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East facade of Greyfriars Kirk
|Denomination||Church of Scotland|
|Heritage designation||Category A listed|
|Designated||14 December 1970|
Greyfriars Kirk, today Greyfriars Tolbooth & Highland Kirk, is a parish kirk (church) of the Church of Scotland in central Edinburgh, Scotland. The kirk stands on the site of a pre-Reformation establishment of the Franciscan order, the "Grey Friars".
It is one of the oldest surviving buildings within the Old Town of Edinburgh, having been begun in 1602 and completed c.1620. It sits to the south of the Grassmarket and to the east of George Heriot's School, itself founded in 1628. For many years, Greyfriars Kirk was divided into two places of worship – Old Greyfriars (erected 1614) and New Greyfriars (erected 1718).
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).
- George Kay, 1759
- William Robertson, 1763
- Robert Henry, 1774
- John Inglis, 1804
- James Nicoll Ogilvie, 1918
- Alison Elliot, 2004
The kirk today
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 ministers (since 2003) are the Reverend Dr Richard Frazer and Reverend Lezley Stewart. Greyfriars also regularly has students training for ministry. Currently Justin Taylor is the probationary minister.
Greyfriars has developed and is developing the Grassmarket Community Project and the Greyfriars Charteris Centre. Greyfriars community outreach takes many forms but is primarily focused around our centre in the Kirkhouse on Candlemaker Row. The project is now managed by Grassmarket Community Project Ltd. - a partnership between Greyfriars Kirk and Grassmarket Mission.
Throughout the week the Grassmarket Community Project offers a variety of workshops aimed at developing people’s self-worth, social networks and skills. Craft, art and community are all central themes in our work. Participants have the opportunity to join in with GRoW wood workshop, the Plough to Plate cookery and gardening program, the Grassroots Textiles workshop, Greyfriars Herb Garden or one of our many arts and education activities.
Although primarily aimed at individuals facing deep social exclusion, the Grassmarket Community Project encourages members of the local community to join in and work side by side with participants from all walks of life.
The Greyfriars Charteris Centre is a "Centre for Community" based on the Pleasance in Edinburgh. It has three large halls, two meeting rooms, and numerous offices to be used by local individuals, community groups and businesses. It is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation SC047573 and is part of the mission outreach of Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh
The Greyfriars Charteris Centre was formed in June 2016 within the former Kirk o'Field Church and St Ninians Centre and is open to people of all faiths and none. The Greyfriars Charteris Centre is a Centre for Community. It exists to provide a place of connection with communities of all kinds: location, people, faith, need, interest, aspiration and many more. All its activities, whether directly managed or curated, will give local people the opportunity to reach their potential through gaining new skills, building on existing abilities or dreams, and developing self-confidence.
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. It is also the inspiration for many of the characters in the Harry Potter series.
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.
- Greyfriars Church
- List of Church of Scotland parishes
- List of Moderators of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland
- Gaelic-speaking congregations in the Church of Scotland
- Edinburgh & its Environs, Sheet 3.7.25, Ordnance Survey Office, Southampton, 1895, http://www.nls.uk/maps/townplans/view/?sid=74415751&mid=edinburgh500_sw
- Fry, Michael (2010). Edinburgh : a history of the city (New ed.). London: Pan. p. 159. ISBN 978-0-330-45579-4.