St Michaels Church

St. Michael’s Parish Church
St.Michael’s is the oldest church in Dumfries and is now ‘home’ to the united congregations of St. Michael’s and South and Townhead

Though the earliest written records go back to about 1190 it would appear that a Christian Church has stood here for over 1300 years. Going further back, there is evidence pointing to a sanctuary having been established by St.Ninian (circa 390 A.D.) as a stopping place for pilgrims travelling to and from his ‘CANDIDA CASA’ at Whithorn on the Solway Coast. Even further back it is believed that the site was used for druid worship, long before the Christian era. The current church is the third known to have been on the site and was built in 1741-1746 on the foundations of the previous Building

The church is an “A” listed Building. The surrounding cemetery is also “A” listed and is and is now cared for by Dumfries and Galloway Council. In the South East corner of the cemetery stands the elaborate Burns’ Mausoleum, erected by public subscription 18 years after the poet’s death, and his remains were taken from the original grave – still marked, in the North East corner of the kirkyard – and re-interred with great cerrmony. There are many other noteworthy memorial stones too numerous to mention here.

The church built of local red sandstone which, unfortunately, is not very durable. time and weather has taken its tool and the steeple and tower have recently been restored – the main building will hopefully be restored soon.

Entering the church by the West door. The vestibule has an ornate mosaic floor and there are many memorial tablets on the walls telling of illustrious servants from St. Michael’s past. One to James McLauchlan, is associated with the cholera mound in the churchyard Dr McLauchlan took part in the first operations using anaesthetic ether in Great Britain. T first recorded operation using anesthetic took place in Dumfries Infirmary on the 18th December 1846, three days defore Professor Lister’s celebrated operation in Glasgow.

Entering the ‘body of the Kirk’ by the door on the right and the eye is immediately caught by the beauty of themany stained glass windows, reputed to be the the finest in the south of Scotland.

The two on the East wall, on either side of the Pulpit were the first pictorial windows to be installed but these are predated by the two early Victorian windows on the west wall. The two newest stained glass are those in the north gallery. The two Venetian glass windows with geometrical design in each gallery are replicas of the original windows, installed when the church was re-built in 1741-1746. Time, Weather and, sadly vandalism, had taken their toll on the four remaining originals and these were replaced in 1991 at a cost of £6,500

Ten pillars supporting the roof were retained from the previous church and on the first of these there is a brass plague marking the site of the pew occupied by Robert Burns, Scotland’s National Bard. His widow Jean Armour, continued to occupy this pew regularly for the next thirty-eight years until here own death. On the south wall is the War Memorial brought from the South and Townhead church when the two congregations were united in 1983.

The large hexagonal clock in the North Gallery bears the date 1758 and still keeps excellent time, this type of clock was very popular at this time because the traditional Grandfather clock was subject to tax, This was not.

The silver plague between the last two windows on the south wall was presented by the Norwegian Forces whose Headquarters in Britain was Dumfries from 1940-1945 and St. Michaels was regarded as their ‘Garrison Church’. The Pulpit and its sounding board is the original and was built of Scots fir at a cost of £15 10/- (shillings) in 1746. It takes the form of a Communion Chalice. From the time of the re-building until 1869 the pews were the old style ‘Box Pew’. These Box Pews can still be seen in country churches around Dumfries & Galloway.

On west gable above the vestibule is the organ gallery. This is a Willis Organ and was erected in 1890. Prior to the organ being installed the singing was unaccompanied and the coming of the organ was not without controversy. In front of the organ loft is a carved figure of St. Michael to whom the church is dedicated. St Michael is also the Patron Saint of Dumfries. He is, of course, the Archangel Michael and on the platform we a tapestry depicting him slaying the Dragon of Evil; a story first mentioned in the book of Daniel and again in Mathew.

Also Displayed here we have two types of old-fashioned ‘collecting boxes’, a display of ‘Communion Tokens’ and the instrument use making them. There is the brass salver on which the Sunday offerings are place for dedication and a much older and larger pewter bread salver, possibly use for the same purpose. The spelling of the town name on the salver :- DRUMFREIS is nearer to the original Gaelic which means ‘ridge of thorns’. Then there is the pewter ‘ALMS DISH’. Two of these were placed beside the pillars at the entrance gate for collection of alms for the poor of the town. Again we see the old spelling and there is a hole just inside the rim to allow rain water to drain off. The oak Communion Table was presented by the women of the congregation in 1903. The brass plate on the adjacent pillar is the War Memorial to the men of St Michael’s who fell in the two World Wars. Also on this pillar is a framed list of the Ministers who have served this congregation since the Reformation. It is believed that St. Michael’s was the last church in Scotland in which High Mass was celebrated at the time.

Moving through the church fragments from one of the ‘Trades Loft’ which were in the gallery above can be seen. When the church was re-built (1741-1746) The Incorporated Trades of the town were requested to contribute towards the cost of the project. They did to the sum of £80 and for this handsome contribution hey were allowed the privilege of having their own ‘lofts’ in the gallery. This fragment is one of three panels that remain to remind us of this connection.

On the last of the ten pillars from the previous building there is another plaque in memory of another local poet, Thomas Aird. He is not so celebrated as Burns but is a commendable poet and author nevertheless.  Leaving the ‘body of the kirk’ the two non-pictorial windows in both galleries were installed in 1991 as near as could be to the original Venetian Glass windows which had been vandalised beyond repair.

Back in the vestibule memorial tablets on the walls are there to remind us of the many notable servants of this ancient church. One last item of note within the church is the single bell in the steeple, it weighs 8 cwt and its note is B flat. As well as summoning the faithful to worship before each service it is struck to tell the hour, on the hour.

TheStained Glass Windows around the Church

Eitherside of the pulpit  
John Baptizing in Jordan 1878
The Adoration of the Shepards 1878
Under the south Gallery  
Thre Rising of Lazarus 1891
Christ Walking on Water 1891
Christ Blessing the Little Children 1880
Thw Women at the Sepulche 1880
Under the North Gallery  
The Transfiguration 1885
Faith, Hope, Charity 1901
The Faithfull Centurian 1903
East Gallery  
The Ascention 1881
The Crucifiction  
North Gallery (east to west)  
Melchizede and Abram  
.Learn of Me. (Christ Preaching to the Multitude) 1934
South Gallery(East to West)  
The LambCaught in the Thicket (Sacrifice of Abram) 1910
The Good Shephard. (I am theLight of the World) 1958

The Bonnie Prince Charlie ConnectionOn route to Derby and Culloden, Charles passed through Dumfries – hay stayed for three days actually – and when the authorities got word that he was coming this way they panicked because this area was not kindly disposed towards the Stuart cause. So, the sheet lead which had been purchased for the roof of St. Michael’s was sold to Captain Carruthers of Breconside for £2 14/- (shillings) and used to make musket balls for the defence of the town. Fortunately, not a single shot was fired but in his anger at the unfriendly reception, Charles imposed a fine of £2,000 on the burgh and demanded 1,000 pairs of shoes for his weary troops. He didn’t get all the shoes, nor did he get all the money at the time but as surety for the balance he took with him ex-Provost Andrew Crosbie and Councillor Walter Riddle, these two men were released at Sanquhar when the balance was handed over. Charles’ stay in Dumfries may have lasted only three days but the town breathed a sigh of relief when the last of them moved out.