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Christmas in Auchtertool

Christmas Time Past In Auchtertool 

By Dode McKenzie

Midnight approaches on Christmas Eve.  I am sitting in atmospheric candlelight in Auchtertool Kirk with the east wind howling outside in the black night and the single church bell pealing out across the valley.  A shiver runs down my spine, there is a real feeling of connection with the history of the church and the people of past Auchtertool.  So who are these people, what’s their story and why do I feel this continuity and connection with them?  What were other Christmases like in Auchtertool?  I can only guess.

The Ancient Church - Is the Auchtertool Kirk site nearly as old Christianity in Scotland itself?  Some folk think that some part of the east gable dates from Celtic times.

Christmas Time 1178 – We know that there was a church there because Pope Alexander III makes “ the present of Ouchtertule” to the prior of Inchcolm.

Christmas Time 1315 – The first Christmas after Robert The Bruce’s victory at Bannockburn.  Living at Halyards Palace is William St Clair, the bishop of Dunkeld with his sixty fighting men.  St Clare was known as the “Fechtin Bishop” and that year he had slain over five hundred English men at the Battle of Donibristle.

1628 – A Great Christmas? – Between 1617 and 1627 the church was being repaired and enlarged by William Forbes.  See his shield reproduced on the wall in Stevenson’s aisle.  W F (William Forbes) and his wife M E (Margaret Edward).   The same shield is sculpted outside, high up, on the east gable.

1716 – A Poor Christmas Time – The Manse and the village had been invaded during the year by five hundred Jacobite soldiers who plundered the village and left.  A poor Christmas would follow.

1879 – A Sad Christmas Time – Walter Welsh died on 17th December 1879 after forty-one years as minister of Auchtertool.  On Christmas Eve, in the candle light, look at he tablet to his memory on the north wall, erected by his parishioners and friends, stating “he lived in honour amongst men and died lamented”.  His Manse had always been open to his parishioners and forty Christmases he celebrated there.

1892 – The Reverend Stevenson – was the architect who supervised the whole project of extending the church on the north side (Stevenson’s Aisle, where Walter Welsh’s tablet is and William Forbes shield is located).  He also removed galleries, cleaned the interior, reconstructed the seats and heated the church by hot water pipes.

A Loud Christmas Time – Stevenson commissioned a new pipe organ to be built.  This organ was a state of the art instrument at that time and the Christmas when the new organ was played must have been like no other.  This is the same organ that the village has raised money to help restore to its original condition.  This job is to be carried out in the Spring.

1894 – A Sad Christmas – The Reverend Stevenson’s daughter died in the October and his son was to die in March 1895.  In the candlelight, look at the stained glass window in the south wall, depicting Jesus and the little children. The child in Jesus’ arms is said to be a likeness of the Stevenson girl.  Both children’s graves are under the window outside, beautifully tended still.  A few months ago the Reverend Stevenson’s great grandson visited the church, out of the blue – another link with the past.


1914-19 Christmases - must have been tense, tearful times for some families.  Maybe for next year we should find out a bit more about the men listed in the Great War Window.  Who were they? Where did they live?  Do they have local descendents?

Christmas 2003 The organ should sound like it did in Stevenson’s time.

Auchtertool Kirk is stuffed with local history and atmosphere.  You have to experience sitting in the quiet flickering light which illuminates the beautiful windows and listen to the keening wind round the north east corner and the bell tolling to feel connected to the past…  and maybe … just maybe you will imagine, on the same spot early Celtic monks, fechtin Bishops and their men, Jacobite soldiers, well beloved ministers, organists, dead soldiers, your own ancestors….

You can find out more about Auchtertool and their upcoming services and events on their website

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