Torphichen Preceptory - History and Facts | History Hit

Torphichen Preceptory

Torphichen, Scotland, United Kingdom

Torphichen Preceptory was an important base in Scotland for the Knights Hospitaller.

Amy Irvine

18 Mar 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Torphichen Preceptory

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.

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