Excavations at The Church of the Holy Trinity, St Andrews

During September and October 1991 I directed an excavation at Logie’s Lane adjacent to the Church of the Holy Trinity in St Andrews. The narrow trench which we excavated adjacent to the church was packed with human remains indicating the area had previously served a cemetery for the church. The following post outlines the results of that work.

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The Church of the Holy Trinity

The Church of the Holy Trinity

The existing Church of the Holy Trinity is the second church of that name in St Andrews. The original parish church was located within the cathedral precinct on the east side of the burgh. Built in the 12th century, the original church became inadequate for the needs of the congregation sometime in the 14th century. The new (extant!) Church of the Holy Trinity was built between 1410 and 1412 on land granted to the church by Sir William Lindsay in an indenture dated 14th November 1410. Church Square was subsequently granted to the church in 1430 by Bishop Wardlaw for the enlargement of the cemetery. The churchyard was closed to burials at the beginning of the Reformation in the second half of the 16th century.

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The tower and some of the pillars are original dating to 1412 however the majority of the church was rebuilt in the early 20th century. There is a commemoration in the south porch where John Knox preached in 1547. The interior is decorated in the Arts and Crafts style and the badges of all Scottish regiments from the First World War are depicted in the stained glass of the clerestory windows.

The cemetery

The cemetery was in use from 1412 until it was closed to internments in the 16th century. Evidence for a building predating the development of the site as a church was recovered during the excavation in the form of rectangular building with stone foundations which was associated with domestic, medieval pottery. This may suggest that this part of the town had been at least partially development prior to the plan to build the church in the early 15th century and building may have been demolished in advance of construction.

Human remains under excavation

The excavation recovered the remains of 121 individuals of which 31 (26%) were immature and 90 (74%) were adult. The immature population comprised 3% who died close to birth, 22% died as children and 66% died as juveniles. Of the adult population two thirds died before middle age and only 4% survived to late middle age or old age. The ratio between male and female was roughly equal from individuals who could be sexed.

The cemetery was intensively used possibly indicating a defined and limited space for burials. The favoured and most intensively used space for burial was at the western porch where 8 layers of burials were identified. The pattern that emerges from the sample of burials excavated and analysed is of a harsh life with high infant and child mortality and very few people surviving into old age. Pathology consistent with exposure to hard physical activity was evident suggesting people were engaged in hard physical labour throughout their lives.

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