In 1638, the National Covenant was presented and signed in front of the pulpit. This was a document of great importance in the history of Scotland (an original copy is on displayed in our museum). This was a crucial development in a turbulent period in Scotland’s history, revolving around religious and civil freedom. For centuries, the idea of monarchs ruling by ‘divine right’ was the established norm; but reformers, though loyal to the monarch, could not accept the idea of his or her divine authority to govern. The Covenant was the resulting declaration of rights; the right of ordinary people to exercise their God-given consciences in matters of faith and life. By promoting the idea that no individual had privileged access to, or knowledge of, the divine, and by encouraging people to read the scriptures for themselves, it could be argued that the Reformation movement led eventually to the ideas of democratic rights that developed during the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.
During Cromwell’s invasion of Scotland, Greyfriars was used as a barracks from 1650 to 1653. Little of what you see survives from the original church, a simple six-bay building in late Gothic style with side aisles and pillars forming arcades. Worshippers either stood or brought their own stools, and the only furniture would have been the pulpit. Entrances were from the east (still visible from outside), south (behind the pulpit), and north. The old north door now forms one of the main entrances to the church, inside the porch. The church originally ended where the great west arch is now, above the organ.
Beyond that was a small, squat tower, where the Town Council kept its gunpowder – which, possibly in an accident-waiting-to-happen scenario, blew up in 1718. The west end of the church was reduced to ruins and a new west wall was built, two bays into the church. On the western side, a new church was created by adding two further bays in the same style. It is possible to still to see the join – look out for a vertical crack in the wall and the differing styles of lancet windows. On the outside, the differences between the two churches are clearer and explain the curious ‘double’ entrance porch on the north side of the building; separate entrances for separate congregations. The porch, added on the north side in 1721, provided access to both churches.