Records of St Andrews Kirk Session

Scope and Content

Minutes, 1559-1600, 1715-1739 and 1758-1902; Proclamation register, 1855-1899; Rentals 1771-1840; Transcripts of extracts from records, 1638 and 1725.

Administrative / Biographical History

St Andrews was once the ecclesiastical capital of Scotland and there is thought to have been a religious community here since around 732AD, when relics of St Andrew were brought to the area, which was known in ancient times as Kilrimont. By 1144 St Andrews had established its place in the Scottish Church when a community of Augustinian Canons was set up here, and additionally in early times, around the beginning of the 12th century, there was a parish church built in St Andrews, which was dedicated to the Holy Trinity and which belonged to the Priory of St Andrews. The parish church was extensively restored in 1798 and again in the early years of the 20th century. A second charge was founded for the parish of St Andrews in 1589 and between the years of 1593-1620 a third charge was also maintained. The General Assembly, during the early years of the reformed church, held sessions on several occasions at St Andrews, the first of these, in 1572, coincided with the time during which John Knox was resident in the cathedral city. The Kirk Session of St Andrews Holy Trinity, the two charges of which were united in 1978, sits within the Presbytery of St Andrews.

Each congregation of the Church of Scotland has a Kirk Session, which comprises the minister(s) and the ruling elders, all members of the Session (including the minister) being elders. The elders' duty is care for the spiritual needs of the congregation; each of them has a district of the parish assigned to him/her. The Kirk Session determines the number of elders. The minister is moderator of the Session, and there is a clerk who has custody of all the Session's records. There may also be a treasurer, and an officer or beadle. The Session must have maintained a communion roll, containing the names and addresses of the communicant church members within the parish.

The Kirk Session's duties are to maintain good order amongst its congregation (including administering discipline and superintending the moral and religious condition of the parish), and to implement the Acts of the General Assembly. The Kirk Session is at the base of the pyramid of church courts, and it is subject to the review of the Presbytery in which it is situated, and to the superior courts of the Church. Each Kirk Session elects one of its number to represent it at the Presbytery (and formerly at the Synod).

Into the 19th century, there used to be weekly collections made for the support of the poor, but as the state began to assume responsibility for their support (by means of taxation) so funds collected from communicants might be directed to special schemes (eg support of missionaries), more recently through a weekly freewill offering scheme. Seat or pew rents were also quite common (money paid for a fixed seat in a church), but declined rapidly from the 1950s. Many congregations now have a congregational board, which monitors income and expenditure. Former Free Church congregations often had Deacons' Courts, which had responsibility for the whole property of the congregation, and had to apply spiritual principles in the conduct of their affairs.

Sources: Hew Scott and others (ed.), Fasti Ecclesiae Scoticanae, vols. 5 and 8-11 (Edinburgh, 1915-2000).

Access Information

By appointment with the Archivist. Access to unpublished records less than 30 years old and other records containing confidential information may be restricted. Special conditions apply to photographs.

Acquisition Information

Held under charge and superintendence of the Keeper of Records for Scotland.


Description compiled by Rachel Hart, Archives Hub Project, based on description created by Lesley Doig and modified by Alan Borthwick, Scottish Archive Network project.

Other Finding Aids

Typescript catalogue available in St Andrews University Library Department of Special Collections and in National Archives of Scotland search rooms.

Conditions Governing Use

Applications for permission to quote should be sent to the University Archivist. Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents.

Geographical Names