Trinity College Kirk

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. Queen Mary was interred in the church, until her coffin was moved to Holyrood Abbey in 1848.[1]

Trinity College Kirk c. 1647
Engraved colour drawing of the church, done in 1825
Watercolour from the early 1840s depicting the church
1848 calotype by Hill & Adamson, shortly before its destruction
Trinity College Church as intact and sitting on Jeffrey Street in 1895
North Aisle

The original concept was never completed. Only the apse, choir and transepts were completed.[2]

The church was originally located in the valley between the Old Town and Calton Hill, but was systematically dismantled in the 1840s (under the supervision of David Bryce) due to the construction of Waverley Station on its site. Its stones were numbered in anticipation of rebuilding and were stored in a yard on Calton Hill. Reconstruction did not begin until 1872, when it was moved to a site on Chalmers Close on the newly formed Jeffrey Street overlooking the original site.

Early historyEdit

The church and hospital of Soutra Aisle dedicated to the Holy Trinity, was held as a prebend of the chancellor of St Andrews.[3] 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.[3] 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.[3]

The church was famed for its beautiful 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.[4]

Early records of the construction of the church are lost, but 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. After his death in 1533, the masons pursued his legacy left for completing the work. Only the choir and transepts were finished. A nearby house, demolished in 1642, was called "Dingwall Castle" after the surname of one of the Provosts.

After the Scottish Reformation the kirk became the North East Quarter Church of Edinburgh. The college was refounded as a hospital for the poor in November 1567 by Regent Moray and the Provost of Edinburgh, Simon Preston of Craigmillar passed the property to the town. Building materials were to be brought from the demolished Blackfriars. The master of work for building the new hospital, Adam Fullarton, sold stones, lime, and sand in the Blackfriars kirk yard to the masons Thomas Jackson and Murdoch Walker.[5] In April 1568 the council sent four men, including Nicol Uddert, to find charitable donations for the hospital.[6]

From 1584 to 1833 it was the official church serving the north-east quarter of Edinburgh. In terms of structure (and conventional church layout) Trinity church was only a transept and apse, and lacked its nave.[7]

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.[8]

Dismantling and ReconstructionEdit

Trinity Apse
Ceiling of Trinity Apse

From 1834 the site of the church was earmarked for the location of a railway station by Act of Parliament. This also required the removal of the nearby Lady Glenorchy's Church, the old Edinburgh orphanage, and Trinity College (a separate building from the Kirk). James Bonar WS was an elder at Lady Glenorchy's and an Edinburgh lawyer. He drew up legal papers requiring the railway company to fund the rebuilding of each structure, and in the case of Trinity College Kirk, he argued that it should be dismantled and rebuilt rather than copied. The railway company were not used to such strongarm tactics but signed this, leading them to underwrite large parts of the cost of Lady Glenorchy's Free Church, relocated to Greenside 500m north, the Dean Orphanage on what was then a rural site to the west. 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.[9]

The North British Railway Company paid £18000 in compensation, but this appears to have been paid to Edinburgh Town Council rather than to the church, and 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. Bonar's legal agreements saw a timely rebuilding of Lady Glenorchy's Church as Lady Glenorchy's Free Church at Greenside, but there was a degree of truth that there was an over-provision of churches at the time. However, that was not the point, Bonar's legal agreement (and other parallel agreements of the time) required a new for old in relation to the Glenorchy Church, but the Trinity College Church was to be specifically rebuilt as an artefact. The emphasis was on its historic value not on its function. 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, the implication being that the Council had spent £11000 on other things in the intervening period.[10]

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.[11][12] David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson photographed the kirk before its demise. The kirk was carefully dismantled and each piece of masonry was numbered with the intention of reconstructing the kirk on another site.

In the period between demolition and rebuilding the congregation still existed, but was split by the Disruption of 1843 which ironically resolved some of the problems. Those remaining in the established Church of Scotland, post-Disruption, were allocated the Calton Convening Rooms on Waterloo Place as a "temporary" place of worship. This was grossly inadequate in scale, holding only around 150 people. It is therefore likely that most moved to new churches within the 35 years of closure. Around 1857 the Town Council moved the congregation (ironically) to John Knox's Free Church on the Royal Mile (almost adjacent to its final siting) and in 1861 moved them to a corner of the internally divided St Giles Cathedral.[13]

From a purely functional point of view the Council would certainly have seen the expenditure of £11000 on a church for only 150 people as a waste of money, but their hands were tied by the legal contracts. The chosen site linked to the City Improvement Schemes and in particular the new street at Jeffrey Street, and the medieval edifice was originally given pride of place, as the first building on Jeffrey Street. This seems to have been overseen by James Bonar, who was still alive, and still interested in the project.[14]

Maps from the 1870s to the First World War demonstrate that initially the whole church was rebuilt.[15] As rebuilt the structure was turned through 90 degrees to face northwards. It is now unclear how much was old and how much was new. Despite the gargantuan effort to rebuild the church, through all the reasons explained above, despite theoretically holding 900 persons, it was at best one quarter full. At some point in the 20th century the centre and north section of the church was demolished to create a warehouse on Jeffrey Street. There is some indication that the demolitions related to a "new church" by John Lessels and that the truly medieval section still survives. However, comparing the existing structure to the 1830s structure, although known thereafter as Trinity College Apse, this is a clear misnomer. The extant structure is largely the transept, but with southern windows from the apse.[16]

Nevertheless. it is generally now called Trinity Apse. In the 1980s it housed the Edinburgh Brass Rubbing Centre, under the auspices of the City of Edinburgh Council. It is now privately owned and can be hired for wedding functions.

The rebuilt Apse, together with carved stone fragments and the boundary wall, is registered as a Category A listed building.[17]

List of provostsEdit

  • Edward Bonkle: 1462 – 1495 x 1496
  • James Oliphant: 1499 – 1525
  • John Brady: 1502 – 1525
  • John Dingwell: 1525 – 1532 x 1533
  • William Cunningham: 1533 – 1539
  • Thomas Erskine: 1539
  • Robert Erskine: 1539 – 1540
  • George Clapperton: 1540 – 1566
  • Laurence Clapperty: 1566 – 1571 x 1572
  • Robert Pont: 1572 – 1586, who was paid 300 merks to resign the office to the town.[18]

Source: Watt & Murray Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae

List of MinistersEdit

Note: One of the founding members of the College of Justice, John Dingwell, was Provost of Trinity College; and several Moderators of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland came from the Trinity College Kirk:

  • 1598 to 1616 - Walter Balcanquhal (1548-1617)
  • 1626 to 1634 - Thomas Sydserf (1581-1666)
  • 1639 to 1641 - William Colvill MA, translated to the Tron Kirk in 1641
  • 1644 to 1648 - Robert Laurie, translated to the Tron Kirk in 1648
  • 1649 to 1660 - Hew McKail/Hugh McKaile (d.1660)
  • 1661 to 1667 - John Glennie (as assistant minister) went to Cashel in Ireland
  • 1662 to 1673 - Joshua Meldrum (d.1673) buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard
  • 1673 to 1675 - Andrew Cant
  • 1674 to 1678 - Robert Laurie MA (d.1678)
  • 1679 to 1689 - Andrew Cant (nephew of previous Andrew Cant?)
  • 1687 to 1692 - Hugh Kennedie AM (Moderator of the General Assembly 1690-1692)
  • 1692 to ? - John Moncrieff (d.1709)
  • 1714 to 1756 - James Bannatine (d.1756) Moderator of the General Assembly in 1739
  • 1756 to 1799 - Henry Lundie
  • 1799 to 1801 - David Dickson
  • 1802 to 1804 - Robert Anderson
  • 1804 to 1810 - Robert MacKnight
  • 1810 to 1813 - Rev Dr Andrew Grant DD
  • 1813 to 1833 - Walter Tait (1771-1841) moved to the Catholic Apostolic Church
  • 1834 to 1843 - William Cunningham (1805-1861) Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland in 1859
  • 1843 to 1857 - William Steven (d.1857) second charge since 1829 and Headmaster of George Heriot's School -minister of congragation in various temporary venues
  • 1857 to 1860 - William Smith minister of congregation in temporary venues
  • 1860 to 1868 - Robert Wallace, minister to the relocated church on Jeffrey St
  • 1869 to 1870 - Cornelius Griffen, at Jeffrey St
  • 1879 to 1908 - Alexander Kennedy (1840-1908)
  • 1908 to ? - William Main (b.1867)

Second ChargeEdit

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:

  • 1597 to 1604 - George Robertson, son of Patrick Robertson, Regent of Edinburgh University
  • 1625 to 1628 - John Maxwell MA, translated from St Giles
  • 1628 to 1629 - Henry Rollock MA translated to Greyfriars Kirk
  • !634 to 1640 - James Elliot MA DD
  • 1641 to 1647 - William Bennet MA his son George Bennet became a baronet in 1671
  • 1648 to 1662 - John Smith (d.1667) captured by English Army in 1651
  • 1663 to 1668 - Alexander Cairncross (b.1637)
  • 1668 to 1689 - John MacQueen (d.1733) also Sub Dean of Chapel Royal
  • 1701 to 1708 - Archibald Riddell (1635-1708) son of Sir Walter Riddell, prisoner on Bass Rock and minister in USA
  • 1710 to 1719 - James Grierson (1662-1732) Moderator in 1719 (the second Second Charge to become Moderator)
  • 1732 to 1755 - George Logan (1678-1755) Moderator in 1740 (the third Second Charge to become Moderator)
  • 1758 to 1782 - Rev Dr Robert Dick DD MA (1722-1792)

See alsoEdit

  • Berwick Castle, most of which was also demolished in 1847, to allow for the construction of the Edinburgh – Newcastle railway


  1. ^ "Notes on the disputed tomb of Mary of Gueldres" (PDF).
  2. ^ "Edinburgh, Leith Wynd, Trinity College Church And Hospital". Canmore. Historic Environment Scotland. Retrieved 10 May 2020.
  3. ^ a b c Cowan & Easson, Medieval Religious Houses, p. 192
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ James David Marwick, Extracts from the records of the Burgh of Edinburgh: 1557-1571 (Edinburgh, 1875), pp. 242-4, 246.
  6. ^ James David Marwick, Extracts from the records of the Burgh of Edinburgh: 1557-1571 (Edinburgh, 1875), pp. 247-8.
  7. ^ Fasti Ecclesiastae Scoticana by Hew Scott
  8. ^ * Mitchell , Anne (1993), "The People of Calton Hill", p. 101 Mercat Press, James Thin, Edinburgh, ISBN 1-873644-18-3
  9. ^ Grant's Old and New Edinburgh vol 1
  10. ^ Fasti Ecclesiastae Scoticana by Hew Scott
  11. ^ A Calotype View of Trinity College Church, Edinburgh, by Hill & Adamson, Graham Smith, the Burlington Magazine, Vol. 126, No. 981
  12. ^ "Calotype of Trinity College Church". City of Edinburgh Council – Capital Collections. Edinburgh.
  13. ^ Fasti Ecclesiastae Scoticana by Hew Scott
  14. ^ Fasti Ecclesiastae Scoticana by Hew Scott
  15. ^ Ordnance survey maps 1875, 1895 etc
  16. ^ Edinburgh maps 1920 onwards
  17. ^
  18. ^ James David Marwick, Extracts from the records of the Burgh of Edinburgh: 1573-1589 (Edinburgh, 1882), p. 433.


  • Colston, James, (1896/1897),Trinity College and Trinity Hospital Edinburgh, Magistrates and Town Council Edinburgh, Edinburgh, 2 Volumes.
  • Cowan, Ian B. & Easson, David E., (1976), Medieval Religious Houses Scotland, Longman, London. ISBN 0-582-12069-1
  • Marwick, James, (1891), History of the Church of Holy Trinity and Hospital, Edinburgh, Burgh Records Society, Edinburgh.
  • Watt, D.E.R.and Murray, A. L. (2003), Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae Medii Aevi Ad Annum 1638', The Scottish Record Society, Edinburgh. ISBN 0-902054-19-8

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 55°57′10″N 3°11′10″W / 55.95278°N 3.18611°W / 55.95278; -3.18611