Kirk - High Kirk

High Kirk is the term sometimes used to describe a congregation of the Church of Scotland which uses a building which was a cathedral prior to the Reformation. As the Church of Scotland is not governed by bishops, it has no cathedrals in the episcopal sense of the word. In more recent times, the traditional names have been revived, so that in many cases both forms can be heard: Glasgow Cathedral, as well as the High Kirk of Glasgow, and St. Giles' Cathedral, as well as the High Kirk of Edinburgh.

The term High Kirk should, however, be used with some caution. Several towns have a congregation known as the High Kirk which were never pre-Reformation cathedrals. Examples include:

  • Dundee, where the High Kirk is not the historic Dundee Parish Church known as St Mary's;
  • Paisley where there were former congregations and parishes surrounding three churches: the High Kirk (now formally Oakshaw Trinity Church, but still retaining the High Kirk name), the Middle Kirk and the Laigh Kirk, the Middle Kirk no longer existing as a religious institution and none of the three names referred to Paisley's historic Abbey;
  • Stevenston High Kirk in Ayrshire.

There is no connection between the term 'High Kirk' and the term 'High Church', which is a tradition within the Anglican Communion.


The verb to kirk, meaning 'to present in church', was probably first used for the annual church services of some Scottish town councils, known as the Kirking of the Council. Since the establishment of a Scottish Parliament in 1999, the Kirking of the Parliament has become a fixed ceremony at the beginning of a session. Historically a newly married couple would attend public worship as man and wife for the first time at their Kirking. In Nova Scotia, Kirking of the Tartan ceremonies have become an integral part of most Scottish Festivals and Highland Games.

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