Uchtred, Lord of Galloway, son of Fergus, granted the lands of Kirkwinnyn to the monks of Holm Cultram Abbey in Cumberland. This land consisted mainly of a sheep walk and a salt pan on the coast at a site to be chosen. The Abbey chose Colvend. This being outside the bounds, the monks had to pay £6 yearly to Uchtred. If the monks did not find the place to their liking in three years time their deposit of 10 Marks should be returned to them. The first Charter was granted between 1160 and 1174. After three years the monks decided to stay on. Between 1185 and 1186 the lease became a Feu of £10 a year.
This grant of Kirkgunzeon was not so much a piece of munificence as business on the part of the Lords of Galloway. They rented the land to the monks - they did not give it.
Joceline, Bishop of Glasgow, confirmed the grants in 1190, with the Chapel of Kirkwinnin. He refers to "the place and Chapel in Galweia called Kyrkewinnin". This Chapel was dedicated to St Winnen or Winning. Nearby is St Winnian's Well, a spring which might earlier have been a pagan Holy Well.
In 1207 Pope Innocent ratified the grant.
St Winnen existed in the 8th Century. He is described in Pont's MS as a holy man who came from Ireland with disciples and taught the Gospel. In the Proprium Sanctorum he is said to have come from a noble Scottish family, where Kilwinning Parish, Ayrshire was named after him.
The name of the church has had various spellings - Kirkgunguent and Kircwinnyn being found in some documents. In "The Place Names of Galloway" Kirkgunzeon derives from Cille Mo Fhainnein, or Killymingan, or Killiemingan, meaning "The Church of St Finnen" who is the Patron Saint of Kirkgunzeon. Finnen is the old Gaelic spelling of Winnen.
When Uchtred first brought the monks to Kirkgunzeon the ancient Celtic church was at its last gasp, and it is not known whether public worship was still maintained at Killiemingan.
This Cistercian Abbey at Kirkgunzeon became a resting place for monks on pilgrimage to Whithorn, or on Abbey duties, once they had forded the Nith at Dumfries.
In a letter from the Pope in 1222 to Walter, Bishop of Candida Casa (Whithorn), the Bishop of Glasgow was ordered to determine the status of the Parish, as to whether it was parochial under Glasgow. This could not be proved but the Bishop of Glasgow finally agreed that for the sake of religion he would permit the monks to hold the grange and the Chapel of St Winninus according to the consent of Bishop Jocelin.
In 1368 Sir John Herries was granted all the lands of Kirkgunyane which belonged to the Monastery of Holm. Herries was to compensate the monks, but it is doubtful if the monks ever saw any compensation. After the grant to Herries, the highly irregular position of Kirkgunzeon as an ecclesiastical entity came to an end and it became a definite parochial unit of the church. The church was now committed to lay men and served by priests.
Worship, baptisms, marriages and burials continued throughout the following centuries in the Mediaeval Church. The Kirk Bell, cast in 1674, has on it the name Kirkwinong. This bell is still used in the present building.
The Rev Richard Pocock, who became Bishop of Ossory, made a tour in Scotland in 1747. He speaks of "Caer Gunian" and a little old church with a round window in the east end and a cross in relief over the door. The kirk was 44 feet long and the "Queere" 20, with a width of 17 feet and an arch between. The roof was of oak, said to have been brought from Holm Cultram.
This building was used as the Parish Church until the closing years of the 18th century, by which time it had deteriorated and was in a poor state of repair. The Presbytery agreed to visit Kirkgunzeon in order to see what could be done to improve the state of the building. After a conference, they decided to rebuild the Church. Estimates were taken from different contractors whose names were found in the Presbytery books and the final cost was £274. The new Church opened for worship in 1796 during the Ministry of the Rev James Heron. The Manse was built in 1804.
Outwardly the Church changed little, however in 1957 some interior alterations were made. A new communion table, baptismal font, and minister and elders’ chairs were presented by members of the congregation. The wrought iron cross, designed by T A Sutter-Watt, RSW and made by Robert Smith, son of the village blacksmith now has a place in the Church in Dalbeattie.