Maryculter Trinity Parish Church
Maryculter Trinity Church and its graveyards are situated in Kirkton, Maryculter. The parish was founded by the Knights Templar, part of the lands of Culter being granted to the Abbey of Kelso by William the Lion in AD 1187. After the suppression of the Templar Order by Pope Clement V in the early 14th century their vast holdings which included 8,500 acres of Maryculter, passed to the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. During this early period of Templar rule the parish originally extended on both sides of the River Dee but was later divided into Peterculter and Maryculter.
In 1287 a Preceptory (college) Chapel was built near the south bank of the river Dee, dedicated to St. Mary. By Parliamentary Act of 1528 some parts of Maryculter parish were allowed to be deeded by feu to ‘men of substance to improve them’, so that by the early 17th century the entire parish was owned by three families – at Altries, Kingcausie and Maryculter House.
In the mid-16th century, a church some 82 feet long and 28 feet wide was constructed of rubble stone near the Preceptory with pointed arches above windows and doors. This is thought to have been funded by Thomas Menzies, then laird of Maryculter, whose effigy, with that of his wife, was later moved to the West Church of St. Nicholas in Aberdeen where you can see it today. The 16th century church served the parish for almost 300 years with several additions and renovations, and its remains can be seen within the old churchyard in the grounds of Maryculter House Hotel. Some of its stones were used to construct the first South Deeside turnpike road nearby in1842.
The 17th century Reformation was a period of great disruption. Royal supremacy of the Church was abolished, and Presbyterianism established as the main religion in Scotland in 1690. The same year Parliament passed the first of many Acts for Observation of the Sabbath and worship of the ‘new’ religion replaced that of the Church of Rome in Maryculter Kirk.
Church ministers had increasing responsibilities. Kirk sessions which met after Sunday worship, were tasked to uphold common morals and ensure support for the poor. The Education Act of 1696 prescribed a school in every parish and in 1709 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland recommended that there should be a library in each Presbytery. Church ministers were expected to take the lead in setting these up in association with local landowners. We learn from the statistical account of 1833 (produced by the parish minister) that ‘The great majority of the inhabitants belong to the Established Church, and divine service in it is well attended…. There are two or three teachers connected with the Established Church who have small schools in which around 40 children are taught reading and writing. Their remuneration is what they receive from the parents. On many Sundays, before public worship begins, children of the parish come up to the Church and receive instruction from the minister and elders.’
A new parochial school had recently been constructed, capable of accommodating 90 scholars where ‘the scriptures are read daily and catechism is taught regularly.’ There was a parish library housing some 336 volumes and a Savings Bank was instituted in 1823. Kirk records include Session Minutes which go back to 1719 and the Baptismal Register from 1697.
The present Church was built in 1787 as a small rectangular building, constructed with roughly-shaped granite blocks with small packing stones. Statistical records of 1833 show that the parish church, when first built, was ‘conveniently situated for the population, its state of repair…good’ and it ‘afforded accommodation for about 460 persons, allowing 18 inches for each seat.’ With an exposed hammerbeam roof, box pews for the local landowning families and wooden gallery round three sides, it provided an intimate place of worship. Surrounding the Church were ten acres of glebe land for the upkeep of the church and the minister’s stipend. It had a strong connection with the former Templar Chapel through a marble plaque bearing Templar insignia, and it is believed that some stones from this Chapel were used as foundation stones in its construction. The manse (now Glenbirnie) was built some ‘twenty nine years before the present church to which later additions were later made.’
A gabled south aisle was built in 1882 to house a new organ, and at the same time a hall was built onto the north end of the church. Later additions in 1959/60 include a kitchen, toilets and an office. The 2006 hall extension with office, Happy Lounge and Upper Room has a glass section of wall and roof, which flood the interior with light.
Social change and declining church rolls led to amalgamation of congregations – with Cookney Church in 1982 and Banchory-Devenick in 2000. Altries Free Kirk had joined in the early 20th century. Sale of the churches and Banchory-Devenick hall provided funds and a decision was made to redevelop the now Maryculter Trinity Church. Work began in October 2016 and was completed in October 2017.
The initial plan to remove one gallery and retain the two side ones had to be abandoned when all were found to be in a perilous state with wet and dry rot. The organ had been deteriorating for many years and could not be renovated without enormous outlay. Lifting the wooden floors revealed only bare earth beneath while the 19th century hall floor rested on beautifully constructed drystane dykes. The original wall between church and hall was taken down – you may have seen the pile of its enormous stones, revealing the shell of what has become the new enlarged sanctuary.
Cement floors have been laid, the entire building insulated, and walls plastered. The kitchen has been enlarged and fitted out and a disabled toilet installed. The five stained glass windows, presented by the Kinloch family of Altries in 1886, and four lead-lined windows have been re-installed after highly skilled renovation, and kaleidoscopic light floods through them into the light and airy sanctuary. Carpet tiles have been laid and new comfortable chairs delivered. A moveable organ has been obtained, and the sound and audio-visual system installed. Sunday services moved into the hall area after being held in the upper room of the 2006 extension for several months and are now held in the church.
Initial costing of this project was within the amount in the Kirk coffers. As with any major household renovation, several unexpected complications appeared including the need for additional drains and downpipes, replacement roof on the 1960 extension and the massive cost of preserving stained glass windows. A considerable financial shortfall, has been the result and the congregation will be engaging in ongoing fundraising. There will be more fundraising events in the coming months, and support of any kind will be most welcome.
We’ve seen how Maryculter Church was central to worship, education, social support and pastoral care over the centuries. This fine tradition has evolved though the State has taken over most of the non-religious responsibilities. A scout hut was built on the adjacent glebe in the early 1980’s and in 2006 part of the glebe field was fenced off for recreation purposes to enable Scouts, Cubs and Beavers to share the use of church land. The Guides, Brownies and Rainbows also used the hut for many years before relocating to different premises. The glebe field can be hired and recently had exercise equipment installed. The 60 plus members of the Youth Café currently meet each Thursday in a tent nearby, and now have much more space, warmth and facilities in the renovated sanctuary. Those attending coffee mornings will appreciate comfortable seating and more space to circulate as will Guild members at their monthly meeting.
The sanctuary and hall have been redeveloped as a multipurpose venue for use both by the church and wider community. Maryculter Trinity Church wants once again to stand in the heart of the community. Both minister and congregation trust that a new phase in the life of Maryculter Trinity Church has begun.
A 2017 article by Mel Griffiths and Anne Massie – updated 2021.