With the exception of the Roman Wall, Falkirk's longest
link with antiquity is that sacred acre on which Falkirk Old Parish
Church now stands. It is true that there is no evidence stronger than tradition
for placing the foundation of the Christian Church at Falkirk in the late
6th - early 7th centuries when a St. Modan carried Celtic Christianity
across Central Scotland from lona. Whether he used a cell at Falkirk as
a base for his missionary activities will never be substantiated. Nevertheless,
on this mound reputedly hallowed by the saint, the people of the area,
speaking Gaelic or some kindred Celtic tongue, had by the 11th century
built a church using stones sufficiently varied in colour to earn church
and district the name Eglais Bhreac" or spotted kirk.
It is thus called in 1080 when Symon of Durham records that a Norman pursuit of Northumbrian rebels against William the Conqueror ended at Egglesbreth. the anglicised form of Eglais Bhreac. In the 12th century, the Chronicles of Holyrood Abbey refer on several occasions to the "AbIands" of Falkirk. "abounds" is a term invariably used in documents of the Roman Catholic Church after 1100 to indicate lands owned at one time by Celtic monasteries, so there is further evidence of a Celtic foundation at Falkirk in the 11th century or earlier.
By the 12th century. the Roman Catholic Church had supplanted the Celtic form of religion, and chroniclers were using a Latin version of Eglais Bhreac." This form appears in the Charter of Holyrood Abbey referring to "Ecelesia de Egliasbreac qui Varia Capella dicitur.'' By the 13th century there is yet another variation. With the spread of the English tongue. "Varia" becomes "Faw." and "Capella" becomes 'Kirk," so that quite apart from its religious and social service, the Christian Church provided the town with the name by which it was hereafter to be known.
There is no exact date for the first Roman Catholic congregation
at Falkirk. It is certain, however. that in the 12th century Falkirk was
part of the Roman Catholic Church organisation. Bishoprics were
being set up and within each bishopric smaller units, deaneries an parishes. were emerging. Falkirk was a parish in the Deanery of Linlithgow which was one of the eight deaneries of the Bishopric of St. Andrews. The Deanery of Linlithgow had 35 churches, the more richly endowed of which were St. Cuthbert's, Edinburgh, cessed - 160 merks, Falkirk cessed at 120 merks and Linlithgow cessed at II merks. The average yield from all 35 churches was 41 merks so that the importance of Falkirk is evident. It would be misleading however to imagine that Falkirk was in any way wealthy. These were days of abject poverty and the parish was distinguished for its extent rather than for its riches. To the south its boundary ran close to Slamannan. To the West the parish stretched to Castlecary and embrace Bonnybridge and Denny To the North it shared a common boundary with Larbert, Airth and Bothkennar. To the East it include Grangemouth, Polmont and Muiravonside.
Just when the new system of bishopric and parish was emerging its course was changed by the practice of monarchs, churchmen an nobles making lavish grants of land and properties to monasteries, nunneries and priories. Thus in 1166 Richard, Bishop of St. Andrew' bestowed the Church at Falkirk upon the Augustinian Canons of Holyrood Abbey keeping a nominal interest in Falkirk by exacting a annual payment of a stone of wax. Thus the Church at Falkirk and fair portion of the land in and around the town passed to the black cassocked, white-surpliced Augustinians. These churchmen were not cloistered but were free to move about the parish churches under their patronage. No doubt in the early days they brought certain benefits. They did something to improve agriculture. They built the Ladysmill using the waters of the East Burn to turn its wheel. They brought what little education existed in a dark age and promoted choral singing in worship. However the balance was weighted on the debit side The tithes, endowments and offerings all went to the Abbey, a mere pittance returning to pay the priest Several days' unpaid service in the fields, or cutting peats or gathering firewood or carrying loads were demanded from bondsmen. And as the centuries passed and monastic standards fell disastrously Falkirk and similarly assigned parishes felt even more acutely the yoke of an absentee feudal landlord more concerned with the revenues to be exacted than the souls to be saved and the service to be supplied.
Nothing now remains of the Church which served Falkirk in thos grim, medieval times. About 1450 the sound of masons chisels and carpenters' hammers proclaimed the building of a new church on the site of the first Faw Kirk. It was a church typical of its age, cruciforn in shape with a high altar to the east and the crossing situated where now is found the vestibule of the modern church, Above the crossing was built a tower resting on four piers set in the angles of transept and nave. The lower part of the tower was of stone, but timber and slate were used in the construction of the upper section. Two of the piers of the south crossing may be seen today embedded in the modern walls at the entrance to choir and session rooms, They bear masons marks and are 15th century in design.
But the new church was not symbolic of a new age. Only the skyIine of Falkirk was changed. Well might the citizen of that mean huddle of dwellings that were medieval Falkirk bitterly contemplate the apparent changelessness of the lot of the lowly-born. Today, a new church in which to worship, but tomorrow the same leech-like presence of the Augustinian Canons, the same feudal injustices, the same eternal battle against hunger, disease and the harsh relentless climate.
*extracted from "A History of
Falkirk" by Lewis Lawson - Falkirk District Council ISBN 0 9502250