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Greyfriars Kirk
Greyfriars Kirk - 01.jpg
East end of Greyfriars Kirk
Greyfriars Kirk is located in Edinburgh city centre
Greyfriars Kirk
Greyfriars Kirk
Location in Edinburgh city centre
55°56′48″N 3°11′32″W / 55.9466°N 3.1922°W / 55.9466; -3.1922
Location Old Town, Edinburgh, Scotland
Country United Kingdom
Denomination Church of Scotland
Website [1]
Former name(s) Greyfriars, Tolbooth, and Highland Kirk (1979-2013)
Status Parish church
Founded 1620
Functional status Active
Heritage designation Category A listed building
Designated 14 December 1970
Architect(s) Clement Russell, Patrick Cochrane, Alexander McGill, David Bryce, David Cousin, Henry F. Kerr
Style Gothic, Baroque
Groundbreaking 1602
Completed 1620
Length 162 feet (49 meters)
Width 72 feet (22 meters)
Presbytery Edinburgh

Greyfriars Kirk (Scottish Gaelic: Eaglais nam Manach Liath) is a parish church of the Church of Scotland, located in the Old Town of Edinburgh, Scotland. It is surrounded by Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Greyfriars traces its origin to the south-west parish of Edinburgh, founded in 1598. Initially, this congregation met in the western portion of St Giles'. The church is named for the Observantine Franciscans or "Grey Friars" who arrived in Edinburgh from the Netherlands in the mid-15th century and were granted land for a Friary at the south-western edge of the burgh. In the wake of the Scottish Reformation, the grounds of the abandoned Friary were repurposed as a cemetery, in which the current church was constructed between 1602 and 1620. In 1638, National Covenant was signed in the Kirk. The church was damaged during the Protectorate, when it was used as barracks by troops under Oliver Cromwell. In 1718, an explosion destroyed the church tower. During the reconstruction, the church was partitioned to hold two congregations: Old Greyfriars and New Greyfriars. In 1845, fire ravaged Old Greyfriars. After its reconstruction, the minister, Robert Lee, introduced the first organ and stained glass windows in a Scottish parish church since the Reformation. In 1929, Old and New Greyfriars united and the church was restored as one sanctuary. In the following years, the depopulation of the Old Town saw Greyfriars unite with a number of neighbouring congregations.

The church of Greyfriars is a simple aisled nave of eight bays; the style is Survival Gothic fused with Baroque elements. The church initially consisted of six bays and a west tower. After the explosion of 1718 destroyed the tower, Alexander McGill added two new bays and a Palladian north porch to create one building divided into two churches of four bays each. After it was gutted by fire in 1845, David Cousin rebuilt Old Greyfriars with an open, un-aisled interior. Between 1932 and 1938, the interior and arcades were restored by Henry F. Kerr. Notable features of the church include historic stained glass windows by James Ballantine; the 17th century monument to Margaret, Lady Yester; and an original copy of the National Covenant of 1638.

Since the 18th century, the congregations of Greyfriars have been notable for their missionary work within the parish. This continues to the present day through the church's work with the Grassmarket Community Project and the Greyfriars Charteris Centre. Greyfriars holds weekly Gaelic services, maintaining a tradition of Gaelic worship in Edinburgh that goes back to the beginning of the 18th century.


Greyfriars Kirk c.1647
Greyfriars Kirk c.1647

Greyfriars Kirk has an important place in the history of the Scottish Covenanters. In 1638 the National Covenant was presented and signed in front of the pulpit. In 1679, some 1,200 Covenanters were imprisoned in the Kirkyard pending trial.

In 1845 a fire destroyed the furnishings and the roof. In the mid 19th century, the Rev. Robert Lee, then minister of Old Greyfriars, led a movement to change the worship, introducing the first post-Reformation stained glass windows in a Presbyterian church in Scotland, and also one of the first organs. He received considerable criticism at the time, but most of his proposals were subsequently widely accepted in the Church of Scotland.

In late September 1912, over a thousand people, many of them from Ulster, signed the Ulster Covenant at the kirk. The Covenant bitterly opposed the Third Home Rule Bill, and thus opposed Home Rule for Ireland.

The two congregations united in 1929 and the historic church building was subsequently extensively restored. The interior dividing wall between the two former separate sanctuaries was removed as part of these renovations, completed in 1938. When they were completed the vault containing the family of Lauder of that Ilk found itself located in the kitchen rather than within part of the church proper.

Given the depopulation of Edinburgh's Old Town in the early part of the 20th century, many neighbouring church buildings were closed and their congregations united with Greyfriars, including the New North Church and Lady Yester's Church. In 1979 the congregation united with the former Highland Tolbooth St John's Church on the Royal Mile (now The Hub, the headquarters of the Edinburgh International Festival society).

Four ministers and one elder of Greyfriars Kirk have been Moderators of the General Assembly:

The kirk today

Current interior Greyfriars Kirk
current interior Greyfriars Kirk

The post-1979 united congregation continues to use Greyfriars Kirk, with Sunday services in English and in Scottish Gaelic. This is the only Church of Scotland congregation in the east of Scotland with regular services in Gaelic. The current minister (since 2003) is the Reverend Dr Richard Frazer.

Greyfriars Tolbooth & Highland Kirk is part of a Local Ecumenical Partnership (LEP) with St Columba's-by-the-Castle (Scottish Episcopal Church) and Augustine United Church (United Reformed Church).

Greyfriars Kirkyard

Greyfriars Kirk
Greyfriars seen from Edinburgh Castle

The graveyard surrounding the church, Greyfriars Kirkyard, is in the hands of a separate trust. Numerous well known people are buried in this graveyard including Lord Monboddo and his daughter Eliza. For many, the graveyard is associated with Greyfriars Bobby, the loyal dog who guarded his master's grave.

The kirkyard is reputedly haunted by the restless spirit of the infamous 'Bluidy' Sir George Mackenzie, a former Lord Advocate, which is said to cause bruising and minor cuts and grazes on those who come into contact with it.

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Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Greyfriars Kirk para niños

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