An ancient church, built in the 12th century, has been forced to close after 883 years of continuous services because of Church of Scotland budget cuts.
Older than its much more famous counterparts Glasgow Cathedral or St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, Birnie Kirk was constructed in 1140 and is thought to have been one of the oldest churches in Scotland in continuous use.
But that all came to an end with a final mass on Sunday, leaving local congregation members and historians distraught.
Over the years, regular Sunday mass attendances dropped to around 20 people, which led to the heritage-listed church being placed on a shortlist for closure, the Press and Journal reported.
Around 100 people attended the last service on the weekend, local media reported.
Most churches of Birnie Kirk’s vintage in Scotland lie in ruins.
Historic Environment Scotland has called the church and its adjacent graveyard a monument of “national importance”.
“It’s not just a religious building, it’s a place full of history and architecture,” church elder Ann Stronach told the Press and Journal ahead of the church’s closure.
“It’s very simple on the outside but it’s beautiful on the inside,” she said.
“If it gets closed up it will just end up becoming a ruin, like a lot of other churches from the same time.”
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The church predates William Wallace’s 1305 execution in London and has survived centuries of conflict with England.
The building’s historic stone block walls, measuring one metre thick, have stood the test of time after being laid and maintained by expert craftsmen.
Two bells are on display inside the immaculately kept church, one believed to be 1000 years old and the other half a millennium, dating to perhaps around the time Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded in 1587 for plotting to murder her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I.
For centuries, the church has been home to an original “Hairy Bible” – printed in 1773 – and so named for its calfskin cover.
A Church of Scotland spokesman blamed the decision on the winds of change and stretched budgets.
“Changing population patterns along with falling membership, fewer people training for ministry and a reduction in financial contributions mean that it is necessary to reduce the number of buildings the Church owns,” they said.
“The Church recognises that buildings have meaning and value to their local communities so we know that some of these decisions will be difficult.”