DAILY OPENING FOR VISITORS (Admission free. Donations welcome) Visitors will be welcomed from May 1st until September 30th. Times: 1.30 to 4pm Sunday to Friday and from 11am to 4pm on Saturday, providing the church is not being used for weddings, funerals or other special services. - Visitors are always welcome to join us for Sunday Worship at 9.30 am or 11 am, or for or any other advertised public events in the church- see website. We only have the East End of the church available until July because of the renewal of the lighting system and the rest is screened off as a work site. Therefore the visitor experience will be limited meantime. Contact the Church Office to arrange guided tours for clubs or groups.
A few minutes walk from Haddington town centre is the remarkably restored, very fine C14 church of St Mary. Of cathedral proportions, it lies beside the beautiful River Tyne Riverside Walk and near to the medieval Nungate Bridge. Wide, sunny and grassy banks and the adjacent St Mary's Pleasance Garden make wonderful picnic settings. There are several eateries not far away.
The Story of St Mary's
St Mary's was started in 1383 to replace the much smaller parish church which was damaged along with most of the town in the Burnt Candlemass, but it was itself later severely damaged in the 16th century during the 18 month Siege of Haddington. The huge church was left partially roofless. When peace was restored at last, John Knox is said to have persuaded the townspeople to reroof the nave (west end) of their church. St Andrew's Abbey, still responsible for the east end, could no longer afford the repairs due to the great religious unrest at the time. So choir, transepts and tower were left in ruins, open to the skies, the crows and all weathers for over 400 years. Stonework was removed from the north transept to build a barrier wall between nave and the choir to enclose the west end. Although removing stone from the ruins could attract large fines, much disappeared over the ensuing centuries and, without doubt, some of it could probably still be found in many local walls and cottages to this day. By the 19th century many of the exposed columns, walls and window mullions had to be stabilised as required. See the pillar that still remains many degrees off vertical!
The repaired nave had many makeovers during the next 400 years to house growing congregations. The arches were raised and the floor lowered (C12 cemetery found beneath) to allow enough height for lofts and galleries to be built on the side walls. The plain Presbyterian church of the 1700s became a much decorated Victorian church with many fine stained glass memorial windows and other features.
Finally in the 1970s, with much fundraising and sponsorships, the Restoration of the old ruins took place; St Mary's was once again the longest parish church in Scotland. There are still some pre-reformation features - medieval carvings inside and out including the excavated old town crest with goats and grapes, and several green men. The use of much recycling during the restoration saved costs; extra stone came from Edinburgh's closed Caledonian Railway Station (at the west end of Princes Street), a flour mill and a railway bridge; slates from the demolished Glasgow's Gorbals; the Burne-Jones' stained glass windows from a demolished church in Torquay; and a peel of 8 bells from a chapel in Aberdeenshire (hung in time to ring in the Millennium). Light-weight, painted fibre-glass "stone" vaulting was crafted by a Norfolk boatbuilder; and a fine pipe organ, of Baroque design, was built locally by an organ-builder in the Lammermuir Hills. Inside the church is the grave of Jane Welsh Carlyle (wife of Thomas Carlyle), and just outside the west door is that of John Brown (C18 Minister of Haddington, author of the "Self-interpreting Bible"). The old medieval sacristy, accessed from within the church is now the Lauderdale Aisle or "Chapel of the Three Kings" (an ecumenical chapel built over a crypt for the burials of the Maitland family - The Earls of Lauderdale - and contains striking lifesize marble effigies).
Wonderful acoustics, that once augmented medieval chantings, now allow excellent recitals/concerts. St Mary's Choir sings at most Sunday11am services. They are usually joined by St Mary's Choristers once a month.
SUMMER OPENING TIMES FOR VISITORS - May 1 until 30 September.
Sunday to Friday; 1.30pm - 4pm, with a short act of worship at 2pm. Saturday; 11am - 4pm. with a 12 noon act of worship. Please check our website www.stmaryskirk.co.uk before planning your visit in case we are closed for a private service. Sunday services are usually at 9.30am and 11.00am.
EVENTS IN ST MARY'S - St Mary's is proud to host various civic events, as well as our own church activities, for example:
SEPTEMBER - LAMMERMUIR MUSIC FESTIVAL - (website: lammermuirfestival.co.uk)
NOVEMBER - MARTINMAS FAIR & REMEMBRANCE SERVICE;
HADDINGTON 700 EVENTS were celebrated in 2018 around the the town and in St Mary's celebrating the 700th anniversary of Robert the Bruce signing the charter for Haddington's Burgh Status. In December 2018 the actual anniversary date of the signing of the charter was commemorated by a concert in the church.
Details of other Concerts and Exhibitions may be found on the church website. www.stmaryskirk.co.uk