Where are we?
A few minutes walk from Haddington town centre is the remarkably restored, very fine 14th century 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.
What will a visitor experience? What should you try to see?
If we are closed (Check the St Mary’s website http://www.stmaryskirk.co.uk ) take 20 minutes to look round the outside of the building.
- Wonder at the fact that from 1549 up until the early 1970s the whole of the east end of this cross-shaped church, including the transepts which stick out to the sides and the choir which sticks out eastwards, was a roofless ruin and it was possible to look right through from side to side. It was ruined during The Siege of Haddington. You can read about this battle and the restoration of the building on panels inside the church or on our website.
- Admire the bullet holes and cannon damage that is still evident on the outside.
- Study the stonework. Look at the quirky stone carvings. Can you see “Green Men”? Look for the “Compressed Crucifixion” relief, just outside the West Door, with cross, nails, and crown of thorns.
- Look for the Grave of John Brown - The central one of the three tall obelisks just outside the west door. He was an 18th century Minister of another Haddington church and was author of the "Self-interpreting Bible".
When we are open (Check the St Mary’s website http://www.stmaryskirk.co.uk ):
Entry is via the north (side) door. Inside we have a numbered trail to follow at your own pace – with information points giving interesting historical yet quirky facts. It might take about an hour and a half but you can break out if you can only afford a shorter time
At present it is still necessary to please wear masks, sanitise hands, keep a 1metre distance and give your contact details.
We have a dedicated team of volunteers to give a warm welcome. Some of our Welcomers come from other churches in Haddington and the surrounding towns & villages whilst others have no church connection at all.
Currently we are not booking group tours.
After being welcomed, follow the St Mary’s Self-Guiding Trail:
1.At the centre
- Stand in the centre of the church and admire the soaring interior from this viewpoint beneath the 90ft (27 metre) tower.
- You are in the restored part, which runs right through to the plain East Window – Deliberately restored to be still a bit rough and looking medieval.
- A mere 55 years ago you would be standing in a ruin and 50 years ago this was a building site!
- Wonder at the ceiling of the restoration which is made of fibre-glass panels and even the “stone” supporting ribs are made of a plastic resin.
- Look up at the fine pipe organ above the entrance vestibule. It is of Baroque design and was built by a local organ-builder. Can you spot the date of its installation? (1990)
- Look round at the stained-glass windows. All the original windows were broken and the lovely windows you see today are from the 19th and 20th centuries.
- The blue window you see above the Young Church is from a demolished church in Torquay and is by Burne-Jones.
- Look for the row of engraved stones across the floor which show the position of the Barrier Wall where the West End was walled up to provide a rectangular, post-reformation Presbyterian kirk which served the community for 400 years. Then look for the mortar marks on the tall arches.
- Admire the Nativity and Millennium tapestries on the pillars either side, made by our craft group.
Now walk up the centre aisle between the pillars (through the Nave) to the West End to Focus Point 2
2. The West End
- This church was originally built between 1380 and about 1450, to replace a previous church and Friary which were burnt down in 1356. It inherited the reputation as, “The Lamp of the Lothians and a Solace of a Whole Community”.
- Turn to admire the view along the length of the longest parish church in Scotland.
- Note the historic flags fixed to the pillars in the nave. The oldest date from Napoleonic times.
- This end (The nave) was ruined too in 1549 but quickly restored in 1561 to serve the new Reformed Church in Scotland, led by John Knox.
- Some oak beams from the ruin of the church were rescued for this restoration. They are still above you and would have been acorns in the 12th century.
- Turn back to look at the two explanatory panels with pictures of the ruined church. They were prepared by the Friends of St Mary’s, the group that raised funds for the great restoration project in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
- Note the scallop shell carved on the pillar up behind and to the right of the panels. Do you know why? You can find the answer in the framed explanation on the wall.
Move on down the side aisle to Focus Area 3 where you will learn about the Medieval Church.
3. The Medieval Church
- Look for the framed pictures on the pillars along this aisle. They give the view of the church from each of their positions in medieval times:
- The high altar at the other end was hidden behind a screen
- The ordinary people stayed in the nave.
- The priests sat behind the screen.
- There were side altars with many candles.
Move on down this side to read a panel telling the story of about The Millennium Bells which were installed by crane in 2000 in time to ring in the millennium.
- The English army took the original bells away to Durham in 1549.
Move down to our Storyboard Area at Focus Area 4, further down the right-hand side.
As you pass on you might admire any displays that are laid out in the Young Church area.
From the Storyboards learn about
- The history of the Town of Haddington.
- The origins of St Mary’s Church.
- the connection to John Knox who was born just across the river.
- The story of the “Rough Wooing” when Henry VIII had the ambition to betroth his infant son Edward to the infant Mary Queen of Scots.
- The eighteen-month Siege of Haddington when much of the church was destroyed in 1548/49.
- The Treaty of Haddington which promised the infant Mary to the infant Dauphin of France.
- The campaign to restore the building after 400 years of ruin, in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
5. The East End
This end of the Story Board Area is called the Columba Aisle with a tapestry in colours representing the agricultural landscape of east Lothian, created by Dovecote Studios, originally of Corstorphine.
Walk across this end of the church and browse the following points of interest:
- John Brown’s Self-Interpreting Bible and part of his pulpit. He was once a shepherd boy, taught himself 7 languages and later was a famous Haddington Minister. (His grave is outside the west door and slightly to the left. It is one of the three obelisks.)
- The large restored window made of clear, hand- made blown glass. A colourful, large beech tree could be seen through it when it was installed. However, a big branch fell through the window when the tree blew down in a storm.
- Look for the leaning pillar. The pillars were originally built round tree trunks. However, the nearby river caused many floods which rotted them. Now they are filled with concrete.
- You will see the replica plaque of the Town Crest mounted in the wall behind the marble communion table. The original town crest of goat and grapes was found nearby under the ground at the restoration.
You will come to the Lady Aisle at the far side.
6. The North East Aisle
This end of this aisle is known as the Lady Aisle, with a tapestry and seat covers in the colours of the coast, created by Dovecote Studios.
As you move on up this side of the church you will see:
Move on past the glass vestibule to Focus Point 7.
7. The Post-Reformation Church
- The pictures on the pillars show the views you would get of the church after 1561 from these positions and show how it changed.
- Remember that it was walled up in 1561 at the arches just to your left and restored.
- By 1910 the congregations had become so large that extra space was needed and so they raised the roofs of the aisles and the height of the pillars.
- Look across to the windows opposite and make out their original lintels. You will see where the roof has been raised to make extra height for the galleries which ran right round to give extra seating.
- There was a further restoration at the end of the Victorian period where most of the galleries were taken away again. Note the substantial stone Pulpit and the stone font directly across the church, introduced at this time.
Turn to look in the Display Cabinet to see:
- The Caithness Glass Cup – awarded for the restoration.
- The Queen’s signatures in visitors’ books during Royal visits.
- Old communion vessels for the huge congregations.
- A stone carved gargoyle head – part of a high gutter drain which fell off outside after having been up there for over 600 years!
- samples of the resin “stone” used in the restored roof in the west-end.
Please Sign the Visitors’ Book. It lies on top of our collection box where your donation would be appreciated. We are able to accept electronic card donations. #
The shop is closed at present.
Thank you for visiting!
Events to look out for:
SEPTEMBER - LAMMERMUIR MUSIC FESTIVAL - (www.lammermuirfestival.co.uk)
NOVEMBER - MARTINMAS FAIR ; REMEMBRANCE SERVICE;
DECEMBER - CHRISTMAS SERVICES AND MUSIC EVENTS
Check the St Mary’s website http://www.stmaryskirk.co.uk .
To make a booking of the church for a concert or recital, recording, lecture, exhibition or drama performance please e-mail email@example.com or telephone the church office on 01620 829354.
Parking on street
Accessible parking or drop-off point at North Door