St Mary’s is now closed for tourists and casual visitors until Easter 2024. 2023 was a special year for us - we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our restoration. This historic church was a partial ruin for 400 years until restored by 1973. Thank you to all of our visitors, from all over the globe, who came last season. Our stewards and guides are now hibernating for the winter. You can read below, what you might experience next Visitor Season. You are, of course, welcome to visit our religious services on a Sunday morning and enjoy the ambience of this ancient building in is primary role. Usually our services are at 9.30am and 11am, but check our website for service times which can vary, and for additional musical events.
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 West Door or by the step-free North (side) Door. (Ring the bell on the North Door for assisted entry.)
Inside we have a numbered trail to follow at your own pace – with focus points, drawing your attention to interesting historical facts - some quite quirky. It might take about an hour and a half but you can break out if you can only afford a shorter time.
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.
Group tours can be booked by emailing to firstname.lastname@example.org .
After being welcomed, follow the St Mary’s Self-Guiding Trail:
1. Start at two large black and white panels, to your left after entry from the West Door vestibule.
- The two explanatory panels, with pictures of the ruined church, 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.
- For 400 years the whole of the far end (East End) of this cross-shaped church was a roofless ruin, from 1549 up until the early 1970s, and it was possible to look right through from side to side.
- 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 in the attic above and would have been acorns in the 12th century.
- 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.
- Turn to spot the tall arch, this side of the crossing with white mortar marks, that was walled up for 400 years, on advice from John Knox, to make this West End a rectangular Presbyterian kirk.
- Notice the ceiling of the restored church, beyond the tall arch, which is made of fibre-glass panels and even the “stone” supporting ribs are made of a plastic resin.
Next move on down the Right Hand Side to Focus Area 2
2. The Medieval Church
Look for the framed pictures on the pillars along this aisle. They give the views 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 down this side towards the Centre of the Church, Focus Area 3.
As you move down you can read a panel telling the story of about The Millennium Bells
- Behind the curtain on the right hand wall is the locked door to the bell tower.
- The original bells are said to have been taken when the English army left in 1549.
- New bells were fitted for the year 2000.
3. At the Centre
- Stand in the centre of the church and look round. You are now in the start of the restored part.
- A mere 55 years ago you would be standing in a ruin and 51 years ago this was a building site!
- Admire again the soaring interior from this viewpoint.
- Look round the stained-glass windows. The blue window you see above the South Transept is from a demolished church in Torquay and is by Burne-Jones.
- If you have time you can pick up a descriptive leaflet and study the windows further.
- Admire the tapestries on the pillars made by our craft group.
- Look, up at the fine pipe organ, of Baroque design, which was built by a local organ-builder. Can you spot the date of its installation in the carvings? (1990)
- Note the historic flags fixed to the pillars in the Knave (West End). The oldest date from Napoleonic times.
Move over to our Storyboard Area 4, further down the right hand side.
4. Storyboards From the Storyboards learn about;
- The history of the Town of Haddington.
- The origins of the Church of St Mary’s.
- The connection to John Knox who was born just across the river at Giffordgate.
- 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 in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
The far end of the Story Board Area is called the Columba Aisle, with a tapestry in colours representing the agricultural landscape of east Lothian. In the opposite corner is the Lady Chapel with a tapestry in the colours of the coast. The tapestries were created by Dovecote Studios, originally of Corstorphine.
Look for the next Focus Card 5 at the far end, in the St Columba’s Aisle.
5. The East End
This corner is called the Columba Aisle, with a tapestry in colours representing the agricultural landscape of east Lothian, created by Dovecote Studios, originally of Corstorphine.
Now 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-blown glass. A large colourful beech tree could be seen through it when it was installed. However, a big branch fell through the window in a storm and broke the communion table. Eventually the tree had to be felled.
- 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 plaque with the town crest of goat and grapes was found broken, nearby during 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. You can pause for a moment of quiet reflection if you wish.
As you move on up this side of the church you will see:
- Within railings on the left – the grave of Jane Welsh Carlyle, the wife of Thomas Carlyle who was a leading Scottish writer of the Victorian era. She was born in Haddington and was a writer and academic in her own right. There is an interesting epitaph on the grave, written by her husband.
- Through doors on the right – The Lauderdale Aisle – an atmospheric, ecumenical chapel with an alter and with a burial crypt below for the Maitland family – The Earls of Lauderdale. There are recumbent alabaster effigies of members of the family. You can read the framed explanation outside and you may enter and read more inside. There are hand-held story boards and a wall board showing where the Earls of Lauderdale are buried.
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 here.
- Remember that it was walled up in 1561 at the arches just to your left and this part was restored.
- There was an organ built against this wall
- Note the substantial stone Pulpit and the stone font directly across the church.
- Look across to the windows opposite and make out their original lintels. You will see that the roof has been raised to make extra height for the galleries which ran right round in Victorian times to give extra seating.
Turn to look in the Display Cabinet before heading to the Gift Shop.
8. The Display Cabinet - Look for:
- The Caithness Glass bowl – Come and see Scotland’s Churches award – “The Most Welcoming Church”
- The late Queen’s signatures in the visitors’ books, from Royal Visits.
- Old communion vessels for the huge congregations.
- Old communion tokens with their stamping device.
- A stone gargoyle head – part of a high gutter drain which fell off, after being up there for over 600 years!
- Samples of the resin “stone” used in the restored roof of the west end.
As you continue up this aisle towards the exit you will see an illuminated model of the church.
Visit the Gift Shop. Many of the items on display were hand-made by our own craft group who meet in the church.
As you return to the exit, please sign the Visitors’ Book to complete our record of the amazing range of folk who choose to visit our historic church. It lies on top of our collection box where your donation would be appreciated. There is a card reader too.
Please comment about your visit on Social Media.
Thank you for visiting!Events to look out for: Free Sunday Concerts: "St Mary's at Four". SEPTEMBER - LAMMERMUIR MUSIC FESTIVAL - (www.lammermuirfestival.co.uk) NOVEMBER - MARTINMAS FAIR ; REMEMBRANCE SERVICE; DECEMBER - CHRISTMAS SERVICES AND MUSIC EVENTS
To make a booking of the church for a concert or recital, recording, lecture, exhibition or drama performance please e-mail email@example.com .
Parking on street
Accessible parking or drop-off point at North Door
Transport and Parking
Accessible Parking Or Drop-off Point
Wheelchair access throughout
Level access from entrance to reception
Wheelchairs or mobility aids provided
Level access to all public areas
Suitable for visitors with limited mobility
Level access to main entrance
Indoor Play Area
Baby Changing Facilities
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