For over thirteen centuries Christian worship has been offered up within the parish of Melrose, beginning at Old Melrose, two and a half miles down the river from this spot, continuing in the Cistercian Abbey until the Reformation and, in due course, in this Church on the Weir Hill.
Old Melrose is now merely a name on the map, the site occupied by modern cottages and outbuildings. At the highest point of the road between Leaderfoot and Dryburgh, now known as ‘Scott’s View’, Sir Walter Scott was accustomed to halt to rest his horse and enjoy the landscape. From this point one looks down on the River Tweed on to a broad tongue of land almost enclosed by a loop of the river. This is Old Melrose, where the Celtic monastery was founded about the year 640 A.D. by, or at the instance, of St. Aidan, who was trained at Iona. Here also St. Cuthbert, the Celtic ‘Apostle of the Borders’, later Bishop of Hexham and hermit of Lindisfarne, entered his novitiate.
In 1136 King David 1 granted a colony of Cistercian monks from Rievaulx in Yorkshire a charter to found the present Melrose Abbey on the lands of Little Fordel, thereafter called Melrose. It became a rich foundation, receiving many royal gifts, and in turn giving refuge to kings. Alexander II is buried there, as is also the heart of King Robert the Bruce.
Before the Reformation there is evidence that the Abbey, unusually for a Cistercian foundation, served also as the place of parish worship. Certainly, from the Reformation, the monks’ quire was used as the Parish Church. The historic connection with the Abbey is still recalled each Sunday morning by the ringing of the Abbey bell.
In 1810 a new Parish Church was opened on this site. This Church was square in shape, had a central pulpit entered from the present tower, and large galleries. It was destroyed by fire in 1908. Only the tower, bearing the date MDCCCX, survived and was incorporated in the present Church which was dedicated in 1911.
To celebrate the Millennium a development project took place in 1997 in which the ancillary church buildings were upgraded, and a Church Office, an upper floor meeting room and a new kitchen were added. The Church itself was completely redecorated in 1999, and rededicated by the Very Rev. John B. Cairns LTh. LLB.
The woodwork of the present Church is all soft-toned-African mahogany with carvings of flowers and fruit on the four pilasters in the chancel. The chancel, raised by three steps, is balanced at the opposite end of the nave by an area, formerly furnished with pews, now converted into a chapel used for small Services. Carvings representing the Gospel writers can be seen on either side of the glass screen which forms the west wall of the chapel. The Communion Table and the Wall Tapestry depicting the Holy Spirit (woven by MacDonald Scott) in the chapel were brought here from the former High Cross Church after the union of the two congregations in 1984, when the chapel was dedicated by the Very Rev. John McIntyre CVO Dlitt DD FRSE.
In the main Church the Communion Table, which recreates the arch and keystone of the Church, was gifted in 1952 in memory of the Rev. Robert Nelson, formerly of Newmachar and Abbotsford, Glasgow, by his widow and son. They also presented a tapestry carpet which bears a Maltese Cross flanked by the mel (mason’s hammer) and the rose, the traditional rebus for the name Melrose. Mrs Nelson also gifted the brass Cross, inspired in design by the St. John Cross of Iona, which stands below the central window of the chancel.
The former Communion Table stands at the rear of the chancel with, on either side, two plinths carrying the A and the P (Alpha and Omega), gifted by Mrs Walker in memory of her mother, Mrs Fairbairn. The two candelabra carried by these plinths were given by Mrs Fairbairn in memory of her son. The Pulpit and Prayer Desk on either side of the chancel echo each other, and the Pulpit Fall was worked and gifted by Miss lsabella Curle.
On appropriate Sundays of the Christian Year the Pulpit Fall is replaced by a white Fall, sewn by Margaret Chapman, and gifted by Mrs Sheena Barron in 1996 in memory of John Barron, the former headmaster of Melrose School and Regional Councillor for the town.
The Font is attached to the organ panelling and is lit by a brass lantern given by Mr and Mrs J. Cumming
in memory of their son and bears the legend: ‘One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism’. The organ, built by Messrs. Brindley and Foster, was installed in 1911.
The chancel window, the only stained glass in the Church, in three lights, designed by C. W. Whall of London, was the gift of Mr Roberts of Drygrange, one of the heritors, in memory of his wife.
On the left is depicted St. Margaret, mother of King David I who founded the Abbey, and on the right is St. Cuthbert attired as a bishop. The central light carries the sun in eclipse, as appropriate to the crucifixion, the moon, the Holy City, and the city wall with the strait gate and the broad gate. Below these are, on the left, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil of the Garden of Eden, and, on the right, the tree of life, the tallest, and an olive tree. Level with the base of the cross is a frieze of spring flowers. The dominating feature of the window is the Crucifixion with a weeping angel at the foot of the cross.
The present congregation was first a union of Melrose Old Parish Church and Melrose St. Aidan’s (formerly the Free Church until 1900, then the United Free Church until 1929) in 1946 and was known as Melrose Old and St. Aidan’s. In 1951, by the choice of the congregation, it became Melrose St. Cuthbert’s Parish Church. In 1984, following a union of Melrose St. Cuthbert’s and Melrose High Cross, it became known as Melrose Parish Church. In 2007 a further union occured between Melrose Parish Church with its neighbouring congregation at Bowden Kirk to form the united congregation of Bowden and Melrose Parish Church with its two places of worship.
1562 James Pont
1568 John Watson
1569 John Wilson
1574 Thomas Holywell (or Halywell) Reader to 1586
1584 John Knox MA (grand-nephew of the Reformer)
1627 Thomas Forrester MA
1640 Alexander Scott MA
1641 David Fletcher MA (became Bishop of Argyll in 1662)
1665 Alexander Bisset, MA
1690 Robert Wilson MA
1711 Adam Milne MA
1748 James Brown MA
1768 Frederick Maclagan
1788 George Thomson
1836 William Murray
1866 James Chalmers Herdman DD
1898 Robert James Thompson MA