Originally, the Church of St Leonard (the patron saint of prisoners and, sometimes pilgrims) was simply the chapel of a hospital or hospice. It was located within the St Andrews priory precinct and was maintained by the Culdees (Celtic clergy who, in St Andrews, worked and worshipped during the period from early 12th to the 14th century). Eventually the lands with which the hospital was endowed became part of a distinct parish and, by 1413, the chapel – now a church – assumed the status of a parish church.
When pilgrimages became less popular, the hospital was converted into an almshouse for old women. When this did not prove a success, the Archbishop of St Andrews, Alexander Stewart, in association with the Prior, John Hepburn, turned it into ‘the College of Poor Clerks of the Church of S.Andrew’ in 1512 (confirmed by King James IV in 1513). Before long, the cumbersome title was superseded by ‘College of S.Leonard’. The church served the students as college chapel and the tenants of the college lands as parish church. At services, the former occupied the choir and the latter the nave.
After the Reformation in 1560, St Leonard’s College lost its monastic character and became an arts college, in many ways similar to St Salvator’s College. But its close association with its parish remained and, in 1578, its Principal was authorised to act as parish minister.
During the 18th century, when student numbers dropped appreciably and there was evidence of conflicting political loyalties within the colleges, it was finally decided to form a union – the United College of S.Salvator and S.Leonard in 1747. The next year the United College buildings were centralised on the buildings of S.Salvator. The buildings of S.Leonard were sold, only the church being retained. In 1759 it was decided to remove its congregation to St Salvators College Chapel that was appropriately adapted. From 1761 to 1904 the congregation of St Leonard’s worshipped with the students.
The Church of S.Leonard became ruinous, its roof was removed, its bell-tower demolished and the bell, Elizabeth, transferred to St Salvator’s Tower, where it hangs to this day. Now known as St Leonard’s Chapel, its restoration began in 1910 when it was re-roofed and reglazed. In 1948 further work including furnishing was carried out to form what is in fact an early 16th century church building.
In 1898, the sharing arrangement at St Salvator’s College Chapel came to an abrupt stop. The Kirk Session of St Leonard’s were informed – by letter from the University Court – that “the arrangement whereby accommodation is provided for the Parishioners of the Parish of St Leonard’s in the College Church of St Salvator shall terminate.” On the newly appointed minister, the Rev R.W. Wallace and his five elders, Lang, Thoms, MacMillan, Ogilvie and Macpherson lay the responsibility of fighting for their church. They emerged from the struggle (which involved recourse to the Law Courts) with an independent parish, the promise of a new church (the old church of S.Leonard was not now big enough for its parish), a financial contribution from a reluctant university and at least some of the valuable symbols of communion. They also were responsible for the enthusiastic fund-raising effort, finding a suitable site, and producing a brief for the new church.
St Leonard‘s Centenary History Booklet: many interesting facts about the history and congregation of St Leonard‘s Church, especially during the past 100 years, are available in the St Leonard‘s Centenary History Booklet by Glen Pride, a retired architect. The booklet is on sale to the general public and copies may be obtained by contacting the Church Office. All profits go towards Church Funds.
Centenary Appeal: During 2004, the congregation of St Leonard‘s Parish Church celebrated the centenary of the Church on the site at the corner of Hepburn Gardens/Donaldson Gardens in St Andrews. A Centenary Appeal, with a target of £24,000, was launched at the beginning of the year and donations resulting in the magnificent total of £40,400 were raised. Half of this amount was used to purchase a bell for the church tower and also to provide pew cushions to make the seating in the church more comfortable and the church more welcoming. The other half of the total raised (£20,200) was handed over on ‘Homelessness Sunday’ (Sunday 30 January 2005) to the Rev Maxwell Craig, chairman of Scottish Churches Housing Agency, for homeless people in Scotland. Mr Craig revealed that this was the largest single donation that the Housing Agency had ever received. Following the success of the Centenary Appeal a bell and cushions for the pews in the church were purchased
- The Bell: was installed in the tower of the church on 26 May 2005. Weighing half a ton, the bell was cast in 1765, first rung in 1766 and was formerly located in a church in Somerset. The bell will be rung in St Leonard’s Church before services and for special occasions, including weddings. It was first rung in celebration of a wedding on 4 June 2005.
- The Cushions: are you sitting comfortably? The cushions are made from firm density 2″ combustion modified foam, covered with a contract quality fabric and zipped along the back edge. The fabric and fillings comply with Fire Retardant regulations and are suitable for heavy-wear usage. Because all our pews are curved at both ends we are able to have fabric on both sides of the cushions, thus making them completely reversible. The buttoning at 15″-24″ intervals will help to keep the fabric in place. Ayr Upholstery Ltd – a small but enthusiastic family business who have been manufacturing pew cushions for many years – were given the order. The company does not come out to measure — so the sub-committee had the job of measuring all 78 pews and providing a template for the curved ends! In the case of the Apse, we sent the existing felts to the manufacturer so that they could replicate the curve. All those who sit in the Apse will be pleased to know that the cushions definitely provide a warmer feel to the stone seating! The choice of colour was very difficult. The Church has greyish sandstone walls, medium oak pews, red terracotta floor tiles – and very little daylight. There were 60 shades on the shade card and it is not an exaggeration to say we considered them all. In the end, our committee agreed unanimously on the colour — a beautiful blue called ‘Clipper’ — rich, traditional and enhances the predominant colour in our beautiful stained glass windows. The Board sanctioned expenditure from the Fabric Fund for the new velvet curtains at the East door and also the new carpeting at the Communion Table and Pulpit steps. A very big thank-you to the sub-committee for their hard work and enthusiasm and also to the willing team who helped us with the installation.
Roll of Honour: there is a Roll of Honour in the sanctuary that records the names of those members of St Leonard‘s Parish Church who were killed in both World Wars. The names appear on the two war memorial plaques on the church walls. Underneath them on the shelf or on the pew are details of the men, obtained by Keith McCartney, one of our members, who carried out a great deal of research from various sources. For every one of those named on the memorials a copy of the certificate from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission giving details of the person and the cemetery in which they are remembered is included. Each Remembrance Sunday at the beginning of the morning service, the Minister reads out the names of each member who fell in both wars.