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Culross, Culross Abbey

A Category A Listed Building in Culross, Fife

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Latitude: 56.0583 / 56°3'30"N

Longitude: -3.6253 / 3°37'31"W

OS Eastings: 298884

OS Northings: 686246

OS Grid: NS988862

Mapcode National: GBR 1R.Q7HZ

Mapcode Global: WH5QP.8ZXH

Plus Code: 9C8R395F+8V

Entry Name: Culross, Culross Abbey

Listing Name: Culross, Culross Abbey Church (Church of Scotland) Including Churchyard and Boundary Walls

Listing Date: 12 January 1972

Category: A

Source: Historic Scotland

Source ID: 359805

Historic Scotland Designation Reference: LB23960

Building Class: Cultural

ID on this website: 200359805

Location: Culross

County: Fife

Town: Culross

Electoral Ward: West Fife and Coastal Villages

Traditional County: Fife

Tagged with: Abbey

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13th century abbey church. Later alterations include circa 1500 tower, 1642 Bruce Vault; 1824 modifications, William Stirling and extensive restoration, 1905-6, R Rowand Anderson. Cruciform-plan church with later Bruce Vault to NE; vault to E and walled remains to W. Crenellated 4-stage tower to W. Sandstone ashlar.

W ELEVATION AND TOWER: former rood screen at 1st stage. Central arched door; roll-moulded surround; nook-shafts. Flanking blocked pointed-arch doorways; small foiled arch piscina to right of door. Semi-circular niche above door to left; moulded surround. Blocked door to right. Rectangular niche to left, partially covered by remains of wall projecting southwards with jamb of arched window. Louvred opening at 2nd stage. Raggles of pitched roof above. String course below 3rd and 4th stages to all faces. Round-headed louvred opening at 3rd stage in each face; moulded hoodmould. Circular opening with moulded surround at 4th stage to each face; multifoil window within. Crenellated parapet surmounts tower at each face; corbelled at base; crenellated bartizan to right; crenellated tower to left. Projecting round stairtower to left of tower extends full height; surmounted by turret. Intermittent narrow windows in stairtower. String course at each stage. Tall wall to right of W elevation extends westwards (former interior elevation of S nave wall). Narrow niche and reliquary to left; various monuments inserted into wall; low arched recess and buttress to right. Nave wall incorporated into adjacent Manse gable wall.

N ELEVATION: curved stairtower advanced to far right; small blocked window/niche at 2nd stage in left return; raggles of former pitched roofline below. Remains of projecting wall with moulded jamb of arched window to former chapel at left of stair tower. Ground floor door to stair in left return; moulded surrounds; raggles of lean-to above. Ground floor of tower; Y-tracery to arched window to right; lancet window above left. String course above. Daggers in circular window at 4th stage. Surmounting parapet; stairtower turret to right; bartizan to left. Shadow of former buttress or wall at left of tower, 1st stage. Pointed-arch window to left of tower; geometric tracery with quatrefoil and trefoil detail. Moulded hoodmould with stops. Base course; cill course; eaves course. Advanced N transept to left; base course. Central pointed-arch window; intersecting tracery. Pitched gable; stone spiked pommel finial. Right return to N transept; base course; cavetto eaves course. Round-headed door surround to left; moulded surround. Tablet above; flanking fluted pilasters; corniced lintel; lintel inscribed 'George Bruce of Carnok 1642'. Window to right; stone transom and mullion. The Bruce Vault to left of N transept; plain N elevation. Right return; base course; blocked round-headed door to centre; small stained glass window within. Tablet above; flanking fluted pilasters; corniced lintel; lintel inscribed 'George Bruce of Carnok Knight 1642'. Pointed-arch window above; Y-tracery; moulded hoodmould with stops. Moulded eaves course to pitched gable; crowsteps. Triangular gablehead inscribed 'Man goeth to his long home' surmounted by star within circle finial.

E ELEVATION: E face of tower; small louvred vent at 2nd stage; daggers in circular window at 4th stage; surmounting bartizans to left and right. Raggles of former roofline above present nave roof. Plain gable to Bruce Vault; base course; eaves course at gable; crowsteps; pointed-arch gablehead; stone pommel finial. Flat-roofed N chapel to left; base, string and eaves course; section advanced to right; pointed-arch window; cusp and Y-tracery; moulded hoodmould with stops. Section set back to left; round-headed window; cusp tracery, plain circular window above; hoodmould. E gable of church; central round-headed window; cusp and trefoil detailing; hollow chamfer surrounds; sloping base course; narrow louvred lancet at apex; hoodmould. Corniced gable; decorative quadrate cross finial at apex. Angle buttress to N. Pointed-arch window in right return; intersecting tracery; moulded surround; cill course; eaves course. Lady Baird's tomb attached to E of church; central doorway to N elevation; hollow chamfer surrounds; pilasters; hoodmould; flanking buttresses; moulded hoodmould with stops to interior of doorway. Advanced base and eaves course throughout. Pointed-arch door and doorway to E; roll-moulded surround; pilasters; hoodmould. Central pointed-arch window to S; Y-tracery; moulded surrounds; cluster of nook-shafts to exterior and interior. Hoodmould with decorative stops to interior. S elevation of earlier structure; 3 pointed arches; tiered surrounds; nook-shafts; chamfered corbels to piers. Base, string and eaves course. Vault partially blocks outer arches. Empty interior; stone pointed barrel vault ceiling; stone floor. Moulded, pointed-arch blocked recess to W; flanking pilasters.

S ELEVATION: tower to left; buttress to left; chamfered quoins with carved stops. Projecting stones below string course show roofline of former projecting building. Narrow window at 1st stage; lancet hoodmould in string course above. Ground floor door to right; pointed arch door and surround, replacement stones and hoodmould. Difference in stone work clearly visible on S elevation of tower. Window at 2nd stage; daggers in circular window at 4th stage. Bartizans surmount tower to right and left. Advanced, low vestry (circa 1905); door and window in left return; bipartite window to S; round-headed door to right. Pointed arched window to right; partially blocked by later vestry; hoodmould with stops; tracery. Advanced S transept to right; pointed arched window in left return; hoodmould with stops. S transept gable wall; hoodmould with stops to central rose window. Moulded cornice to gable. Remains of chapter house extend from left; off-set buttress to right; pitched apex to buttress. Lean-to chapel to right; central pointed-arch tracery window; hoodmould with stops. Right return of chapel; 2 pointed-arch tracery windows; off-set buttress to left of each window. E end of church set back to right; off-set buttress to left; window to right; stone transom and mullions; narrow window to right; wide buttress to far right. Corbelled string course above; plain eaves course. Wall (former nave) of blocked ashlar extends westwards from tower to meet the Manse. Small recesses for former beams of cloister punctuate wall; wall slopes slightly above; surmounting section of rubble wall set back slightly.

Slate lean-to to S chapel; flat lead roof to tower; flat roof to N chapel; piended slate roof to vestry; flat roof to tower; pitched slate roofs elsewhere.

INTERIOR: vestibule: stone floor; stone rib-vaulted ceiling at 1st stage of tower; central circular aperture (now timber-clad) for bellpull. Moulded W door surround. Carved stone above door; 2 green men with birds and foliage; angel below carrying shield; initialled 'A M' (Andrew Masoun, Abbot 1498-1513). Blocked door to left provided access to former gallery. Modern stained glass window; Y-tracery to NW (originally a passageway leading to former chapel); memorial window to Rev Gow (minister 1921-1950) by Sadie MacLellan, 1963. Highly moulded round-headed surround; hollow chamfer; roll-moulding and nook-shafts. Lancet window above right. Highly moulded round-headed doorway to E into church (former pulpitum); hollow chamfer; roll-moulding and nook-shafts (moulding repeated to E); 2 glazed and timber panelled doors; cusped heads to glazing. Carved head hoodmould stop to right. Former pulpitum steps to left of door now lead to organ loft. Door to left in S elevation; plain rectangular window above right. Timber parquet floor to interior of church; timber barrel vaulted roof; metal lamp holders hang from ceiling. Organ on W wall by Norman and Beard, installed 1909; timber panelling below exposed organ pipes, arched above doorway supported by paired, scrolled timber corbels; carved cherubs to left and right. Timber pews to right and left within nave; brass plates on pews name former heritors. Plaque in N wall dedicated to Peter Geddes for his gift to Culross of a school. Large pointed arch to N transept; clustered columns; one keel-shaped; hoodmould; stops; hollow chamfer; roll-moulding. Trefoil barrel-vaulted timber ceiling to aisle; stained glass window to N depicting Biblical scenes and burgh arms by Stephen Adam, 1906. 2-bay arcade between N transept and E chapel; central chamfered shaft. Moulded arch to E of N transept; curvilinear surround above; memorial to John Stewart of Innermeath (died 1445) and wife. Remains of recumbent statues within arch; flanking pinnacles to N of arch. Plaque to Sir George Preston above memorial on nave wall (S facing). Flat timber roof to interior of N chapel; stone flags to raised N section; plaques commemorating members of the Cunninghame family to N and E. Steps and pointed arch leads into the Bruce Vault to N. E end of church raised by 2 steps; carved oak communion table, chairs and font. Stained glass window in E gable wall by A Ballantine & Son, 1905. Window in memory of Christina Wilson Rennie depicts St Mungo with Glasgow arms, St Serf and arms of Royal Burgh of Culross and Biblical figures. Remains of painted decoration to left of window. Piscina in S wall. Timber pulpit box with steps; carved detail including fluted pilasters; timber canopy. 17th century pulpit and canopy; restored 1923. Moulded, pointed arch to S transept E chapel; formerly held an effigy; 2 shields at apex in S elevation; de Quincey arms to one shield; hoodmould and stops. Lean-to roof to E chapel; stained glass window in S wall by Emma Butler Cole Aiken, 1999 inspired by Sandy Dunn. 2-bay arcade between S transept and E chapel; central chamfered column. Timber, barrel vaulted ceiling. Window to left; door to right in W wall. Large pointed arch to nave; hollow chamfer; roll-moulding; clustered shafts; some keel-shaped; leaf decoration to E shaft capitals.


Flagstone floor; steeply pointed barrel vaulted ceiling. Former doorway to W blocked up with ashlar; modern (circa 1960) stained glass window inset by Douglas Hogg. Flagpole extends above to left and right. Large memorial in N wall dedicated to Sir Robert Preston and wife Elizabeth, circa 1832. Pilasters; roll moulding; unicorn heads and flower bosses in hollow chamfer; tracery detailing below; curvilinear head; coat of arms; flanking lions; surmounting unicorn; flanking full height chamfered pillars; corniced capitals. Full height freestone memorial to Sir George Bruce, his wife and 8 children in E wall. Advanced kneeling alabaster effigies of Sir Bruce's 3 sons and 5 daughters. Alabaster recumbent statues of Sir Bruce and his wife Margaret Primrose lie within recess, flanked by fluted Doric piers. Aedicule decorated with funereal motifs including skull and crossbones and hour-glasses; flanking Corinthian pilasters. Bruce arms above; surrounding strapwork; flanking obelisks with ball finials. Surmounting corniced pediment. 'John Mercer Fecit' carved to left of monument. Grave slab of Edward Bruce to right, dated 1565 (Sir George Bruce's father). Brass plaque to right states Edward, Lord Bruce of Kinloss' heart is deposited nearby.


Rubble sandstone walls to N, E and W. Watchman's bothy/sexton's hut in churchyard to E. Door to right; window to left; fireplace in N wall; blocked door to right in S wall; lean-to clay pantiled roof. Numerous interesting 18th century gravestones, many carved with emblems of the deceased's trade including the royal warrant of the Hammermen of Culross with a hammer below a crown.

Statement of Interest

Place of worship in use as such. A-Group with Culross Manse (see separate listing). The various remains of the Cistercian monastery to the south of the church are not listed but are protected separately as a SCHEDULED MONUMENT.

The monastic context of the church enhances its historical importance and the fine Renaissance monument to George Bruce is of outstanding merit. According to tradition St Mungo/Kentigern was born in Culross and was educated by St Serf who lived in a hermitage on the site of the monastery. The church is dedicated to St Mary and St Serf. Built by 1214 but founded in 1217 by Malcolm, Earl of Fife for the Cistercian monks of Kinloss, Moray. The monks exploited the coal in the area and in 1490 the abbey granted a charter making Culross a Burgh of Barony. In the 15th/early 16th century the membership of the monastery was restricted to choir monks only which left the nave redundant. In circa 1500, Abbot Andrew Masoun had the nave removed (only the S wall of this remains) and added the tower. The earlier walls were widened to take the weight of the tower, this is visible in the window recesses. He also began the addition of the N aisle. The original pitched tower roof (which is visible in Slezer's drawings) was replaced by the current crenellated parapet in 1824 by Stirling. The tower contained a 'witches loft' which was used when the Town House was full. After the Reformation, the cloister buildings were abandoned and by 1633 the original parish church (which stood half a mile NW of Culross) was redundant and ruinous. Thus, Culross Abbey Church became the new parish church. In 1642 the N transept was altered by the Bruce family and the Bruce Vault was added. Alterations were carried out in 1824 and in 1905 R Rowand Anderson undertook a restoration programme which included rebuilding the S transept; re-opening various windows; modifying the N transept and adding the barrel vaulted roof to the nave and N transept. The Culross Psalter is held at the National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh. The 15th century vellum manuscript was made for Richard Marshall, a Cistercian abbot of Culross who died in 1470, and was probably written at Culross Abbey. The volume, written in red and black contains calendars, Psalms and some pages with borders decorated with painted flowers, ivy and birds in red, blue, green and gold and the historiated initial with David playing a harp. The manuscript bears an inscription of ownership of Archibald Primrose who became a monk at Culross in about 1540 and later the cipher of Sir James Balfour of Denmilne, dated 1630. In 1575 the abbey sold the lease of its disused colliery to George Bruce, who exploited the coal (including the first underwater mine seam) and developed the salt panning industry to create a large and profitable business. He was influential in getting James VI to grant Culross the Royal Burgh status in 1588, so that he could trade abroad and enjoyed 50 years of prosperous trading in coal and salt. Iron baking girdles were a famous Culross product and Culross had the monopoly on their manufacture from the late 16th century until 1727. Much rebuilt in the 17th century, Culross retains many typical burgh features including the church, tolbooth and mercat cross. The wane of the burgh's success began with the flooding of George Bruce's moat pit in 1625. Salt panning declined in the 1660's due to cheaper and purer foreign salt and girdle making also lost out to cheaper competition, especially from the Carron Iron Company. The harbour was filled in to form the Sandhaven in the late 19th century and the population of Culross decreased until it had dropped from several thousand people in the 17th century to only 578 in 1951. By the late 19th century many of the buildings were condemned and faced demolition until the National Trust for Scotland began what became an extensive restoration programme which started with the Palace in 1932.

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