The origins of St Monans Parish Church date back to 875 when St Monan (or possibly one or more of his bones) was buried here and a shrine was established to venerate his memory. In 1346 David II was wounded by two barbed arrows at the battle of Neville’s Cross. One could not be extracted, but miraculously removed itself from his wound after David had made a pilgrimage to the shrine of St Monans. To give thanks he ordered the building of a church on the site.
Over the following eight years the church was built at a cost of £613, 7s. 0d., plus a further £6, 13s. 4d. for the woodwork. In the late 1400s the church was given by James III to form the basis of a Dominican Priory. Most sources agree that today’s church stands largely as built by David II: though it has also been suggested that many architectural features owe more to the 1400s, perhaps through modification at the time it became a priory church.
Actually, it is a slight overstatement to suggest that the church was "finished" in the 1300s. Look at it from its west end and it is obvious that the chancel and two transepts that do exist were intended to be joined to a nave, which was probably never built.
In 1544 the church was set ablaze and badly damaged in a naval attack on St Monans by the English in which the village’s entire fishing fleet was burned or sunk. From 1646 the chancel served as a parish church for St Monans and the transepts became ruinous. A major renovation followed in 1826 which, among other things, lowered the floor of the whole church by four feet.
In 1955 a more sympathetic restoration was undertaken. This restored the floor level of the church to the one its original builders had intended, it removed plaster added in the 1826 renovation, and it allowed the triple sedilia and piscina at the east end of the north wall to be viewed once more at their proper level.
Today’s St Monans Parish Church remains a striking and intriguing building. Its location is superb, being at the west end of St Monans and right on the shore, very close to the works designed to protect it from the sea. This must be an awesome spot in severe weather. Internally the church is painted almost wholly white.
The effect is to turn the chancel, which is well endowed with windows, into an extremely bright space. Even the transepts and crossing, far less well furnished with windows, make the most of the available light as a result of the white walls.
The Fife Coastal Path passes along the base of the protective wall sheltering St Monans Church from the sea. This is a regular route for visitors intending to view the precarious remains of Newark Castle, a third of a mile to the south west: but it is worth remembering that at high tide this part of the path is impassible, and the alternative inland route should be used instead.
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