Torphichen Preceptory

Torphichen Preceptory


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Torphichen Preceptory is a church in the village of Torphichen, West Lothian, Scotland, and comprises the remains of the preceptory (headquarters) of the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in Scotland.

History of Torphichen Preceptory

Torphichen Preceptory was a compound built in the 12th century around an existing church – founded by David I.

In the 13th century, it became the Scottish headquarters of the Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem, also known as the Knights Hospitaller. The order sheltered the sick and poor visiting the Holy Land and gave military protection to pilgrims. In Scotland, its work focused on managing its estates and raising recruits.

The preceptory answered to the priory in Clerkenwell in London (said to be the only other such headquarters maintained by this religious military order in Britain until the 16th century), and consequently took a pro-English stance during the Wars of Independence.

In March 1298, William Wallace visited and occupied Torphichen Preceptory before the Battle of Falkirk (the only documents signed by Wallace to survive to this day, the Custos Regni Scotiae, was signed there). This resulted in the order withdrawing from Scotland for a short period.

Torphichen Preceptory underwent further additions in the 15th century. Following the suppression of The Knight’s Hospitaller in 1554, Queen Victoria re-established the order in England in 1881 as the Most Venerable Order of the Knights of St John of Jerusalem, and George VI followed suit in Scotland in 1947.

Torphichen Preceptory today

Today, the order does charitable work – the best known being the St John’s Ambulance Association.

Sadly, very little of the Torphichen Preceptory has survived intact. Much of what remains was built in the 1400s, but visitors can still see echoes of its pretty architecture. Amongst the best preserved elements are the church’s crossing tower and transepts (the southern one contains an etching of a working diagram of the complicated ribbed vault) as well as the painted wall decorations.

An arrangement of five sanctuary stones that defined the preceptory’s area of sanctuary have also survived.

Getting to Torphichen Preceptory

Torphichen Preceptory is 24 miles west of Edinburgh. It’s easiest to travel here by car, which is approximately a 45 minute car journey along the M8. At exit 3A, take the A779, which converts into the A89 and later the B792 to Torphichen. (From Glasgow, take the M8 east to the A801 (Exit 4) and follow this until it converts into the B8047, taking you to Torphichen).

The nearest train station is Bathgate. From here, you can either take bus routes X18, 280, 275, 281, 21, 26A or X25 via Bathgate Council Offices on to Torphichen, or a taxi.


Torphichen Preceptory - History

The first property in Scotland of the pre-Reformation Order of St John, the Preceptory was established at Torphichen in West Lothian.

Acquired during the reign of David I, King of Scots (1124-1153), it became, and remained until the 16 th century, the Order’s administrative centre in Scotland, although it was mostly dependent on the Order’s Priory in Clerkenwell in London.

It was also a hospital and a place of worship. It held the right of sanctuary, and the large stones marking the sanctuary boundary can still be seen today.

The crossing tower and transepts of the Preceptory building remain, and the property is currently under the stewardship of Historic Environment Scotland. The parish church, built in 1756, occupies the site of the nave, and a choir of the same length would originally have extended eastwards beyond the crossing tower.

The domestic buildings, including a dormitory, dining hall, kitchen, and preceptor’s lodge were set around a cloistered court on the north side of the church, although only their foundations remain.

Work of the late 12 th century church survives in the fine blocked archway between the crossing and the nave this may originally have formed the chancel arch of a small church comprising a nave and a chapel.

In around 1200, it expanded as a cross-shaped church with transepts for side alters, a bell tower and an extended choir.

Towards the end of the 14 th century, the transepts were almost entirely rebuilt, with new windows and vaulting and a new stair-turret was provided to the tower. In the 15 th century, upper storeys were built above the two transepts.

St John Scotland holds an annual service at the Preceptory and parish church on the last Sunday of August of every year.

With the help of volunteers organised by St John Scotland’s West Lothian team, the Preceptory is open to the public over weekends and bank holidays from Good Friday to September 30 th , from 1pm until 5pm.

More information about visiting the Preceptory can be found on the Historic Environment Scotland website.

Weddings at Torphichen Preceptory

The unique Torphichen Preceptory is also available for use as a wedding venue.

Guests are welcome to decorate the Preceptory to suit the ceremony, and the nearby Torphichen Inn is also available for reception events. Fees for wedding hire are just £500, and go directly to supporting St John Scotland's charity work.

If you would like to enquiry about using the Preceptory as a wedding venue, please contact us on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for further information.


Undiscovered Scotland

Torphichen is an ancient settlement dating back at least as far as the establishment of a church here by St Ninian around 400AD. The name, difficult to spell either correctly, or consistently incorrectly, comes from the Scottish Gaelic "Torr Phigheainn" meaning "Hill of the Magpies".

St Ninian's church in Torphichen is said to have been visited by King Arthur during the 500s. Six hundred years later the site of the church was where King David I invited the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem to found a Preceptory.

After the Reformation the nave of the Preceptory became the Parish Kirk. In 1756 the nave was demolished and the T-shaped Parish Kirk on view today was built on its foundations at a cost of £300. This comes complete with three galleries and a laird's loft, the fireplace for which cost a further £12. Because of the box pews and low galleries, the interior feels smaller than it actually is.

For its first fifty years the Kirk had no pews, and the congregation either stood or brought their own stools. Once installed, the pews were rented to the highest bidders, with private boxed pews for families an irresistible reminder of corporate boxes at a modern sporting event: though perhaps without the champagne.

In the kirkyard is a relic that possibly predates even St Ninian's arrival. A sanctuary stone close to the path through the kirkyard marks the centre of an area of sanctuary that would have extended to outlying stone markers, one Scots mile to the north, south, east and west.

The east and west sanctuary stones still stand in their original positions. Many believe that the sanctuary here was pre-Christian and related to the Neolithic henge and burial mound at Cairnpapple Hill, to the east of Torphichen, a location from where it is possible to see most of central Scotland.

Torphichen itself is a remarkably attractive village. Clustered around a village green, its focus is the Jubilee Fountain installed for Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee in 1897. Behind this is the village post office and shop. On the opposite side of the main road through the village is the Torphichen Inn, carrying the cross of the Order of St John whose history in Scotland has been so closely connected with that of the village.


Torphichen Preceptory

The tower and transepts of a church built by the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in the 13th century, much altered.

Torpichen Preceptory History

The Tower, Transepts and Chancel remain from the original Preceptory. The building was presented to the The Hospitaller Knights of St John by Kind David I.

Torphichen Preceptory was the Order of St. John of Jerusalem’s main base from the early 12th century until the mid-16th century.

Torphichen was used to raise funds and ‘soldiers’ for the Crusades but also acted as a sanctuary. The Preceptory was rebuilt in 1756 occupying the site of the original Nave and with domestic buildings located off a traditional cloistered courtyard to the north of the Preceptory.

Torpichen Preceptory Opening Times

Summer Sat (11am to 5pm) & Sun + Bank Hols (2pm to 5pm): please check with owners.

Historic Scottish Buildings close by to Torpichen Preceptory

Historic Scottish Buildings

Comments / photos for the Torphichen Preceptory West Lothian page welcome


Torphichen Kirk

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English Enemies

Torphichen was once headquarters of the Knights Hospitaller in Scotland, a place of power and influence. The sign of the order was the v-shaped cross, and its full name Order of Knights of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem. Their cross is still part of everyday life on St John’s Ambulances. They were a catholic order, founded in Jerusalem in the 11 th century. The monks became knights after the first crusade, one of three fighting orders then acknowledged by the Pope (not anymore).

King David I (the saintly king) had introduced various orders into his country but not only for religious reasons. The monks brought wisdom, culture and wealth and were therefore essential to the king’s ideas of reform. After all, he was raised in the Anglo-Norman tradition, this was his cultural heritage, just as much as the Anglo-Norman knights, whom he settled throughout his kingdom.

The Knights Hospitaller worked mainly in hospitals where they took care of the pilgrims to the Holy Land, they protected them, fed and sheltered them. Their work was done in Jerusalem and not in Scotland. Here in Torphichen they recruited men and money for their work abroad.

The preceptory did not even belong to a Scottish priory but to an English one, Clerkenwell in London. A preceptory is a minor house within the order. But this was not only a religious question, this was very much a political one in those days. England was the enemy.

Contrary to the order of the Knights Templar, the knights Hospitaller still exist today only with a slightly different name. They also profited from the Templars whose land was endorsed to the Knights Hospitaller in the 14 th century.

The Knights-templar had posession in Denny, the Carse of Falkirk, and other parts of this country… They had a small house at Mount Hooly on the burgh-moor of Edinburgh. In digging a cemetery there, several skeletons were found lying cross-legged, with their swords by their sides, after the manner of their order, and indeed of military men connected nearly or distantly with the Holy Land.

William Nimmo, Robert Gillespie: The History of Stirlingshire. Glasgow, Morison 1880 p. 142 f

The great Scottish independence fighter William Wallace occupied Torphichen Preceptory in 1298. This was a decisive moment in his fight against England. Wallace held the last Parliament here before he fought in the Battle of Falkirk. A battle that ended in bloody disaster for Wallace and Scotland.

Here Wallace worked as Guardian of Scotland. Even his great adversary Edward Longshanks (King Edward I), the English King, stayed here. He withdrew to the preceptory after the Battle of Falkirk and got treatment. He had not been wounded in battle though but by a horse prior to the fighting. (1)

The knights disappeared to England. They had fought on the side of the English during the Wars of Independence. But they returned during the reign of King Robert the Bruce.

During the reformation the preceptory was surrendered to Mary Queen of Scots, she was a relative of the preceptor Sir James. Sir James bought his lands back and was forthwith Lord Torphichen. The order still holds the post of honorary Preceptor of Torphichen.

Only fragments of the original order’s house survived. The building is of a much later date and so are the graves and stones in the adjacent cemetery. Some of the brothers are buried here.

Maybe William Wallace walked among these graves once. Thinking about Scotland and the Battle he was about to fight. Edward would defeat him, and Wallace would resign as Guardian of Scotland while staying in Torphichen.


Torphichen Preceptory - Historic Scotland , Bathgate

Torphichen Preceptory is a church in the village of Torphichen, West Lothian, Scotland. It comprises the remains of the preceptory (headquarters) of the Knights Hospitaller of the Order of St John of Jerusalem in Scotland. The placename may be Gaelic in origin, e.g., "Tóir Féichín" (the boundary/sanctuary of St Féichín) or Brythonic, e.g., modern Welsh "tref fechan" (little town). The name "Tóir Féichín" with its Gaelic reference to the Boundary/Sanctuary stones set one mile around the village is most likely the true meaning of the village and Preceptory name rather than the modern Welsh which has no historical precedent that overrides the true meaning of those Neolithic sanctuary stones.

The Preceptory was built over a vast wooden platform beneath which lay a man made island and causeway thought to date back before the first century AD before Christianity came to Scotland and may have been a place of Pagan worship with a circle of carved standing stones, around a main wooden building that served as a sanctuary and pagan roundhouse. The stones had been removed and buried to the East in a local field, but were discovered and destroyed by a local farmer, who feared archaeologists would disturb his fields. For legal reasons the name of this farmer cannot be here named. Simply that evidence existed that the stones from the earlier site did exist.


The Bishop Surname History

Bishop families around the world are related to each other. The surname Bishop has a very unique history, and has undergone many changes throughout history. The surname Bishop in all it's spellings, comes from the Latin surname of Episcopus. The Latin name Episcopus comes from the Greek Episkpos, meaning "overseer".

Episcopus was used as a surname long before Bishop. Germanic tribal migrations, especially Norman achievement and influence, spread those that would take the Bishop surname to many parts of the Western world. Today variations of the surname Bishop can be found in many countries, with most or all of these variations existing in the United States of America:

Belgium:

de Bischop, Bischop, Bischope

England, Scotland, Wales, Australia, Canada, & the United States:

Bishop, Bisshop, Bischop, Bischope, Bishopp, Byshop, Bysshop, & Bissope

Ireland:

Giolla Easbuig, Easbog, Easbuig, O’Giollaeasbug, Gillaspy, Gillespy, Gellesby, Gillespie, Anespie, Anespic, McAnespie, & MacAnespie

France:

Eveque, Evesque, Leveque and Levesque, Espec, & Espic

Germany:

Holland:

Italy:

Vescovi, Piscotti, Episcopo, & Piscopo

Spain:

The Former Czechoslovakia:

Poland:

Greece:

The name also possibly survives as Veck and Vick.

400 A.D. -1066 A.D.

There were several lines of people that already had or would later take the surname Bishop, that came into the British Isles at different times. This began with what we know today as the Anglo Saxon (Visigoth) invasions of the Jutes, Angles, Saxons and Frisians in the early 5th century and ended with the Norman Invasion of 1066.

We currently believe (but have not proven) our direct lineage came to the British Isles with the Flemish contingent of William the Conqueror in 1066 or soon there after.

We have discovered many clues in our research that lead us to believe this, including but not limited to Sir William Bishop, the elder’s original armorial bearings, the Norman/Flemish families we are intermarried with throughout our time in Scotland and our connections to early Knight Templar preceptories and activity in Scotland. Anything is possible however, and we will continue to let the research guide us where it will.

1066 A.D.

The Normans were the people who gave their name to Normandy, a region in northern France. They descended from Viking conquerors of the territory and the native population of mostly Frankish and Gallo-Roman stock. Their identity emerged initially in the first half of the tenth century, and gradually evolved over succeeding centuries until they disappeared as an ethnic group in the early thirteenth century.

The name "Norman" derives from "Northmen" or "Norsemen", after the Vikings from Scandinavia who founded Normandy (Northmannia in its original Latin).

Many of the Normans sailed across the English Channel with William (The Bastard) Duke of Normandy, who after defeating his cousin King Harald of England at the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066, became known as William I (The Conqueror) King of England.

Sir Guillaume Espec (Bishop) is listed with the Knights who accompanied William (The Conqueror) across the English Channel and fought with him at the Battle of Hastings on October 14, 1066.

The Normans and Flemish came into Scotland, building castles and founding noble families who would provide some future kings such as King Robert I (The Bruce) of Scotland as well as founding some of the Scottish clans.

1125 A.D.

King David I of Scotland was instrumental in introducing Normans, Flemish and Norman culture to Scotland. During the reign of King David in 1125, the Order of the Knights Templar was established.

Hughes de Payen (Hugh the Pagen), one of the original nine founding members of the Order, petitioned King David I of Scotland, to establish a Preceptory at Torphichen, Scotland in 1130. Hughes de Payen was the brother-in-law of Sir Henry St. Clair/Sinclair the Baron of Lothian. The Barony of Torphichen was within the Barony of Lothian. The St. Clair family controlled the Barony of Lothian while the Knights Templar controlled the Barony of Torphichen.

1130 A.D. - Knights templar

Historical records from 1130 list the Knights Templar at Torphichen.

Theobald de La'Grange was Master of Torphichen. Brian Le'Jay was the Prior. William St. Clair was the Master of Arms. Andrew Levesque/Leveske (Bishop) was the Preceptor. Richard de Moubray was the Treasurer.

Torphichen Preceptory has been under the control of the Knights Hospitallar since the destruction of the original Knights Templar order in 1314.

1135 A.D.

The Leveque/Levesque (Bishop) family did not arrive into Scotland until the time of King David I of Scotland in 1135. This line of the Bishop family should not be confused with the Espec (Bishop) family who arrived in England in 1066 with William (The Conqueror).

1200’s A.D.

According to Robin Orr Blair previous Lord Lyon King of Arms of Scotland (February 2001-August 2007): “Our Bishop line were Saxon by origin and moved into the Nith River Valley in the 1200’s. The area was still a part of England and did not become a part of Scotland until the latter part of that century." The Bishops in Scotland are are directly related to the Saxons in England, but branched off by the mid 1200’s.”

1265 A.D.

Sir James Bisshop was knighted. Sir James was later deemed an outlaw by Edward I, and his lands were forfeited to Simon deMontfort.

1284 A.D.

Sir John Byshop was knighted. Sir John fought at the Battle of Borough Bridge on March 16, 1322. (Sir John was captured, held for Ransom and died in 1322.)

1291 A.D.

Sir John Bisshop, Knight Templar, fought under the banner of King Edward I of England, and Donald VI Earl of Mar Scotland. For his services in the crusades, Sir John was promised lands and title. During the siege of Acre, April 6-May 18, 1291, Sir John fought as part of a Templar contingent defending the coastal city of Acre from the Mamluks fighting under Al-Ashraf Khalil, the 8th Kipchak Turkic Sultan of Egypt. Sir John Bisshop was wounded during the siege of Acre, and died of his wounds enroute to, or on the island of Malta. Sir John Bisshop was given a Templar burial on the Island of Malta.

William Bissope (Sir John Bisshop’s son) was granted lands by Donald VI, Earl of Mar in 1291. Because of the death of Sir John Bisshop, Donald VI Earl of Mar gave Sir John's son William Bissope the lands promised to Sir John for his service in the crusade. These lands are in the vicinity of present day Mar, Scotland.

1296 A.D.

William de Bishop, of Roxsburgh, signed the Ragman Rolls.

1306 A.D.

The Bishop family backed the claim of Robert (The Bruce) Earl of Carrick/7th Lord Annandale to the throne of Scotland. Upon his ascension to the throne of Scotland on March 25, 1306.

1314 A.D. - June 23-24

Sir Andrew Levesque (Bisshop), Knights Templar and Sir James Levesque (Bisshop), Knights Templar, fought at the Battle of Bannockburn.

1319 A.D.

Sir James Levesque (Bisshop) died.

Robert I (The Bruce) King of Scotland honored the family ties, and the service of the Bisshop/Bissope family by granting the Bisshop/Bissope family land in the area of present day Midlothian and Westlothian Scotland, near Currie, Linlithgow, and Whitburn in Westlothian, Scotland.

1489 A.D. - May 23

In Midlothian, Scotland, Thomas Bishcop witnessed a land grant as listed in the Protocol Book of James Young, 1485-1489.

1494 - 1500 A.D.

Andrew Bischop was listed on the roll of the Burgess of Edinburgh and his son (heir) James Bischop was listed on the roll of the Burgesses of Edinburgh in 1494 and 1500.

1505 A.D. - March 31

In Edinburgh, Midlothian, Scotland, Alexander Bischop witnessed a land grant for James Skelding.

1507 A.D. - November 10

In Midlothian, Scotland, a land deed for Sir George Lauder was completed at the dwelling-house of Alexander Young (Nortoune), the dwelling-house of James Bischop (Northraw) and the gate of the castle of Haltoun.

1541 A.D.

Thomas Bischop, the Elder was deeded Ochiltree Castle in Westlothian, Scotland. Thomas Bischop held Ochiltree until 1568. He also held lands in Castlemilk, Scotland.

1544 A.D.

Thomas Bischop, the Elder was a companion in arms to Matthew Stuart, 4th Earl of Lennox, on the Dumbarton campaign. Matthew Stewart, 4th Earl of Lennox is the father of Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, second husband to Mary Queen of Scots. For his distinguished service on this campaign, Thomas Bishop, the Elder was embraced in front of the Privy Council and rewarded by King Henry VIII of England, with Pocklington Manor in Yorkshire.

1544 A.D. - July 6

Thomas Bischop, the Elder was made Armiger to Matthew Stuart, 4th Earl of Lennox. Thomas Bishcop, the Elder, Armiger, was also made a free English citizen. Thomas Bishop, the Elder, Armiger, was given Pocklington Manor, in Yorkshire, England, and was also given free reign by King Henry VIII of England, to negotiate the marriage of Matthew Stuart, 4th Earl of Lennox and King Henry VIII's niece Lady Margaret Douglas.

1551 A.D. - June 27

In Perth, Scotland, Patrick Bischop witnessed an agreement between Johne Creichtoun of Strathurd and William Ruthven of Ballindene, as listed in the Protocol Book of Sir Robert Rollok, 1534-1552.

1568 A.D. - December

Thomas Bischop, the Elder, Armiger, under the pen name "Tom Truth" was accused of circulating a rhyme or poem "In defense of the Queen of Scots against the Earl of Murray". This led to Thomas being placed in the Tower of London and interrogated for a period of time in 1569.

1570 (or 1572) A.D. - March 22

On Good Friday, in Knavesmire, Newcastle, Yorkshire, England, Thomas Bischop, the Younger, of Pocklington was hanged, drawn, and quartered by Queen Elizabeth I of England, for his participation in the Northern Rebellion in 1569.

1575 A.D. - August 12

King James VI of Scotland granted a land charter to Robert Bischop, alias Huntrodes, Burgess of Edinburgh, (father of Thomas Bischop, the Elder, Armiger) and Agnes Bischop, (sister of Thomas Bischop, the Elder, Armiger).

Sir James Bischop, the Elder

Our ancestry, as proven to the Lord Lyons court in 2003, begins with Sir James Bischop, the Elder, who was born in Mid-Lothian between 1540-1545.

One of Sir James Bischop, the Elder's sons named Sir William Bischop, the Elder, was a Sheriff and Burgess of Edinburgh. Sir William Bischop, the Elder, married Elizabeth Ramsay, and they are the progenitors of the Bishops of Currie.

Captain John Bishop

Between 1637-1643, one of the sons of Sir William Bischop, the Elder, Captain John Bishop, came to Virginia to raise tobacco. John Bishop founded the Swan's Bay Plantation in Charles City County, Virginia and became a Captain in Virginia House of Burgesses. Captain John Bishop sent the tobacco he raised back to Greenock, the port for Glasgow, Scotland to his brother James Bischop.

Captain John Bishop was the part owner in the ship the Golden Lyon. He is the progenitor of our line of the Bishop family.

2003 A.D. - October 29

After many years of research, our family successfully proved our Bishop family line back to Sir James Bischop, father of Sir William Bischop, the Elder, and Grandfather of Captain John Bishop. The House of Bishop was established, and our family name was recorded in the Hall of Names in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The House of Bishop successfully petitioned the Lord Lyon's court to remartriculate the armorial bearings of Sir William Bischop, the Elder, father of Captain John Bishop, and our last ancestor to live in Scotland.

The House of Bishop also had the Bishop tartan registered and weaved, based on a four hundred year old sett.

Today, there are thousands of Bishops descended from Captain John Bishop.


For many years this was the headquarters of the Knights of St. John in Scotland. It was granted a charter by David I in 1153. William Wallace stayed at Torphichen before the battle of Falkirk in 1298. After the Knights were forced out of Jerusalem and set up headquarters on Rhodes it was the rule that to be preceptor you had to spend 3 years on Rhodes.

After the suppression of the Knights Templar in 1309 their property passed to the Knights Hospitallers.

Sir William Knollis became preceptor in 1466 despite not following the above rule. He later became James III's Treasurer and took the title Lord of Saint Johns.

The Knights were disbanded in the Protestant Reformation of 1560. However Sir James Sandilands, the last preceptor, acquired the forfeited estates as a temporal barony with the hereditary title of Lord Torphichen. The Order was reconstituted in England in 1831 but not in Scotland until 1947.

Although extended and reconstructed over the years, some parts of the Preceptory, such as the vaulted tower, date to the 13th century.


The monument is listed in the RCAHMS as NS 97 SE 7.

Hay, G. (1957)The Architect of post'Reformation Churches, 1560'1843.

MacGibbon & Ross (1887-920) Castellated and Domestic Architecture Vol. V, 131'40.

MacGibbon & Ross (1896-7) Ecclesiastical Architecture Vol. III, 139.

Mackay, H. P. R. (1966'67), Torphichen Preceptory: a footnote to the published description, Proc. Soc. Antiq. Scot., Vol. 99, 167'72.

McCall, H. B.(1894) The History and Antiquities of the Parish of Mid'Calder.


Watch the video: Ghost Stories of auld Torphichen