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A Brief History of St Leonards

imagemap Originally the Church of St Leonard (the patron saint of prisoners and, sometimes pilgrims) was simply the chapel of a hospital, or hospice. It was located within the St Andrews priory precinct and was maintained by the Culdees (Celtic clergy who, in St Andrews, worked and worshipped during the period from early 12th century to 14th century). Eventually the lands with which the hospital was endowed became part of a distinct parish and by 1413 the chapel, now a church, assumed the status of a parish church.

St Leonards Chapel/jpg When pilgrimages became less popular the hospital was converted into an almshouse for old women. When this did not prove a success the Archbishop of St Andrews, Alexander Stewart, in association with the Prior, John Hepburn, in 1512 turned it into, 'the College of Poor Clerks of the Church of S.Andrew' (confirmed by King James IV in 1513). Before long the cumbersome title was superseded by 'College of S.Leonard'. The church served the students as college chapel and the tenants of the college lands as parish church. At services the former occupied the choir and the latter the nave.

   After the Reformation in 1560 St Leonard's College lost its monastic character and became an arts college, (in many ways similar to St Salvator's College). But its close association with its parish remained and in 1578 its Principal was authorised to act as parish minister.

   During the 18th century, when student numbers dropped appreciably and there was evidence of conflicting political loyalties within the colleges it was finally decided, in 1747 to form a union - the United College of S.Salvator and S.Leonard. The next year the United College buildings were centralised on the buildings of S.Salvator. The buildings of S.Leonard were sold, only the church being retained. In 1759 it was decided to remove its congregation to St Salvators College Chapel which was appropriately adapted. From 1761 to 1904 the congregation of St Leonards worshipped with the students.

St Salvator's Chapel/jpg    The Church of S.Leonard became ruinous, its roof was removed, its bell-tower demolished and the bell, Elizabeth, transferred to St Salvators Tower where it hangs to this day. Now known as St Leonards Chapel, its restoration began in 1910 when it was re-roofed and reglazed. In 1948 further work including furnishing was carried out to form what is in fact an early 16th century church building.

   In 1898 the sharing arrangement at St Salvators College Chapel came to an abrupt stop. The Kirk Session of St Leonards were informed by letter from the University Court that "the arrangement whereby accommodation is provided for the Parishioners of the Parish of St Leonards in the College Church of St Salvator shall terminate." On the newly-appointed minister, the Rev R.W. Wallace and his five elders, Lang, Thoms, MacMillan, Ogilvie and Macpherson lay the responsibility of fighting for their church. They emerged from the struggle (which involved recourse to the Law Courts) with an independent parish, the promise of a new church (the old church of S.Leonard was not now big enough for its parish), a financial contribution from a reluctant university and at least some of the valuable symbols of communion. They also were responsible for the enthusiastic fund-raising effort, finding a suitable site, and producing a brief for the new church.

Notes compiled by Glen Pride

We suggest you now visit the Architecture page which has details of the present church       Top of page.