“This is a building of immense importance to Scotland, but even more so to the local community.”Victoria Collison-Owen, Historic Churches Scotland’s Executive Director
Described as ‘a unique historic treasure’ and ‘an exceptionally rare and important survival in Scotland’ , St Peter’s Kirk, South Ronaldsay, has been saved for future generations thanks to members of the local community working in partnership with a national charity.
St Peter’s Kirk, South Ronaldsay, with ‘perhaps the finest situation’ of any Orkney church according to Orcadian writer Ernest Marwick, was listed Category A by Historic Environment Scotland in 2006 in recognition of its interior in a form little changed since the early 1800s. The kirk contains one of the few remaining examples in Scotland of a central communion pew and also has a central strategically placed pulpit enabling the congregation to see and hear the Minister.
The future of St Peters had looked increasingly uncertain, raising fears locally that it might be sold for conversion or fall into disrepair. As the church is surrounded by a large graveyard it was considered important that locals and the wider community could continue to visit the graves and at the same time be able to access the church for personal contemplation, historical interest or events.
The Friends of St Peter’s (SC049906) was set up as a charity to support the restoration and preservation of the kirk for the benefit of the community, to facilitate religious and secular events, and celebrating its history and significance while preserving the sanctity of the building and its graveyard.
Fiona Lawtie, Charity Trustee, said:
“I got involved with the project as it is very close to my heart. My parents and grandparents are buried in the kirkyard and my father, the late Reverend Picken who was minister of the Parish in the early seventies, instilled in me a deep conviction that the building was of national importance and should be preserved.”
Following an approach to national church preservation charity Historic Churches Scotland, a partnership was formed which enabled an offer to be made to the General Trustees of the Church of Scotland to acquire St Peter’s for £1. With Historic Churches Scotland assuming ownership of the building, and the Friends taking on the day-to-day running of the kirk, the future of the historic building, and public access to it, has been secured. Historic Churches Scotland already has in its care the former parish church of Sandwick (also dedicated to St Peter) on the Bay of Skaill. The derelict kirk was acquired from the Church of Scotland in 1998 for £1 and underwent significant restoration.
Historic Churches Scotland’s Executive Director, Victoria Collison-Owen said:
“St Peter’s South Ronaldsay is the most extraordinary and captivating building, it’s a unique historic treasure, and exactly the type of church that we were established to care for back in 1996.
“Stepping into St Peter’s is like travelling back in time to experience church-going over two centuries ago. This is a building of immense importance to Scotland, but even more so to the local community. We are delighted to be working in partnership with the Friends of St Peter’s to preserve and protect something so special.”
Sue Graves, from the Friends of St Peter’s, added:
“We are very grateful that this beautiful church in its wonderful setting can continue to play an important role in our community benefitting both locals and visitors.”
Plans are being developed to open the kirk to visitors with interpretation to share the history of the building and the local area. It is also hoped that the kirk can be used for concerts and other cultural events as well as occasional services.
The Friends with generous support from the local community have launched a major fund-raising drive to help meet maintenance and running costs, including a prize draw, and are also organising a table top sale to be held in the Cromarty Hall on the 5th of December 2021.
Anyone can support St Peter’s Kirk by making a donation using the group’s Just Giving page. To follow the progress of the project and to find out what events will be running follow the Friends of St Peter’s Kirk on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/stpeterskirk.
More information about the plans for the kirk, about volunteering opportunities and the Prize Draw can be obtained from Fiona Lawtie (tel: 831313) or Sue Graves (tel: 831406).
Click on this link to find out more about the fascinating St Peter’s Kirk South Ronaldsay on Canmore