There is a strong Christian heritage in the Borders and the physical manifestation of the spiritual aspirations of the region can be seen clearly in The Border Abbeys and various churches of the region. The Tweed river system was chosen as foundation for these impressive medieval monuments and provided centres of learning for the modernising Scottish state. The tight control of land through the feudal system developed commerce across the region and this was inextricably linked to the powerful Church of the day.

The power which the Church held over its followers was immense and had an impact on each individual in each community. It is clear that there have been Christians in the Borders since the 7th century. King David I established the basis of the modern ecclesiastical and civil administration in the 12th Century. He re-established Episcopal diocese, which were administered by Bishops through Deans, Archdeacons and then rectors at parish level. Those in high positions in the church played an important role in controlling the conduct of the congregation in their personal lives and endeavours. There were various penalties for failing to attend church or make confession.

Before the Reformation, any deviation from the Orthodox Church was seen as heresy and punishable by death. After 1560, this punishment was reserved only for witchcraft. The church held an unhealthy grip on the community, turning a blind eye to wife beating, drunkenness and truancy, focussing their disgust on actions such as blasphemy and heresy. Extensive information from this locality can be found in the Museum of Scotland.

The Parish system in the Borders was tied to secular land holdings. It was the landlords who appointed Priests to conduct operations within the parish, ranging from communion to community duties. Their work was supported by teinds, which were a tax of one tenth of the agricultural produce of the parish and income from church or glebe lands. This tax was to cover all the expenses incurred by the church including maintenance of the church buildings and charily throughout the community. The teinds were stored in purpose built barns. There are only two remaining teind barns, one which stands next to the parish church in Foulden. The individual or body in charge of the patronage of the benefice appointed the rector. The rector was in charge of those duties carried out by a minister today. Surviving examples of churches built during this time can be found at Stobo, Smailholm and Legerwood.

After the Reformation. the Presbyterian Church of Scotland instituted various changes. Larger Christian festivals of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost were not to be celebrated. Church attendance remained obligatory but churches were redecorated or rebuilt in the simplest, plainest manner. Border churches provided a location for all kinds of business, peace negotiations and protection. Most churches form this time have not retained their character or fittings. However, original font, pews and pulpit can be found in Lyne dating from 1644.

The church, post-Reformation, continued to provide relief to the poor as it does today through charity work. The Welfare State, however, has assumed responsibility for the provision of unemployment pay and pensions. The present Church of Scotland joined with The United Free Church in 1929 and they continue to play an important role in the community. Many redundant churches in the region have been put to other good uses, such as the John Buchan Centre.


Maggie Rait