St Athernase Church
St Athernase Church
The 12th century church of St Athernase at Leuchars has been called perhaps the finest example of Romanesque church architecture in Scotland. The church stands on a mound in the centre of the village, which is best known today for its annual air show and the nearby RAF base.
The church is most often dated to between 1183-1187, but may actually date to as early as 1150. Of the original Norman building only the chancel and semi-circular apse now survive; the nave is a Victorian rebuilding and the striking bell turret dates to around 1745.

The real Romanesque treasure is the apse, with its delightful Norman vaulting and carved corbel heads with the faces of strange beasts, monsters, humans, oxen, and rams. Within the apse is a fragment of a 9th century carved cross slab, found at Leuchars Castle when the castle was demolished in 1948. The exterior of the apse is beautifully carved with blind arcading, one of the best examples of this style in Scotland.

There are three memorials of historic note within the church. The most immediately obvious are a pair of carved slabs set on either side of a door on the south wall. The first is to Sir William Bruce of nearby Earlshall Castle. Sir William was born in 1486 and fought at the Battle of Flodden in 1513. He later served as a counsellor to Mary, Queen of Scots and her son, James VI, who would travel from Falkland Palace to Earlshall to enjoy hunting and feasting. The second is to a rather grim-looking Agnes Lynde, the wife of one of the lairds. The slab is worn but illustrates the style of clothing common to a local lady of substance in the 16th-17th century. Before the pulpit is a simple slab to Robert Carnegie of Kinnaird, who died at nearby Leuchars Castle in 1565.

The most famous minister of Leuchars was Alexander Henderson, who went on to become minister of St Giles in Edinburgh. Henderson was one of a group of clergy opposed to the introduction of the Scottish Book of Prayer, and he wrote much of the 1638 National Convention. He is buried at Greyfriars Kirk, but a Victorian marble memorial stands outside the south porch of St Athernase church.

The church is open regular hours during the summer months, and is well advertised locally - there seem to be tourist leaflets for St Athernase everywhere you look in Fife!