Morebattle Church

History & Heritage
A red sandstone church, in a peaceful churchyard with a fine view. A notorious confrontation here changed the course of the Church of Scotland
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About Morebattle Church

A church is recorded in Morebattle (mere bottle = a dwelling place on a lake) by 1116 AD. It was part of the diocese of Glasgow and was for a while in the Middle Ages, the seat of the Archdeacon of Teviotdale. Virtually nothing is left of this building, although a plan in the porch shows traces of its foundations uncovered in 1915. Like many buildings in the area, the church was put to the torch by English soldiers during the ‘Rough Wooing’ in 1544, Henry VIII’s attempt to force the Scots to marry Mary, Queen of Scots to his son. By 1757 the old building was ruinous and the present church was erected in the local red sandstone. A chancel and vestry were added in 1899 and a porch in 1903. The chancel was built over the burial aisle of the Pringles of Clifton who are commemorated by memorial tablets. On the north wall are three large painted panels: of the Lord’s Prayer, the Westminster Confession, and some biblical texts. These are the work of Janet E.F.Cowan, wife of the minister from 1876 to 1919, working with some parishioners.
From being a quiet rural parish, Morebattle suddenly became notorious in Scottish kirk history in 1725. The right of patrons to impose a minister on a parish regardless of the wishes of the congregation had been passed by the British Parliament in 1711. When the old minister at Morebattle died, the patron, the Duke of Roxburgh, nominated as his successor someone unacceptable to the congregation. On the day of his induction into the parish, a large number of the people of Morebattle and the surrounding district occupied the church and refused to allow the approaching clergy and their supporters to enter. A battle then took place in the churchyard. One historian writes: ‘the din of clashing cudgels, mingled with the shouts of opposing combatants, not without the yelling of collies, made a strangely discordant clamour in that graveyard among the silent hills.’ The congregation won the day but lost the battle and the unwanted minister was ordained in spite of their efforts. As a result a large part of the congregation refused to attend their parish church and began to gather for services on Gateshaw Brae, in the open country, a mile from the village. This gathering was one of the first congregations to join the Secession Church, a movement that split the Presbyterian Church in Scotland for the next two centuries.
The Secession controversy split not only the Scottish church, but also some Morebattle families. One of the first ministers of the Gateshaw congregation in Morebattle, James Scott, differed from his wife, Alice Scott, on a matter of theological principle. Each Sunday, she travelled to Jedburgh to hear a preacher there instead of attending her husband’s sermon. Their theological disagreements do not seem to have spoiled a long marriage. One of Scott’s successors, David Morrison, preached to the Gateshaw congregation while his son was minister at Morebattle parish church. On at least one occasion, David’s daughter was rebuked by her father’s kirk session for going to hear her brother preach at the Parish Kirk.
It was not till 1780 that the Gateshaw congregation obtained a site on which to build a church in the village. That church became St Aidan’s on the Main Street, now housing St Cuthbert’s coffee shop which offers welcome refreshments to pilgrims on St Cuthbert’s Way as well as to other passers-by.

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