The Church of St Brides is ancient and is currently under the care of Historic Scotland.
St. Bride (Bridget) is the Patron Saint of the Douglas Family.
She was probably born in Faughert (Fochard), a small village in Ulster in 450 A.D. Raised by a druidic family she decided to become a Christian nun and, in around470 A.D. she founded a nunnery at Kill-dara (Killdare). The Douglas Family adopted the saint as their patron and are said to have sworn oaths in the name of “St. Bride of Douglas”. She died on February 1 525 A.D. and, subsequently, her feast day is on the same day each year.
The Church to St Bride in Douglas was originally one of substantial importance, having probably been the seat of a Parish. Now, however, only the chancel and a ruined aisle (The Inglis aisle) have survived the centuries. The nave, St. Mary’s Aisle and the west side tower no longer exist.
The present Church dates from around 1390 but was built on the site of a pre-existing Church which dated to at least the reign of David I in the 12th Century. That pre-existing Church was not dedicated to St Bride and by the 14th Century had been rendered uninhabitable by the turmoil of the previous decades (including the Wars of Independence). Some Capital Stones from that Church are kept in the current kirk building.
The existing Church dedicated to St Bride was probably erected after the Pope gave his permission to Sir William Douglas (1st Earl of Douglas) in around 1378 with construction generally being agreed to have begun in around 1390 when the Earl of Douglas was Archibald The Grim (the third earl).
The Church was originally around 137 feet long and the nave was probably about 74 feet long by 20 feet wide. However during the 16th C. decay began to set in and, by 1618, the building had become badly deteriorated and only the chancel was used for worship.
In 1618, however, the clock tower (51 feet high) was erected and this remains in excellent condition. The first bell (dating from 1609) cracked in 1832 and was replaced 15 years later. The original bell still lies in the Church building. It cracked after being rung too vigorously by the jovial Douglas Folk in their celebration of the passing of the Reform Act by parliament.
The ‘new’ bell still rings on Sundays, an old custom which no longer exists was the ringing of the curfew for five minutes each night at 8pm.
The clock pre-dates the tower which houses it (1565) and is said to have been a gift to the village by Mary, Queen of Scots. This is quite possible as Mary’s second husband (Lord Darnley) was the son of Lady Margaret Douglas. It is reputed to be the oldest working clock in Scotland and, according to local tradition, it strikes three minutes before the hour in accordance with the Douglas Motto “Jamais Arriere” meaning ‘Never Behind’.
In 1781 services were discontinued and a decision was taken to erect a new building in its’ place. Some of the ruins were pulled down and much of the stone was used in the construction of the new Church.
Some restoration to the ruined kirk building was carried out in 1880.
The building that remains contains the tombs of a number of the Douglas Family, war memorials for the two world wars, the flags of the 3rd and 4th battalions of the Cameronian Regiment, and the Douglas hearts (lead caskets containing the hearts of Archibald the 5th Earl and possibly the 8th Earl -also Archibald- although it is also possible that the heart of the Good Sir James is preserved in one of these caskets).
Beneath the floor of the Church lies the vault in which many of the ancient Douglases have been interred.
Additional points of interest are the stunning stained glass windows (some of which originally came from Canterbury Cathedral); the ornate stone altar; and double piscina (a church with a double piscina is considered to have been of great significance).
The information on this page is all from our local historian Jim Fleming who is a fount of knowledge on St Bride’s Kirk and Douglas History. He has created a booklet about the ancient Church of St. Bride which contains much more information. It is available for sale in our wee shop.