Iconic church launches 400th anniversary celebrations

An iconic Edinburgh church known around the world for Greyfriars Bobby, the loyal terrier who guarded his master's grave for 14 years, will mark its 400th anniversary this year with a series of special events.

Rev Richard Frazer cutting a cake
Rev Richard Frazer is joined by the congregation for cutting the anniversary cake.

Greyfriars Kirk is also famous for its association with the Covenanters, church radicals of the 17th century. The celebrations will feature both its history and the vibrant community that the Kirk represents today.

Festival organiser Gillian Couper said: "It is 400 years since the Kirk first opened its doors in 1620, making it one of Scotland's oldest institutions, and it continues to thrive and grow to this day.

"Events will celebrate the life and times of Greyfriars past and present. They will explore the rich history and stories associated with it, through which it became a beacon of the Enlightenment and leading centre for the arts.

"We look forward to welcoming visitors, local and from all over the world, to enjoy these events and help celebrate this fantastic anniversary."

Four Skye terriers
In a nod to Greyfriars Bobby a group of Skye terriers came along to the launch

Inspired by renowned figures from the Enlightenment who are buried in the Kirkyard, or who were ministers of Greyfriars, a Festival of Science, Wisdom and Faith (5-7 June) will feature a line-up including forensic anthropologist Dame Sue Black and writer Richard Holloway.

A series of talks and panels will encourage the public to reflect on the tension that has often existed between science, wisdom and faith and whether this has changed in the modern era.

A new book by local historian Roy Pinkerton has been launched to coincide with the 400 years exploring the history of the 17 churches which have united to form the present-day Greyfriars congregation.

A group photo of the congregation of Greyfriars
Greyfriars Kirk is at the heart of a thriving community

In September there will be a spectacular flower festival which will see the building filled with colourful displays paying tribute to the rich history of the 17 churches.

Musical highlights include a performance of the Renaissance masterpiece Spem in Alium by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus, led by the conductor Gregory Batsleer on (29 Feb).

During Lent, in a joint concert, the Dunedin Consort and Scottish Ensemble will perform Sir James Macmillan's Seven Last Words from the Cross (27 Mar).

Edinburgh Royal Choral Union plan a special commission for choir, soloist and organfrom composer Thomas LaVoy (7 Nov). This will develop the theme of religious freedom in honour of the Kirk's anniversary and the landing of the Mayflower in America 400 years ago.

Tommy from the Grassmarket Project with Brillo the dog. Brillo is wearing Greyfriars tartan.
Tommy from the Grassmarket Project with Brillo the dog at the press launch. Brillo is wearing Greyfriars tartan.

The Kirk's history spans five centuries and the free lunchtime concert series, Greyfriars at 12, will explore music from each of them, plus other celebratory themes.

There will also be chances to get involved, with a 'Come & Sing' Brahms' Requiem, conducted by Angus Tully (25 Apr), and further events planned.

Rev Richard Frazer, who has been the minister of Greyfriars Kirk since 2003, said: "Christmas 2020 marks not only 400 years of our building but 400 years of our congregation, an uninterrupted history that has been sustained from the dawn of the modern era and an astonishing record of faith in action."

Besides its active congregations, worshipping in Gaelic and English, the Kirk contributes to a flourishing local community in central Edinburgh through creating communities of support, social enterprise and wellbeing at the Grassmarket Community Project and the Greyfriars Charteris Centre.

Find out more on the Greyfriars Kirk website