Cross Kirk, Peebles, Scotland
Photo: source unknown

It isn't just Jerpoint in Ireland that lays claim to being the burial site for Saint Nicholas. The historic Cross Kirk in Peebles, Scotland, has a similar tale.

The history of the Cross Kirk dates back centuries. In 1241 a fine cross was found on the site along with a gravestone inscribed "the place of St Nicholas the Bishop." Soon after a stone urn was discovered, which was believed to contain relics of Saint Nicholas. It is said these discoveries occurred in the presence of Alexander III, King of Scots 1249 - 1286.

With such amazing discoveries, the place was soon known as a place of miracles. Alexander III then established a priory there to house the cross and the Shrine of Saint Nicholas. The priory was dedicated to St Nicholas and the Holy Rood (or Cross); this gave Cross Kirk its eventual name. The simple, thick-walled church was a pilgrimage center until the early 1600s.

The Cross Kirk served as an active place of worship for 500 years, though seeing a number of changes. In 1474 the priory became a full monastery, home to Trinitarian friars, known as Redfriars. This is probably when the cloister ranges and tower were added. The church was sacked by the English in 1549 during the Rough Wooing war; it was repaired two years later.

The Reformation 1560 ended Cross Kirk's monastery life; thereafter it served as the parish kirk, replacing St Andrew's Church that had been burned down by the English in 1548. The church was shortened in 1556, with the choir being turned into a schoolroom. At that time a new east gable was built, galleries, and three burial aisles added.

Cross Kirk was abandoned in 1784 when a new parish church was built. In 1790 it was still almost complete except for the roof. The other monastery buildings had been "quarried" for their stone, taken to be used in local buildings. By 1811 much of the south wall had fallen and it was described as a ruin by the end of the 1800s. However, it is still regarded as the best preserved urban friary in Scotland.

In 1924 a stone cist was found under the Shrine of St. Nicholas that contained fragments of bone. This may have been the "saint's grave" discovered in the 1200s.

St Nicholas on church hall signboard
St Nicholas Parish Church
Lanark, Scotland
Photo: C Myers, St Nicholas Center

Pre-Reformation Scottish St. Nicholas customs are seemingly lost in the mists of time as strongly Protestant Scotland eliminated popular veneration of saints. However, some of the pre-Reformation parishes retained their former dedications to St. Nicholas, including the Kirk of St Nicholas—the "Mither" Church, Aberdeen; St. Nicholas Parish Church, Prestwick; Parish Church of St. Nicholas, Anstruther; St. Nicholas Biggar Kirk, Biggar; St. Nicholas Chapel in Glasgow Cathedral; St. Nicholas Parish Church, Lanark; Parish Church of St. Nicholas Buccleuch, Dalkeith; Kirk of St. Nicholas Strathbrock, Uphall.

And so St. Nicholas has retained some presence in Scotland. These historic churches have been joined by newer parishes—Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Presbyterian. The church is under the care of Historic Environment Scotland.