The Kirk of Calder in Mid-Calder, West Lothian, Scotland is a beautiful village church which comes with a fascinating history and, over the years, a bewildering variety of names. Sometimes referred to as the Parish Kirk of Midcalder, it was until the Reformation known as St Cuthbert’s. At various times since it has been known as Calder Kirk and, briefly, St John’s to reflect local links with the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. The name “Kirk of Calder” dates back to a merger of congregations in 1956 and has a neatness that suits the building well.
St Cuthbert’s Church was originally built on this site some time around 1150 and was among the properties granted to Dunfermline Abbey in the 1160s.
In 1526, Peter Sandilands became Rector of the church. He was the younger son of the Sandilands family who had been granted the Barony of Calder and large estates in the area in 1348. The head of the family later became Lord Torphichen and acquired the lands of Torphichen Preceptory after the Reformation in 1563. The family seat was (and remains) at Calder House, very close to Mid Calder and the Kirk of Calder.
By 1540 St Cuthbert’s was past its sell-by date and the Reverend Peter Sandilands had the church demolished to make way for a larger and more modern replacement. By 1542 it must have seemed to him that the rebuilding work would outlast him, because he left a highly detailed account of the way the church was to be completed for his nephew, Sir James Sandilands, together with the funds to allow it to happen.
At the onset of the Reformation in 1560 only the choir and vestry of Peter Sandilands’ church had been completed, together with a lean-to school building that has since disappeared. His original plans provided for a much larger nave continuing to the west and a cloister to the north. Neither was ever built.
For the next three hundred years the choir of the church served the needs of the local community, with multiple galleries inserted to try to fit an ever growing congregation into the relatively small space on offer. In 1863 the church was expanded with the addition of north and south transepts, turning it into the “T” shape then popular in Scottish churches. What emerged was pretty much what you see today. The Kirk of Calder’s story was not without incident. Perhaps the low point was in 1644 when the wave of witch-hunting sweeping across Scotland was taken up with enthusiasm by the Minister, Huw Kennedy. Several alleged witches were burned in Midcalder as a result. A more notable moment had occurred rather earlier, in 1556, when John Knox became a regular preacher following the Sandilands’ embracing of the Reformation. He probably preached in the partly completed new church.