founded by St Dominic) were two of the largest orders of friars. The Franciscans and Dominicans seem to have arrived in Scotland in the thirteenth century. The first evidence for the friars in Fife comes from the founding of a Dominican friary at Cupar in 1348. Further Dominican houses were established at St Monans and St Andrews. The Franciscans set up communities at Inverkeithing and St Andrews.


The Black Death

In 1349 the Black Death (probably a severe epidemic of bubonic plague) reached Fife. Churchmen were particularly likely to catch the disease as they often tended to the sick and dying. The communal lifestyles of monasteries also proved ideal for spreading infection. At least twenty-four canons at St Andrews Cathedral died of plague (this was at a time when there were about forty canons attached to the cathedral). Following the 1349 outbreak, waves of plague repeatedly swept through Scotland until the middle of the seventeenth century. The constant exposure to sudden death may have encouraged the focus on salvation and the afterlife which characterised late medieval Scottish society.

1362 – 1370

David II Rebuilds the Church at St Monans

In the 1360s King David II spent a large amount of money rebuilding the church at St Monans. The king did this because in 1346 he had survived being severely wounded by an arrow in the face at the Battle of Neville’s Cross (where the English defeated the Scots). After going on pilgrimage to St Monans the arrow miraculously removed itself from the king’s head. To give thanks for his healing David II paid to build a much larger church in honour of St Monan.

c.1400 – 1559

Expanding Churches

The fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries saw major building projects at many Fife churches. New churches were built and old ones remodelled. The parish churches at St Andrews and Cupar were rebuilt at this time. Late medieval bell towers survive at both these churches, and at Anstruther Wester, Inverkeithing, and Kilrenny. This building boom was made possible by donations from churchmen and lay people anxious to save their souls by giving generously to the church.

1410 – 1414

The University of St Andrews is Founded

During the late Middle Ages universities increasingly took over responsiblity for higher education. In 1410 a group of churchmen established a university in St Andrews (which was already an important place of learning with many scholars attached to the Cathedral and other religious sites). The university soon received official backing, and in 1413 Pope Benedict XIII confirmed St Andrews’ status as a university. When the official papal documents arrived in St Andrews the church bells rang out in celebration, and there were religious services, parties, and bonfires. St Andrews was Scotland’s first university. Later in the Middle Ages universities were also founded at Glasgow and Aberdeen.


Hussite Preacher Burned as a Heretic

In the early 1430s a doctor named Pavel Kravar (sometimes known as Paul Craw in Scotland) was burned for heresy in the centre of St Andrews. Kravar was from Bohemia and had tried to gain support in Fife for the Hussite movement, which then had a significant number of followers in Eastern Europe. The Hussites wanted major changes to religion and society (among other beliefs they supported the redistribution of church property and severe punishments for sinners). This led them to be regarded as heretics by the Roman Catholic authorities. During the early fifteenth century Fife’s religious leaders were concerned about the possibility of heresy spreading from England and Continental Europe and so took swift action against Kravar.

1453 – 1456

The Observant Franciscans Arrive in Fife

Like many religious orders, the Franciscans (or grey friars) grew slightly less strict over time. This concerned some people, and led to the establishing of the Observant Franciscan movement. The Observant Franciscans had unusually strict rules on poverty and believed they were following more closely the teachings of St Francis. In the early 1450s an Observant Franciscan friary was founded in St Andrews by Bishop James Kennedy.


St Andrews Becomes an Archbishopric

The bishops of St Andrews had for centuries claimed to be the most important churchmen in Scotland. In 1472 their special status was officially recognised by the pope, when the bishopric of St Andrews was raised into an archbishopric. The new archbishops had authority over the other Scottish dioceses. However, St Andrews’ power was slightly reduced in the 1490s when Glasgow also became an archbishopric and given control over Argyll, Dunblane, Dunkeld and Galloway.

c. 1525 – 1530

Lutheran Ideas Begin to Spread in Fife

In 1517 the German academic Martin Luther published a series of criticisms of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther’s protest rapidly developed into an international religious crisis, which would ultimately lead to the creation of the movement we now term ‘Protestantism’. By the middle of the 1520s the writings of Luther and his supporters were being smuggled into Fife. Contemporary spies record that St Andrews was one of the main ports where this ‘heretical’ literature was brought into Scotland.

1528 – 1558

Protestants Burned as Heretics

Between the 1520s and the 1550s the Roman Catholic authorities in Fife severely punished a number of Protestant sympathisers. No less than four Protestants were burned at the stake in St Andrews. The first and most high profile of these was Patrick Hamilton, whose execution in 1528 was so badly mishandled that he took six hours to die. Henry Forrest, George Wishart, and Walter Myln also suffered the death penalty for spreading reformist beliefs.

1543 – 1551

The Rough Wooing

The 1540s saw fighting between Scotland and England. The conflict was partly driven by the English government’s wish to arrange a marriage between Edward VI and the young Mary Queen of Scots (which is why this period is sometimes called the Rough Wooing). However, the war rapidly acquired a religious aspect, as English leaders tried to impose Protestantism on Scotland. Some residents of Fife who supported religious change backed the English. Meanwhile other Scots looked to Roman Catholic France for help. During the conflict the English attacked coastal Fife, including burning Balmerino Abbey.


Cardinal David Beaton is Murdered

In the spring of 1546 the Roman Catholic archbishop of St Andrews, Cardinal David Beaton, was assassinated by a group of Fife lairds who opposed his religious and political policies. The murderers gained access to Beaton’s residence at St Andrews Castle because the gates were open for building work. The lairds killed Beaton, strung his body from the walls, then proceeded to occupy the castle for over a year. They were eventually removed by a fleet sent from France which bombarded the castle into submission.

c. 1550 – 1559

Archbishop Hamilton Supports Roman Catholic Reform

During the 1550s a number of Roman Catholics worked to bring improvements to the Church in Scotland. Fife was at the heart of this movement, which was backed by John Hamilton, the new archbishop of St Andrews. This period saw efforts to improve the education of churchmen and to encourage better communication with lay men and women. Regular preaching was encouraged. Hamilton also supported the printing of a short summary of core Roman Catholic beliefs. This summary (or catechism) was in Scots and was meant to be read aloud in church on Sundays and holy days.


Reformation Crisis

In the spring and summer of 1559 Protestant activists set out to ‘reform’ Roman Catholic churches. Influenced by strict Calvinist ideas on the wickedness of ‘idols’, they smashed statues, removed altars, and burned religious books. Once churches had been ‘purged’ in this fashion the Protestants established new forms of services and church government. Cupar was one of the first places in Fife to be reformed, and Crail followed soon after. The Protestants (who called themselves ‘the Congregation’) then turned their attention to St Andrews – Scotland’s historic religious capital. In June 1559 the Protestant preacher John Knox delivered a sermon in St Andrews encouraging his listeners to ‘remove the monuments of idolatry’. Knox and his supporters proceeded to sack St Andrews Cathedral and other religious sites in the burgh. From this point onwards St Andrews was controlled by Protestants, and became a key Reformist stronghold. By the summer of 1560 Protestant forces had occupied Edinburgh and the Scottish Parliament officially rejected Roman Catholicism.

c.1560 – 1570

Establishing a Reformed Church

The Reformation Parliament of 1560 saw Scotland officially declared a Protestant country. However, it took time to establish the structures of a Reformed Church across the nation. Fife was at the forefront of this movement. Local church courts, known as kirk sessions, were key to imposing religious change on the wider population. The kirk sessions ensured that people attended church on Sundays, prosecuted moral lapses (such as drunkenness, adultery, and slander), and took action against religious dissenters. Holy Trinity Church in St Andrews has the earliest kirk session records in Scotland – beginning in the late summer of 1559.


Protestant Bishoprics Established

For many years there were bitter debates about how the new Protestant Church of Scotland should be governed. In the 1560s each region had a superintendent who oversaw religious affairs and reported back to the General Assembly (an annual meeting of ministers serving in the Church of Scotland). The first superintendent of Fife was John Winram – who had previously been involved in Archbishop Hamilton’s plans for Roman Catholic reform. In the early 1570s pressure from central government led to the reintroduction of bishops to the Church of Scotland. John Douglas, an academic from St Mary’s College, was chosen as the first Protestant archbishop of St Andrews.


Punishments Imposed for Celebrating Christmas

By the 1570s the Church of Scotland was adopting an increasingly hard line on religious festivals. In particular there was a campaign against celebrating Christmas (or Yule as it was often known in Scotland). At the beginning of 1574 the St Andrews Kirk Session punished a number of people that ‘observed superstitiously the said Yule day’. The kirk session ordered that anyone who ‘abstained from work’ at Christmas or any other holy day ‘except Sunday’ should be prosecuted.


Presbyterian Church Government Established

The later decades of the sixteenth century saw ongoing tensions about how radical the Church of Scotland should be. Many of these arguments became focused around the question of church government. In 1592 the Scottish Parliament abolished the role of bishops – a brief victory for those Scots who wanted a more strictly Reformed version of Christianity. Instead the Scottish Church would adopt a more democratic form of church government with regional presbyteries reporting back to the General Assembly. Churches which adopt this type of administrative structure are often known as Presbyterian.


General Assembly at Burntisland Proposes a New Translation of the Bible

Reading the Bible formed a vital part of Protestant religious activity. In particular Protestants believed that people should have access to the Bible in their native language. Yet there were significant problems with many of the early translations of the Bible into English. In 1601 a meeting of the General Assembly at the Fife parish of Burntisland suggested the commissioning of an improved translation of the Scriptures. This proposal received the backing of the Scottish King James VI who implemented the scheme after he became ruler of England in 1603. The resulting translation is often called the King James Bible, and was for many centuries the main version of the Scriptures used in English-speaking countries.


Restrictions on Bishops Removed

As he grew older King James VI became opposed to the relatively democratic government of the Church of Scotland. He had bitter disputes with what he termed the ‘fiery ministers’ of the General Assembly. The king believed that Presbyterianism led to disorder and the undermining of royal authority. As a result he campaigned for the reintroduction of bishops to Scotland – a policy which was backed by the Scottish Parliament in July 1606. James VI’s religious policies were resisted by some residents of Fife. In the autumn of 1606 the St Andrews academic Andrew Melville was sent to the Tower of London for criticising James VI’s changes to the Church.


National Covenant

The 1630s saw growing tensions about religion in Scotland. At this time King Charles I tried to bring the Church of Scotland more in line with English practices. Charles firmly supported the role of bishops and wanted more elaborate services. In 1637 a new prayer book was published for Scotland, partly based on the English Book of Common Prayer. This move was deeply disliked by many Scots. When Archbishop John Spottiswoode of St Andrews tried to impose the new prayer book it triggered riots. One of the key opponents of the changes in worship was Alexander Henderson (who came from Fife and had previously served as minister at Leuchars). Henderson helped draw up the National Covenant – a document in which Scots expressed their opposition to alterations to the Church of Scotland.

1639 – 1660

Wars of the Three Kingdoms and Cromwell’s Occupation of Scotland

In 1639 Scotland slipped into religious war. Supporters of the National Covenant (sometimes known as Covenanters) took up arms in defence of their beliefs. The response of Charles I to this crisis led to civil war across his three kingdoms – namely England, Ireland, and Scotland. For most of the 1640s the Scottish Parliament opposed the king. However, following Charles I’s execution in 1649, the Scottish government gave support to the Royalist side and backed the crowning of Charles II at Scone. This prompted the English Parliament and the military dictator Oliver Cromwell to invade Scotland. During the 1650s Fife was occupied by English forces. The invaders were resented and there were complaints that English soldiers did not behave properly in Fife churches. Despite these issues Presbyterian preaching and services continued in most places.


Charles II Overturns Religious Changes

In 1660 the English invited Charles II to return as king. Shortly afterwards Charles set about overturning the religious changes of the previous decades. In 1661 the Scottish Parliament passed the Rescissory Act which got rid of all the laws passed since 1633. This paved the way for Charles II to reintroduce bishops and support more elaborate forms of worship. The minister of Crail, James Sharp, was made archbishop of St Andrews. Meanwhile religious festivals such as Christmas, Easter, and St Andrew’s Day were once again celebrated. These changes were welcomed in some quarters but were opposed by many Fife residents.


Archbishop Sharp is Murdered

Archbishop James Sharp was a divisive religious leader. Many Presbyterians felt that he had sold out the Church of Scotland by agreeing to become archbishop of St Andrews. Sharp rigorously enforced the religious changes imposed by Charles II and removed a number of his opponents from their posts in the Church. In 1679 Archbishop Sharp was murdered by a group of radical Presbyterians. He was set upon while travelling across Magus Muir in Fife. Sharp’s assassins dragged him from his carriage and killed him in front of his daughter.


Episcopal Clergy Banned from Performing Marriages or Baptisms

Many of Fife’s Episcopal clergymen were removed from their parishes by the restoration of Presbyterianism. In 1695 the Scottish Parliament passed a law forbidding displaced Episcopal clergy from performing marriages or baptisms under pain of ‘perpetual imprisonment or banishment’.


The Act of Union

After much debate, the parliaments of Scotland and England passed legislation to create a new Kingdom of Great Britain. The Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh closed. Until the twentieth century legislation on Scottish religious affairs became the responsibility of the British Parliament at Westminster.


Changes to Appointments in the Church of Scotland

Lobbying from Scottish aristocrats led to the passing of the Church Patronage Act. This stated that the old patrons of Scottish parishes (typically large landowners) could influence the appointment of Church of Scotland ministers. The move was deeply unpopular with many Presbyterians, and there was significant opposition to the changes in Fife.


The Scottish Episcopalians Act is Passed

The British government was initially more tolerant of Episcopalians than the Scottish Parliament had been. In 1711 the laws against Episcopal marriages and baptisms were removed and new legislation ordered that Episcopalians were not to be disturbed ‘in the exercise of their religious worship’.


Celebrating Christmas is Legalised

When Presbyterianism was re-established in 1690 the Scottish Parliament also passed legislation banning Christmas. In 1712 this ban was lifted and the British Parliament legalised keeping Christmas in Scotland. However, most Presbyterians remained opposed to any festivities or special services on 25 December.

1715 – 1716

Jacobite Rising (The Fifteen)

The accession of George I to the British throne was soon followed by a rebellion backing James Francis Edward Stuart’s claim to be king instead. James (also known as the Old Pretender) was a Roman Catholic, but he received support from many Scottish Episcopalians who were unhappy about the restoration of Presbyterianism. During the autumn of 1715 Jacobite rebels occupied Dundee and were active in Fife. However, their success was short-lived. In December 1715 government soldiers entered Dunfermline and Burntisland, paving the way to regaining control over the rest of Fife.


Timeline Heading Limits on Size of Episcopal Congregations

After the Jacobite rising of 1715 the British government became increasingly suspicious of Scottish Episcopalians. Ministers in the Scottish Episcopal Church were required to take an oath renouncing the Stuart claim to the throne and promising to pray for George I. Most Episcopal ministers refused to do this. Episcopalians who did not accept George I were known as ‘non-jurors’ and were banned from conducting services with more than nine attendees. There were several ‘non-juring’ ministers and congregations in Fife. Because of the restrictions non-jurors often worshipped in private houses. In Pittenweem the non-juring Episcopalians met for a time in a barn on the site of the medieval Pittenweem Priory.


The Glasite Church (or Kail Kirk) is Founded

During the 1720s the popular preacher John Glas (a graduate of the University of St Andrews and minister at Tealing near Dundee) put forward a series of radical ideas including condemning the idea of a national church and regarding communion as a ‘love feast’. He was removed as minister of Tealing in 1730 and left the Church of Scotland to found his own sect. The first Glasite church was in Dundee, but a congregation was soon set up in Kirkcaldy. Because the Glasites celebrated communion as a meal with vegetable broth they became known as the ‘Kail Kirk’ (reflecting the traditional Scots term for kale or cabbage soup).

1745 – 1746

Jacobite Rising (The Forty-Five)

In August 1745 Charles Edward Stuart (sometimes called the Young Pretender) landed on the West Coast of Scotland. His arrival triggered a far-reaching rebellion in support of the Stuart claim to the throne. In comparison to many other parts of Lowland Scotland Fife had a significant Jacobite presence. Episcopalians were particularly likely to join the Jacobites, although many Presbyterians also backed the rising.


Increased Restrictions on Episcopalians

Following the failed rebellion of 1745 and 1746 checks on Episcopalians increased. Episcopal ministers who failed to take an oath of loyalty were forbidden to lead services for more than four people. Episcopalians were also not allowed to be public officials or attend university.


The Secession Church Divides into the Burghers and Anti-Burghers

The new Secession Church had a number of internal divisions which came to a head in the late 1740s. A particular area of disagreement concerned whether Seceders could take an oath to support the religion ‘presently professed in the country’. This oath was required of public officials, and in some Scottish burghs was demanded of all burgesses (essentially urban residents holding property over a certain value). Those congregations which accepted the oath became known as Burghers and those who rejected it were called Anti-Burghers.


The Relief Church Splits from the Church of Scotland

During the 1750s and 1760s a dispute over the appointment of a new minister at Inverkeithing led to another split in the Church of Scotland. A group of ministers who objected to outside interference in parish appointments set up the new Relief Church. The first official meeting of the Relief Church took place at Colinsburgh. Perhaps unsurprisingly given its local origins the Relief Church soon gathered considerable support in Fife.

1778 – 1780

Protests in Support of Continuing Restrictions on Roman Catholics

Since the Reformation the Scottish government had banned Roman Catholic worship. In 1778 the British Parliament tried to reduce the restrictions on Roman Catholics. The proposed act caused major protests in Scotland. As a result of the popular unrest, Scotland was excluded from the new legislation, meaning that Scottish Roman Catholics continued to experience serious limits on their economic activities, choice of careers, and ability to practice their faith. Generations of discrimination meant that during the eighteenth century there were relatively few Roman Catholics in Fife.


Episcopal Worship is Legalised

Following the death of Charles Edward Stuart, the leaders of the Scottish Episcopal Church agreed to support George III. After some argument, the British Parliament removed most of the legal restrictions on Episcopalians in Scotland. Episcopal worship was now allowed, and Episcopalians could attend university. However, there remained some questions about the status of ministers in the Scottish Episcopal Church and whether clergy ordained north of the Border could work in England.


Legal Restrictions on Roman Catholics are Reduced

In the early 1790s the British Parliament decided to resolve the status of Roman Catholics in Scotland. More than a decade after the harshest restrictions had been lifted on Catholics in the rest of the United Kingdom, it was agreed that Roman Catholic worship would be allowed in Scotland, and that Catholics could legally own land and join the army.


Burghers and Anti-Burghers Join Together

After more than seventy years of disagreement (largely focusing on the relationship between church and state) most members of the Burgher Church resolved their differences with the Anti-Burghers. They joined together as the new United Secession Church. This union resulted in some reorganisation of church buildings and congregations in Fife.


Catholic Emancipation

In 1829 the British Parliament passed legislation lifting most restrictions on Roman Catholics. Among other new freedoms, Roman Catholics were now allowed to vote and become members of Parliament. Over the course of the nineteenth century the Roman Catholic presence in Fife grew, largely as a result of immigration from Ireland.


The Great Disruption in the Church of Scotland

For more than a century there had been divisions in the Church of Scotland over how appointments were made and the relationship between church and state. A series of legal cases in the 1830s worsened relations between the growing evangelical wing of the Church of Scotland and less radical ministers who accepted the right of the government to interfere in religious affairs. In 1843, following bitter argument, 121 ministers walked out of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. The break-away ministers set up the new Free Church of Scotland. Free Church congregations sprang up across Fife, leading to the construction of a large number of new churches.


The United Secession Church and the Relief Church Join Together

While the Church of Scotland was splitting again, some groups of seceders were joining together. In 1847 the United Secession Church and the Relief Church combined to form the United Presbyterian Church. The United Presbyterians had considerable support in Fife.


Removal of Restrictions on Episcopal Clergy

For some decades there had been debates about the fact that clergy ordained by Scottish Episcopal bishops could not legally be appointed to positions in the Church of England. In 1864 this ban was overturned, ending official government discrimination against Episcopalians. This was a time when Episcopal congregations were growing and many new churches were built in Fife. At the end of the 1860s the Episcopalians in St Andrews constructed a large new church with room for 600 worshippers.


Lay Patronage Abolished in the Church of Scotland

Since the early 1700s the role of lay patrons in church appointments had been a major cause of discontent in the Church of Scotland, and had triggered several splits in the church. In 1874 the British Parliament agreed that Church of Scotland congregations should have the right to choose their own ministers, rather than powerful landowners making appointments to parishes.


Restoration of Scotland’s Roman Catholic Hierarchy

As discrimination against Roman Catholics reduced, the Papacy decided to re-establish a traditional church hierarchy in Scotland. Six Roman Catholic dioceses were created. Except for Glasgow, all the new dioceses were subject to the Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh.


The University of St Andrews Celebrates Christmas

For several centuries the University of St Andrews had not celebrated Christmas. However, in 1887 the university decided to have a communal Christmas dinner at St Mary’s College. The menu included hare soup, roast beef, and plum pudding.


The United Presbyterian Church and the Free Church of Scotland Join Together

The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries had seen several groups leave the Church of Scotland. In 1900 two of the largest of these break-away denominations joined together. Following several years of negotiations, the majority of members of the Free Church of Scotland joined with the United Presbyterian Church. Together they created the United Free Church of Scotland.

1914 – 1918

First World War

Thousands of Fife residents served in the armed forces during the First World War. Many were killed. After the war communities across Fife put up memorials to the dead. These war memorials are frequently located in churches. Others are free-standing, but often still take the shape of a cross. Fife churches also became the scene of Armistice Day commemorations where the sacrifices made in wartime are remembered.


The Church of Scotland Act is Passed

After centuries of the controversy about the relationship between church and state, the British Parliament passed the Church of Scotland Act. This gave the Church of Scotland freedom to decide spiritual matters and church appointments without government interference. The new legislation resolved some of the bitter debates which had divided many Fife communities in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


The United Free Church and the Church of Scotland Join Together

At a joint assembly in Edinburgh the United Free Church agreed to merge with the Church of Scotland. This meant that many places in Fife now had multiple Church of Scotland congregations. Some continued as independent congregations, but others amalgamated. As a result a number of former church buildings were converted. Several Fife churches became halls or other community spaces.

1939 – 1945

Second World War

During the Second World War the armed forces expanded and many people moved around the country. New places of worship were established in Fife for service personnel from Britain and overseas. A significant number of Polish troops were stationed in Fife, leading to a growth in Catholic congregations in the area.


Christmas Becomes a Public Holiday

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Presbyterian opposition to Christmas reduced. In 1958 Christmas became a public holiday in Scotland. Increasingly Fife’s Church of Scotland congregations held special services for Christmas Day.

1962 – 1965

Second Vatican Council

The Second Vatican Council (held in the Vatican in Rome) sought to modernise Roman Catholicism. It agreed major changes to Roman Catholic worship. One of the most notable alterations was ending the use of Latin for ordinary services. The interiors of several Roman Catholic churches in Fife were remodelled following the Second Vatican Council to align with new policies on how the Mass should be celebrated.


Scotland’s First Cardinal Since the Reformation

Since the sixteenth century there had been no cardinals resident in Scotland. However, in 1969 Gordon Gray, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI.


Fife’s First Female Church of Scotland Minister

In the late 1960s the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland agreed that women could be ordained as ministers on the same terms as men. The first woman to serve as a Church of Scotland minister in Fife was Mary Morrison, who began her ministry at Townhill in Dunfermline in 1978.