RELIGION: Church where Reformation sparked to life in £4 million crisis

Historic St John's Kirk will host the marriage of Andrew Penny and Rachel Steele, on Thursday 14th April Pictures by staff photographer Richard Wilkins
St John’s Kirk was the scene of a pivotal moment in Scottish church history.

By Lucy Ashton

An iconic church in a historic Scottish city is under threat having stood on the same spot for nine centuries. St John’s Kirk in Perth has dominated the Fair City skyline since the 1400s while a church has been on the site since at least 1126.

However, it now faces a funding crisis with restoration bills going through the roof. An appeal has been launched to raise £4 million to save Perth’s oldest building.

A leaking spire and belfry, decaying masonry, roof deterioration and compromised stained-glass window casings are among the growing catalogue of necessary repair works facing the church. And while the Kirk session and the Trust of St John’s Kirk of Perth have shouldered emergency repairs to date, funds are running out and a ‘Save St John’s Kirk’ appeal has been set in motion.

Session Clerk Bill Wilson said St John’s was a “special place” and had “played a pivotal role in the history and development of Perth”. He added: “Marriages, christenings, funerals, civic and public events and landmark royal and historic occasions have all taken place within these ancient walls and its impact and influence have stretched far beyond Perth’s city boundary – both nationwide and internationally.

“Hopefully, its ongoing role and historic significance will not be lost on those keen to ensure its survival.” Crisis talks have already taken place with key stakeholders and an outline strategy has been developed with a full business plan due to be finalised by the end of the year.

The church played a key role in Scottish history and was the scene for the incident widely said to have been the start of the Reformation in the country. John Knox was preaching against idolatry at St John’s and his sermon so enraged the passions of the Kirk, they stripped the church of its ornaments before sacking Perth’s wealthy religious houses.

Scottish religious reformer John Knox, who preached at St John’s. Picture by Bill Heaney

The building also gives Perth its nickname of St John’s Toun while a new, purpose-built museum is being created close by. This will eventually house the Stone of Destiny, which was recently used in the Coronation of King Charles.

Maureen Young, chair of the Trust of St John’s Kirk of Perth, which has driven fundraising for the maintenance of the building since 1951, said the future of the landmark was every bit as important as its past. She said: “St John’s Kirk is the heart of Perth in every sense.

“Millions have been spent on creating a world-class tourist destination housing the Stone of Destiny at the former City Hall – due to open next year – and it’s vital that the new museum’s Medieval neighbour is protected and promoted to ensure Perth’s oldest and newest attractions sit side-by-side in pristine condition. Recent faults and failings identified by a series of expert surveys suggest St John’s Kirk needs special attention.”

Former deputy first minister and local MSP John Swinney has thrown his weight behind the campaign, saying St John’s further deterioration “has to be avoided at all costs”. A website has been set up for the fundraiser at –

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