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Early Medieval

The Picts: Markinch the Capital of Fife?

stob cross

The belief that Markinch was the Pictish capital of Fife has persisted since MacKay's scholarly work on Fife written in 1895. The theory entered the realm of legend with Dorothy MacNab Ramsay's gripping novels centred around a Pictish palace on Dalginch Hill overlooking Markinch. Certainly, Dalginch is named in a 12th century manuscript as one of northern Scotland's seven principal locations for the dispensation of justice. The others included Perth, Aberdeen and Inverness.

In the later Pictish period, Markinch was on the border beween the two sub-kingdoms of Fife and Fothriff and may well have been used as a neutral ground where disputes were settled and contracts entered into. The later 12th century reference could be a carry-over from its earlier Pictish function.

Even the town's oldest monument, the Stob Cross (above), is difficult to ascribe with any certainty to the Pictish period. Its line and form resemble elaborately carved Pictish slab crosses such as the Aberlemno Cross in Perthshire. However, no traces of Pictish ornamentation can be seen - it has even been suggested that these were deliberately effaced during the Reformation. Even as late as 1884 the Kirk was reburying carved stones with "rude sculptures" dug up when the building was being refurbished.

Perhaps there is much evidence of the Picts yet to be discovered in Markinch. What is clear from old charters is that the Celtic Church, represented by the Celi De or Culdees of Loch Leven, had a church near to the present building from an early period - but this was not confirmed by charter until the 11th Century.

The 12th Century: the Great Tower is built: a Celtic Pig changes hands


From the time of David I in the early 12th Century the Pictish and Gaelic warlords began to come under the feudal rule of their monarch. It can be said that feudalism in Scotland began when the great Earls of Fife, with their strongholds in the valley of the Leven, pledged their military service to David in return for land tenure, protection and a secure inheritance for their sons. Later, Markinch and Balbirnie and surroundings became bargaining chips as feudal estate was carved out along the Leven for the premier Earl.

It was probably during David's reign, around 1130, that Markinch's oldest and most imposing building was constructed, although it may be earlier. The tower of the present-day Markinch Parish Kirk (above) is one of the best preserved of Scotland's Norman towers. Typical Romanesque carving can be seen along the banding of the courses and around the window arches

Two arches long hidden inside the 19th century reconstructions have been surveyed in recent months. A few stones with saltire markings from the demolished Norman church can be seen built into the south wall of the existing building and traces of the old nave and chancel have recently been discovered.

David and his successors also encouraged the Roman Church to continue its gradual domination over the Celtic Church. Bishop Robert of St. Andrew's decreed that the estates of the old Celtic church in Markinch (including 20 cheeses and a pig) be transferred to the priory of St. Andrew's. Earl Duncan agreed to the transfer and his son later added an acre of ground where the original manse now stands at Mansefield (below).


The 13th Century: Markinch Church Re-branded

Despite the stubborn resistance of the Celi De, the Roman influence gradually triumphed over the old Celtic church. The Church of St. Drostan was rededicated to St. John the Baptist by the Bishop of St. Andrew's in 1243 in a final attempt to efface all evidence of the old Celtic saint Drostan. However, the attempt was not entirely successful and it merely provided the town with two patron saints and two festivals (June for St. John and December for St. Drostan) that were both celebrated up until modern times.

However, it was not only the ecclesiastical order that was changing. The feudal implantations of southern nobility, begun in the previous century, continued to ease out or marry into the old Celtic aristocracy. Sir William de Valoniis of Dalginch granted the glebelands to the church in return for prayers being offered up for the souls of his father and the late Earl of Fife

The century ended with a brief visit from Edward I of England, fresh from his victory over Balliol and the Scottish army. His comments on the town were dismissive and it is clear that, given the size of the tower, and perhaps the ancient reputation of the town, he had expected a more impressive settlement.

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