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Fogo Kirk

Christianity probably came to Berwickshire in the seventh century. As the Merse (the flat area of land between the Lammermuir Hills and the River Tweed) is about the mid-point of the three great centres of Celtic Christianity in this area (Holy Island, Coldingham and Old Melrose) it is certain that many Christian people crossed and re-crossed this area and probably set up small Christian communities.

There are many traces of old “Celtic” or Columban type churches in the Merse, especially near a river crossing. As there has been a ford across the River Blackadder at Fogo for many centuries, maybe there was an ancient kirk here too.

Fogo kirk

Certainly there was a church at Fogo by the middle of the twelfth century as in 1159 the church at “Foghow” was granted to the Abbey of Kelso. When the actual church was built is not known for there is no record but the foundations and the lower walls are thought to be well over 800 years old. The two built up arches which are traceable on the north wall suggesting former vaults underneath the church are probably from those ancient days.

On 29th March 1243, the Bishop of St Andrew’s (David de Bernham) in his tour of the Borders visited Fogo and according to the records he “dedicated” it, but there must have been a building here before, otherwise it could not have been given to Kelso Abbey.

As he visited and dedicated six churches in seventeen days, it seems as if he was just making sure that any churches which may have been founded under the old “Celtic” or “Columban” Church were brought in to line with the Roman Catholic Practice. (The bishop actually had visited and consecrated a chapel of St Nicholas in Fogo parish on the 2nd April 1242. We do not know where it was – it was maybe a private chapel belonging to the laird of the time).

In those days the kirk would be a long, narrow building (60 feet by 16 feet) stretching east – west, with the altar at the east end. It has been suggested that what is now the vestry may have been the chancel (the area around the altar) in pre-Reformation days. Certainly there were quite a few small country kirks which had chancel areas, but most were just rectangular buildings with the altar at the east end. In those days, only the door at the west end of the kirk would be used by the congregation whilst the priest and others taking part in the celebration of the Mass would use the east door.

Fogo kirk

It is probable that the kirk at Fogo, like many other country kirks, fell into disrepair before the Reformation. Fogo did not have a resident minister for many years with some of its ministers living hundreds of miles away – one in Paris. Partly, this was because of problems in the Church throughout Europe, but it was aggravated because of the closeness of the Merse to the Border during the time of tension between Scotland and England.

Thus, it was only after the Reformation that the kirk was in constant use again, and it would remain as a long, narrow building for many years, but with a large table in it for Communion.
In 1662, one of the lairds – George Trotter of Charterhall – presented the kirk with two Communion Cups made of silver, by Patrick Borthwick of Edinburgh. These are believed to be the oldest Communion Cups still in regular use in Scotland.

The Communion at Fogo, to promote the Reformed Tradition of the “Priesthood of all believers”, uses these ancient cups and also a Common loaf. Both the Bread and the Wine are passed on from person to person around the kirk, linking each person not only with others in the kirk on the same day, but also with the many worshippers through the centuries.

It seems as if in the late 1600s the kirk was altered in quite a few ways. The galleries or “lairds lofts” were probably built on with their unusual outside stairs. The two “lairds lofts” have coats of arms to commemorate the families involved. The east gallery was for the Hog family from Harcarse and the west gallery for the Trotters of Charterhall. The Trotter gallery has a coat of arms dated 1671, whilst the Hog gallery has one dated 1677. It would be at that time that the graceful little belfry would be built on at the west end of the kirk The bell, which is about 25 inches (60 cm) in diameter has the inscription,

(John Meikle made me in Edinburgh 1694)

It was probably about that time too that the kirk was extended. Many country kirks were altered from long, narrow east-west buildings to “T-shaped”, with the pulpit in the middle of the long wall, and an aisle built on facing the pulpit. Most, if not all, of those churches have the short leg of the “T” to the north, so that people face south and the minister north. Fogo is maybe unique in having the short leg of the “T” to the south, with the congregation facing north. There is, of course, a very good reason for it not being extended north as it is so near the river.

Fogo kirk

In 1775 the walls and the roof of the kirk were repaired, which is probably when the “Box-pews” were installed. This was a custom of that time, such that every farm had its own little box. Many kirks were changed in this way although not many still have the “box-pews”. These and also the two “lairds lofts” make Fogo kirk unique, and it has been classified as a list “A” Historic Building – both for its building and its interior. The walls were re-plastered in 1817. Since then there has only been one real change to the building and that was in 1925 when the low building at the east end was adapted to make a vestry. It was re-painted in 1992/93.

In the vestry is one of the oldest grave stones in Berwickshire from about 650 years ago. This stone resembles a skull and cross-bones and has underneath it a tree and the words,

“Memento Mori”
(Remember Death)

In the south wall under the window on the outside of the kirk there is another old stone (probably from 300 years ago). This has the figures of two men and a lady with the words, “Vive Memor Lethi” (Live remembering the Lethe – the river in the afterworld) in a sash across their chests. Underneath there are the words (which are now difficult to read);

“We three served God, lived in his Fear,
And Loved Him who brought us Dear.”

These figures have been explained in many ways. They may be a representation of the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit); or Faith, Hope and Charity; or Adam and Eve with the devil in between; or it may just represent the people themselves.

Fogo Kirk celebrated a re-dedication service, 750 years after David de Bernham, the Bishop of St Andrew’s originally visited and dedicated the church on 29th March 1243.

At 6.00pm on Sunday 28th March 1993, the Rev. Alan C. D. Cartwright conducted the service with the sermon preached by the Rev. Professor Alexander C. Cheyne, who was the Professor of Church History at Edinburgh University.

Apart from the kirk itself, the most obvious feature in Fogo is the Lych Gate. This is a very well designed and lovely War memorial. This is a very practical way of remembering those who gave the supreme sacrifice, and a reminder to us all of the debt we owe to so many people of previous generations.

In the kirkyard there are sixteen War Graves of airmen from the Allied Forces of the Second World War. The idyllic spot that is Fogo is a quiet resting place for those young men who died in their prime.