'this [the church divided into two halves by a wall] was the situation until the 1930s when it was decided to restore the building. This necessitated excavation of the choir to provide for a new choir room etc. Being the history teacher at the High School at that time, I was very interested in this and paid frequent visits to watch the results. From close under the floor of the choir down the whole depth excavated - say 10 to 12 feet - the ground was packed full of decaying and decayed bones, proving that this area had been the public burial ground of the burgh before the West Church was built. They were packed - literally like sardines in a barrel. Only one find was made, a sepulchral chalice in pewter, now kept in the church. it lay a few feet below the floor and the person by which it was lying had been buried in a coarse, black robe held together by copper clasps. Unfortunately the cloth disintegrated on exposure to the air & I couldn't preserve any. The person unknown but must have been someone of note. At one time I thought it might be Archbishop Morton, executed for supporting Mary Queen of Scots, likely in Broad Street or at the Old Bridge [It was, in fact, Archbishop John Hamilton who was executed on Broad St in 1571]. But as far as memory goes after more than 50 years, I have my doubts, as I now think there were burials above him & I don't think the new clergy would have allowed these at the end of the sixteenth century.'
In reply to my letter to him he wrote:
'my memory is naturally vague on detail after nearly fifty years. However, I am almost certain that there were no skulls visible in the wall of the excavation and that the body with the chalice was in a horizontal position. The other fragments of bone visible were very small (as were his) and much decayed.... I have the impression that thse were mostly in a horizontal position, suggesting regular interment without coffins, suggesting a very early period, though there must have been considerable disturbance when the West Church [as above, this is correctly the East Church] was being built at the beginning of the sixteenth century.'
Duncan McNaughton produced the Index to the Transactions of the Stirling Natural History and Archaeological Society (1936); he also wrote A History of Old Stirling (1980) and some short notes and papers in the Transactions. And in 1999 he had an item 'My Stirling As Remembered 70 years ago' in the Forth Naturalist and Historian (volume 22 p. 117-132). The footnotes to that article give a brief biography.
It would be fascinating if anyone can add to this story or has more information about Mr McNaughton, the cup (which the minister had in 1991).
Brian Morrison asks below whether the fact that the chalice was found near the site of the former High Altar of the kirk is significant?
Yes, it is. This was the most prestigious site to be buried - people might even that thought that it improved your chances of salvation! The area's prestige continued after the reformation, even after the removal of the altar; in the 17th century burial there cost up to £100 Scots whilst burial at the west end of the kirk was only £40. The last burial in the kirk I am aware of is that of Rev Mr Mushet in the late 18th century. He is commemorated by a stone in the kirkyard quite close to the steps up from the kirk. But it relates that he was actually buried in the chancel of kirk. (For the burial rates see John G Harrison, 'Some early gravestones in the Holy Rude Kirkyard, Stirling' , Forth Naturalist and
Historian 13, 1990, 79-96.[You can find that at http://www.fnh.stir.ac.uk/journal/back_issues/index.php].
However, there is something of a puzzle here since the usual understanding is that the east end of the kirk was only begun in the early 16th century and numbers of burials within it can never have been very great. So, were these burials in private aisles around the smaller 15th century kirk, which lay to the west? Only a full-scale excavation could resolve the issue and that does not seem very likely! It would be useful to know more about the chalice as the style should give some indication of date.
I now see that, according to a report in the Glasgow Herald, this chalice was exhibited very shortlyafter being found, in 1938.(http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=2507&dat=19380616&id=3UVAAAAAIBAJ&sjid=xIQMAAAAIBAJ&pg=2482,2571107)
It was then thought to be of thirteenth or fourteenth century date.
According to a report by Gammack in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquarlies of Scotland, a sepulchral chalice was found at Bervie in 1882 about five yards from the south east corner of the ruined church - so the idea of such a prestigious burial outside the church is not impossible http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/catalogue/adsdata/arch-352-1/dissemination/pdf/vol_017/17_371_385.pdf According to 'Scottish Pewter-ware and Pewterers' by Ingleby Wood, this chalice was of fifteenth century date.