Our Church is dedicated to John the Baptist. We are not sure why, but just as John baptised in the River Jordan which was important in that area, so the River Tay was important to Perth…
The first historical reference to a church dedicated to St John the Baptist in Perth was in 1126AD, in a grant from King David I of Scotland. By that date it was a Benedictine church, linked to Dunfermline Abbey. However, there is archaeological evidence of a church on this site three centuries earlier.
It was common practice for churches to be named after saints, especially martyrs, and for their altars to contain the relics of that saint. Relics of St Andrew were brought to Scotland in 345AD from Greece. In the case of St John's Kirk it is likely that a monarch, abbot or benefactor, with a special devotion, to St John the Baptist chose the name for the church in Perth.
The dedication has been a popular one - with the the city's name becoming St Johnstoun for a period of time in the Middle Ages and Perth's football team adopting the name 'St Johnstone' in 1884 - with the Lamb of God, the symbol most closely associated with St John the Baptist, embedded in its badge.
In 1991, reflecting on the Kirk's 750th anniversary the poet, George Mackay Brown, wrote in his poem, 'The Stone Ship Rising'.
The tree at the east of the kirk
Stood stark in winter,
glittering and tinkling with ice
And budded in April, branching choirs of birdsong,
And wore, at midsummer, the long green coat.
The townsfolk of Perth
paused, in their comings and goings at market place
and the street of the tradesmen
to see the stone ship rising into the sun.
Through many centuries it must voyage, that ship, set east
to greet the rising sun
And the Light beyond the light, the Glory of God.
It must endure, in the heaven-voyage,
Tempest and the perils of reef and sandbank,
And seasons when the wind of the spirit is mute
and the Kirk is becalmed.
May St John stand forever at the helm
and steer his faithful people into the unknown:
for the light is upon the waters always,
and the earth-bound kirk
voyages on the sea of purification -
the sea dance - to the Golden City.
The Stone Ship Rising (extract) - George Mackay Brown
George Mackay Brown's words are also reflected in this tapestry hanging on a pillar in the south aisle. It celebrates the role that the Kirk has played in the life of the city of Perth over so many centuries.
The magnificent interior of St John's was lovingly restored to its mediaeval glory by Sir Robert Lorimer between 1923 and 1926.
On visiting the Kirk, it is of interest to note the steps leading down into the building at the West Door. This is common feature of old churches dedicated to St John the Baptist and it is said that it is like stepping down into the River Jordan.