Torphichen Parish Kirk by Tom Gomez

Torphichen Preceptory in the village of Torphichen, West Lothian, Scotland is an unusual remnant of a little known corner of Scottish history. It comprises the tower and the two transepts of the church associated with the Preceptory of the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. The Order maintained just two such establishments in Britain, the other being in London.

Torphichen is therefore the sole Scottish link with an Order whose name resonates through history: from its formation in the Crusades to its occupation of Malta in the face of Turkish siege in 1565, and beyond. The Order of St John of Jerusalem was suppressed in Scotland after the Reformation in 1560, but it was reconstituted here in a ceremony at the Palace of Holyroodhouse on 23 June 1947.

The Order first arrived in Scotland in 1132 at the invitation of King David I, and it was granted a charter to build a Preceptory at Torphichen in the 1140s. This was already a significant site. A church had been established here by St Ninian as early as 400AD and visited by King Arthur in 516AD during his Scottish campaign. The first church built by the Order probably became the choir of the later church: the now demolished structure to the east of the crossing, whose roof line and arch can be seen on the exterior of the current building.

During the 1200s the core of much of what remains today was built: a cruxiform church whose tower and transepts remain, whose choir has gone, and whose nave was later demolished to make room for Torphichen Kirk. A number of domestic buildings were also built.

Before the Battle of Falkirk in July 1298, William Wallace had his base at Torphichen and used the Preceptory: and after the English victory Edward I came here for treatment of an injury caused by his horse. The Order of St John backed the English cause during the Wars of Independence and the Preceptor fought (and died) on the English side at Falkirk.

In 1312 another Order of fighting monks, the Knights of the Temple or the Knights Templar, was dissolved by Pope Clement V for a range of charges trumped up by King Philip IV of France. All of their extensive land holdings in Scotland, previously administered from their monastery at Temple, were passed to the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John, adding significantly to the property being administered from Torphichen.

The Knights Hospitaller left the country after the Scots’ victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. They later returned after a reconciliation with Robert the Bruce. The Preceptory was extended in the 1400s. The transepts were heightened to the form you see them in today. At the same time the domestic buildings were complete in the form of a cloister and surrounding ranges.

The Reformation in 1560 had less disastrous consequences for Torphichen Preceptory than it had for most religious establishments across Scotland. The last Preceptor, Sir James Sandilands, came from a family with extensive estates in the area dating back to 1348. He backed the Reformation and befriended John Knox.

In 1563 he surrendered the Preceptory lands to Mary Queen of Scots, but then purchased them back on a personal basis, together with the title of Lord Torphichen which he added to his existing Barony of Calder. The Sandilands family seat was, and remains, at Calder House in Mid Calder, a few miles south east of Torphichen.

The nave of the Preceptory became the Parish Kirk for Torphichen, but in 1756 it was demolished and its foundations reused as the base for the new T-plan Parish Kirk that now nestles up against the west side of the Preceptory. The domestic buildings were demolished and used as a quarry for other developments in the village. The tower fell into disuse over the following centuries, only being re-roofed in 1947. A visit to Torphichen Preceptory is a fascinating experience, allowing a glimpse into a little known and long gone world.

References from Undiscovered Scotland.

On a more personal note, 25 years ago I worked with the present Lord Torphichen, Andrew Sandilands. Before he took his seat in the House of Lord, he worked as an Electronics Engineer in the company I worked for at the time.

Camera: Canon EOS 450D (Digital Rebel XSi in the USA)


Three bracketed JPGs converted to HDR in Photomatix.

Related shots can be found at: Lowland Scotland.

Click on the image below to see another view of this building

All images shown in this redbubble portfolio are owned by the artist, Tom Gomez and are protected under UK and International copyright laws. Any reproduction, modification, publication, transmission, transfer, or exploitation of any part of the content, for personal or commercial use, whether in whole or in part, without written permission from the artist is STRICTLY PROHIBITED. All rights reserved. My images are NOT part of the public domain.

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  • hilarydougill
    hilarydougillabout 6 years ago

    beautifully atmospheric!!! wonderful building, fantastic place and great bio. hugsxxx

    GCAPAROabout 6 years ago

    Lovely image, very moody. great narative.

  • RedHillDigital
    RedHillDigitalabout 6 years ago

    Fascinating building and history, Tom.

  • Mayina
    Mayinaabout 6 years ago

    Brilliant image Tom……… are Ratho & Kirkliston in the pipeline???

  • They are, but the weather here is awful at the moment. Rather strange when you consider that London had the warmest day of the year so far (21C). Here in South Queensferry it was 7C, dull and miserable. Kirkliston is just 1 mile from me and has two nice churches. It will be much better when the sun comes out (hopefully soon).

    – Tom Gomez

  • Mayina
    Mayinaabout 6 years ago

    Thanks Tom, will keep an eye open for later………………

  • solareclips~Julie  Alexander
    solareclips~Ju...about 6 years ago

    This is really beautiful!! Thank you so much for adding this amazing piece of art to Freedom to Shine!! Have a wonderful day!

  • adgray
    adgrayabout 6 years ago

    A gorgeous building well photographed and a brilliant treatise to accompany it!
    an Exceptional Ekphrasis pair Bravo!
    Even if you didn’t know that was what you created lol
    Chookas! X♥X

  • Kelly Robinson
    Kelly Robinsonabout 6 years ago

    Beautiful capture Tom

  • Catherine Hamilton-Veal  ©
    Catherine Hami...about 6 years ago

    wonderful work Tom and great history.x

  • Robin Brown
    Robin Brownabout 6 years ago

    Ah the art of perception Tom, a lesson in fine photography indeed. Very dramatic!!

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