A RICH HISTORY
THE CHURCH OF KILMARONOCK in the Parish of Kilmaronock-Gartocharn shares with others in Strathendrick and the Upper Clyde Estuary a Parish 1 history dating from the 13th/14th centuries A.D. and a history as a Christian site reaching back over almost fifteen hundred years, to a time long before Scotland became a nation. This is a brief account of some incidents in that history, here at Kilmaronock.
It is believed that the Christian faith was introduced into this country early in the 5th century A.D. by St. Ninian, who is thought to have been a native of Galloway where, at Whithorn, he set up his cell. Extensive research and excavation there have given us information on his missionary work and on the times in which he lived, amplified in recent years by further major excavation at the site, where the visitor centre has been expanded and where the "dig" may be visited.
St. Ninian preceded by some one hundred years the arrival of St. Columba, a prince of a royal house of Ireland, whose cell on the island of lona, off the west coast of Scotland, became the centre for his missionary work in the Western Isles. Iona and its Abbey are to this day a venerated site of pilgrimage in Scotland, but it is perhaps true to say that the influence of St. Ninian was more widespread. He is known to have made missionary journeys eastwards and northwards from Whithorn, at least as far as Inverness, and although his name is not associated with Kilmaronock, he may well have passed close to here. The arrival of Christianity at Kilmaronock is attributed to other and later missionaries. Between the 5th and the late 8th centuries St. Patrick, a near-contemporary of St. Ninian; St. Kentigern (St. Mungo); St. Ronan; St. Modan; St. Marnock and others all worked in Strathendrick and the Upper Clyde Estuary. There is no doubt that Kilmaronock is one of the earliest sites of Christian worship in Scotland, and we to-day are privileged to be in an area which saw such intense early Christian effort.
The site of Kilmaronock Church lies close to the Highland Line, that region where the foothills of the northern mountains meet the lowlands of the Forth/Clyde valley and the rolling country of the Southern Uplands. Historically, therefore, it is an area which for many centuries has been influenced by two very different cultures, the highly developed clan culture to the north and the vastly different and more sophisticated culture of the increasingly more populous region to the south of the Line. Increasingly over the centuries Kilmaronock has felt the pressure of the rapidly expanding and ever more urbanised southern population, at the same time that in more recent centuries the clan system to the north was declining. History can point to many instances when a collision between the two cultures materially affected religious life here at Kilmaronock.
There is some doubt about who first established Christianity at Kilmaronock. The evidence is precariously based on the root from which the name of the church derives. It has been variously claimed to be from “Kil-ma-Ronach”, the "church (or cell) of St. Ronach” or, more properly, Ronan, who is known to have died in 737 A.D. and after whom St. Ronan's Well, near the site, was named; from "Kil-Mirranoch”, the "church of St. Mirrin”, a female Saint to whom the Abbey Church at Paisley is dedicated, and after whom the island of Inchmurrin in Loch Lomond is named; or from “Kil-Marnoch”, the “church of St. Marnock”, about whom very little is known. St. Kessog, who is said to have had his cell on the island of Inchtavannach in Loch Lomond, was very possibly the first missionary at Kilmaronock, in the mid-6th century A.D., but the site was never dedicated to him nor attributed to him, although the church at nearby Drymen was later probably dedicated to him. He was martyred in 560 A.D., near to where Luss Church now stands. St. Modan, whose remains are buried beneath the church at Rosneath, and to whom the church at Fintry was dedicated, was a contemporary of St. Ronan. To whomever the privilege of bringing Christianity to Kilmaronock belongs, the site is certainly one very early nucleus from which the Faith in Scotland spread, and it is known that by early in the 8th century, probably even earlier, Christianity had been firmly established here.
The period from the end of classical civilisation to the beginning of the revival of learning in Western Europe, in about 1000 A.D., is known as the Dark Ages. Many times during this period, particularly during the 8th and early 9th centuries, the seaboard and islands of the West of Scotland, and the coasts of Ireland, were overrun and even partially settled by the Vikings and the Danes. The fledgling outposts of Christianity were all but destroyed; the Columban community, long established on Iona, was forced to flee, and the island was pillaged many times; other centres of Christianity were similarly attacked. But the Faith survived. We know little about inland incursions by these northern warriors, and it is not known what happened at Kilmaronock during the period, but from later evidence there is no doubt that Christianity had continued to flourish here. By the Middle Ages, from 1000 A.D. to 1400 A.D., when these islands had emerged from the shadow of the Dark Ages, it was clear that Christianity had survived in Scotland to the extent that in many places, including here at Kilmaronock, organised worship had been firmly established.
The earliest known record of the Parish of Kilmaronock is in 1324. The living had been in the gift of the Earls of Lennox, but King Robert the Bruce, in January 1324, granted the patronage of Kilmaronock to the Abbey of Cambuskenneth, at Stirling; this, "for the good of his soul and those of his predecessors and successors, Kings of Scotland”. In 1325 the then Rector of Kilmaronock, John de Lindsay, resigned the charge and the Bishop of Glasgow commanded "the Dean of Christianity for Lennox” to surrender the benefice of Kilmaronock to the monks at Cambuskenneth. From that time, the history of the church at Kilmaronock is well documented.
During the centuries which followed, Kilmaronock continued to develop, in pace with the growing population and the increasing availability of basic education in Scotland, particularly south of the Highland Line. Education was almost entirely in the hands of the Church and, for long, spiritual and secular education were both a matter for the clergy. The Church was universally Roman Catholic, but by the 15th and 16th centuries many churchmen in Western Europe had begun to have misgivings about both its doctrine and its practice. This culminated in religious upheaval, when in the mid-16th century both Martin Luther and John Calvin broke with the Roman Church and established the Protestant form of the Christian faith. Their action had a sympathetic response in Scotland, where the national character made Protestantism an attractive alternative. The break here with the established religion, at the time of the Reformation in the mid-16th century, led to long and fiercely contested argument and conflict, which spilled over frequently into matters of State. Kilmaronock was in a vulnerable position geographically, and even a hundred years later, in 1648, the Kirk Session here minuted its continuing concern: the Marquis of Montrose and the Marquis of Argyle had taken opposite sides in a proposal that in return for an agreement by King Charles 1 to confirm the Solemn League and Covenant of the Protestant Church in Scotland, this country would support his wish to be crowned also in Scotland. Montrose favoured the proposal, which was bitterly opposed by Argyle. In a series of Minutes, the Kirk Session of Kilmaronock expressed its deep concern not only over the continuing conflict between these two factions in Scotland but, with understandable dismay, also over the likelihood that the country might again be embroiled in conflict with England.
Nor was the domestic scene at Kilmaronock, where Protestantism had been accepted, free from dispute. The first Protestant minister here was the Rev. John Porterfield, who held the charge from 1567 to 1580, but problems faced successive incumbents, the progress of Protestantism in Scotland continuing to be accompanied by argument and dispute. In 1771, the congregation at Kilmaronock was unhappy about the proposed appointment of a new minister, and this led to the secession of many members: the then Patron, Lord Stonefield, had in 1769 presented the Rev. James Addie for the charge, but there had been opposition to the call by many members of the congregation who objected to the content of certain of Mr. Addie's sermons. When in 1771 Mr. Addie was nevertheless confirmed in the charge, a majority of the congregation left. They met as the “Relief” church, and in 1774 they erected a new church building, “in the middle of the Parish”, as the records puts it. The problems resulting from the secession of so many members were not resolved until 1830, but even then worship continued separately in the Relief church and at Kilmaronock. No regular Kirk Session Minutes for Kilmaronock Church exist between 1774 and 1834.
The Parish continued with two congregations until very recent times, in the main because in the mid-19th century the Protestant Church in Scotland had to face its greatest trial: the Disruption of 1843, when major differences of opinion over involvement by the State in patronage and preferment became irreconcilable, split the Church, and the two churches in the Parish of Kilmaronock adhered one to each side of the dispute. This continued until the breach in the national Church was finally over, a long 86 years later, in 1929, but the Parish continued with separate congregations at Kilmaronock and Gartocharn until as recently as 1948. Since then, the Parish has retained both church buildings as one congregation, and today uses the church at Gartocharn during the winter months, moving to Kilmaronock for the summer months.
Scotland has had a turbulent history, and by the inevitably close relationship between Church and State in earlier times, the history of the Church in Scotland has been no less so. But despite all that it has suffered over the centuries, the clear light of the Christian Faith, although it may at times have been dimmed, has not ever been extinguished. It has remained the guiding light in the gloom for past generations, and it will continue to light the way ahead for those generations yet to come.
The present church building at Kilmaronock, dating only from 1813, is unpretentious but of great character, standing foursquare and elegant in its tree shaded graveyard. Its character is enhanced by the belfry, where the bell rings out before each service, and by the lofty windows, through which light brightens the interior and which look over a countryside dominated to the north by the bulk of Ben Lomond, "the Ben”, standing guard over the incomparable beauty of Loch Lomond. Inside the church the chancel window, the charming roof line, the small gallery and organ loft, and the commemorative plaques, add further to its character, with the screen at the entrance to the nave recalling the early beginnings and the names of the incumbents from 1325 to the present day.
We welcome visitors to this ancient and historic site. It is not difficult, standing in such placid and beautiful surroundings, to be aware of its spiritual aura and its long Christian heritage. It is our hope that all who come — to worship, or for prayer and meditation, or simply to visit — will find ease and comfort of spirit as countless souls have done over the centuries, in the presence of God here at Kilmaronock.