Leith Parish Church Timeline:
12th Cen. Leith formed part of Parish of Restalrig
~1483 Church built and dedicated to St. Mary
1487 King James III contributed 18 shillings 'to the new work of Leith to our Ladie'
1544 Leith burned by Henry VIII during 'the rough wooing';church used as homeless refuge
1545 George Wishart preached in Leith, John Knox probably present
1547 Leith again occupied by Englishand church used as prison for Scottish nobles
1559 Mary of Guise, mother of Mary, Queen of Scots, fortified Leith and worshipped here
1560 Seige of Leith damaged east end of church
1560 Begin ministry of David Lindsay for 53 years (Bishop of Ross from 1600)
1645 Great Plague. 2,736 died (over 1/2 of population)
1650-7 Cromwell used church as a 'magasin' (magazine)
1687-92 Presbyterianism established and Episcopalians expelled
1843 Church split, part formed free church
This area was ruled over by a chieftain called Nectan who was attracted to her. However, St Triduana was only interested in service to God and on being asked what attracted him to her, he replied “the transcendental beauty of your eyes”. Her response was to gauge out her eyes and present them to him on a thorn !
Later, St. Triduana was buried at Restalrig at which a well sprung up and it became a medieval pilgrimage site. This led to the founding of Restalrig Church which became the Parish church for Leith up to 1560, at which point it was demolished on the orders of the General Assembly and South Leith Church became the de facto parish church for Leith (confirmed by act of parliament in 1609).
The Order of the Knights Templar and the Order of the Knights of St John
The order of the temple was founded in 1118 by Hugues de Payen and St Bernard. Hugues de Payen came to Scotland during the reign of David I and the Knights Templars became a Scottish Order holding land and property all around Scotland.
The principal houses of the order were at Maryculter and Ballintruduch. However, the presence of the Templars can be found in Leith indirectly. There is a charter dated 1230 in which Gilbert, son of Henry of Leith, donates land to the Knights of St John Hospitiler of Torphican in which he grants land in Leith to Godfrey de Saulton, Grand Master of the Order for the building of a Hospice.
The charter is however not used until 1327 (due to Leith being in Templar hands). The Templars and Hospitillers where in competition with one another. However in 1327, 15 years after the abolition of the Knights Templar the two orders came together to form the Order of St Anthony in Leith.
Medieval Hospice & The Preceptory of St Anthony
An actual dating for the founding of the Templar hospice is impossible to say accurately, but it would have been around 1128. The hospice existed until 1327 with the coming of the Knights of St John who would have continued on the site until around 1390 at which time the Preceptory of St Anthony was approximately founded.
The Preceptory of St Anthony was the Church or Monastery of the Knights of St Anthony, who came into Scotland from Northern France (with their principal house in Vienne, the South of France). The Preceptory of St Anthony (Monastery and enclosed Monastic grounds) was of considerable size occupying the area from what is now the foot of Leith Walk along Great Junction St, along the Water of Leith to Parliament Street and then across to Constitution Street and back to the foot of Leith Walk.
The Preceptory continued in existence until 1560 where the Reformation was completed in Scotland and all links with France were broken. The next clue to its Templar origins comes from the fact that James the VI annexes the Preceptory to the Crown and then unannexes it in 1593 because it was discovered that it was not church property. The property was then passed through several hands and eventually under crown charter was passed to the Session of South Leith Church in 1614 to found a hospice which later became the King James VI hospital which continued in existence until 1822.
The Trade Guilds (Scottish Incorporations)
The Trades organised themselves into Guilds which had a religious founding and founded chapels within the church. When the Preceptory of St Anthony was founded, the Knights of St Anthony abandoned the old hospice on the present day site of South Leith Church and the hospice lay empty for a number of years.
In approximately 1483 the Trade Guilds of Leith (or more accurately, Trade Incorporations) took the building over for their own use. These bodies were not like modern Trade Unions in any way whatsoever. The Trade Guilds controlled everything connected with their own particular trade such as pricing, education, apprenticeships even down to where members could live.
The Trade Guilds were open to Masters and Apprentices but at their core they were religious organisations. Each one had a particular patron saint and so we find in 1490 Peter Falconer founding the Chapel of St Peter at South Leith and later in 1498 his friend Gilbert Edmondson founded the Chapel of St Barbara. Peter Falconer was a legitimate seamen however, but when there was no trade he turned to piracy and usually fought against the Portuguese under letters of mark (Legalised Letters of Reprisal for the Crown). This makes the connection with the period of the great Leith seaman like Sir Andrew Wood and the Barton Family during the reign of James IV.
South Leith Church has had royal connections for over a thousand years, both directly and indirectly.
The first provable royal link with South Leith Church is in 1327 with Robert the Bruce and possibly with William Wallace as well. According to court records Robert the Bruce came to Leith to receive treatment for Leprosy from the Knights of St John and that explains why the Knights of St John used the charter which they held from the time of Godfrey de Saulton. William Wallace wrote his famous letter to the burgers of Marleburg from Leith, to let them know it was safe to return to Scotland to Trade after the battle of Stirling Bridge.
It was also in Leith that James I became a key person in the founding of the Preceptory of St Anthony. However, his work was not completed due to him being murdered at Perth in 1437. It is of interest that the Logan family of Leith through Euphemia Ross, a daughter of Robert II, had royal connections. This gave South Leith Church the right to a royal coat of arms over the West door which was unfortunately removed long ago.
In the church tower today can be seen the coats of arms of James VI of Scotland, I of England, Charles I and inside the tower can be seen the coats of arms of Mary de Guise and Mary Queen of Scots. This is the only place in Scotland where four consecutive coats of arms of a royal house can be seen. However, there is no proof that Mary Queen of Scots came to South Leith, the coat of arms is here due to the fact that it came from the old Tollbooth of Leith.
The Church in The Community
The church has worked closely in the social, educational and health matters of the town for centuries.
The health and care of the sick and elderly was served in Leith from 1614 by the building of King James VI hospital, until 1822. It must be realised that although there were a number of rich people the vast amount of people were poor. This was exacerbated after the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Culloden as highlanders and later Irish emigrants flooded into the town. Leith became virtually a death trap for thousands of people, as their living very close together meant diseases could be spread very quickly, and so Leith in the nineteenth century had the highest death rate in Scotland.
The Church tried to help in this situation but found it increasingly difficult and indirectly this lead in 1833 to Leith becoming an independent parliamentary burgh It was only in 1880 that the health of the Leith populace was addressed by the Artisans Act, under which large areas of Leith were demolished and new buildings constructed.
The church took over the organisation of relief in 1645 when the town and parish lost 2,736 people in the great plague which lasted for several months. The Church arranged for the cleaning of houses, the supply of food, the cleansing of the streets and the burial of the dead (the remains of whom are still excavated from time to time in Leith Links)
The Church at War
Within South Leith Church can be seen memorials of past campaigns from around the world in which members of the congregation have taken part, from the battle of Prestonpans up to the Second World War.
Going further back in history, however, the church has seen the coming of the armies of Edward I and later his son Edward II, after and before the battle of Bannockburn, at which he was defeated by Robert the Bruce.
Later, the church was burnt by Edward Seymour, Lord Protector of England in 1544 and again in 1547, the year in which the Scottish army was defeated at the battle of Pinkie (near Musselburgh). Later, the town of Leith was laid siege to by the Lords of the Congregation and an English army under Lord Gray, against the French who were holding Leith. It was during the siege that a cannon ball came through the east window and out by the west window during an Easter Mass. Fortunately nobody was killed.
During the Cromwellian Period the church was used as a meeting place between the covenanters and the royalists in an attempt to reach a compromise rather than war with one another. Unfortunately these diplomatic attempts failed and the Covenanters and Royalists warred for approximately six years. During the war the church was used as a munitions dump for Oliver Cromwell's army whilst the citadel was being built in North Leith under General Monk.
One of the greatest tragedies to beset Leith was the Gretna Rail disaster of 1915 in which two companies of Royal Scots (raised in Leith) in an express troop train collided with a local train standing on the track, after which another express train crashed into the wreckage. 215 men were killed and 191 men were seriously injured. This is believed to have been the worst railway disaster in British railway history. Many of the dead were buried at Rosebank Cemetery and the Company colours now fly within the church as a memorial to those who lost their lives.
Golf on the Links
When looking out on the links of Leith today, it is hard to believe that, in the past, one could have seen the legions of Rome, dark age warriors, Norman knights, roundheads and cavaliers. Cock fighting and duels once took place here, and the reformation in Scotland was decided at the bloody siege of Leith. The most surprising thing about the links of Leith, and really the most unexpected, is that it is the true home of the sport of golf in Scotland and not the more famous St Andrews.
So why should Leith become the cradle of a game that spans the globe and which is played by millions of people around the world? The reason was probably trade. In 1296 Leith become the principal port for Scotland and traded with the Hanseatic League and the Low countries, exporting the rough Scottish wool from the Scottish Border country and importing luxury goods and Wines. It was by this method that the game was introduced into Scotland from the Low Countries. Some evidence for this is in a Flemish Book of Hours (1500-20), which is in the British Museum, and has an illuminated page by Simon Bennink, which shows a game of Golf taking place. There is also a painting by Van de Velde (1668) called “Frost Scene” which shows two kilted figures who may have been refugees, during the troubled times with the Stuarts, playing Golf on ice.
Needless to say the game was not always popular with the Church or State. From the Churches' point of view it interfered with Sabbath observance. We see from the Session Records of South Leith Parish Church dated 16 th February 1610, “The said day it wes concludit be the hail Sessioune that thair sail be na public playing suffered on the Sabbath days. As playing at the valley Bowles, at the penny stane, archerie, gowfe etc”. In fact anyone playing Golf was to be fined 20 shillings and repentance was to be made in Church before the pulpit (so all you Sunday Golfers be warned!).
From the King's point of view it interfered with Archery practice and so we find in 1457 during the reign of James II, “Fute-ball and Golfe be utterly cried down and not to be used… punished by the Barronis un-law… that he be taken be the Kings officers”. By the time of James IV in 1491 Golf was forbidden and it was ordered, “In no place of the Realm be usit fut-bawis, goulf or other sik unprofitable sports”.
The game of Golf gradually came to be more acceptable due to the more peaceful conditions between Scotland and England, with the Union of Crowns in 1603 and the Union of Parliaments in 1707. That is why we find Charles I and James VII (II) playing on the Links and gradually the game become more and more popular - in fact the first Open Golf match and the first International Golf match were played at Leith Links.
Leith trading connections overseas caused the game to spread around the world, and with the rise of Glasgow in the 18th century the game was exported to the New World.
Unfortunately Golf ceased to be played on the Links at the beginning of the last century. The last game was played in 1907 due to property being built around the links and making it unsuitable for Golf
In the Links today there is a cairn commemorating the home of Golf erected by the Leith Rotary Club and there are plans to hold a Golf match there again as a yearly or two yearly one-day event and to invite the world to the true home of Golf. Watch for developments!
Canongate on the Royal Mile (from the castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse) was one of the main entrances to the old city. The residents of Canongate originally worshiped at Holyrood Abbey (inside the city walls) but Canongate Church was built for them in 1588 (outside of the walls) - by King James Vl after he turned Holyrood into a Chapel Royal for use by the Knights of the Thistle. The Edinburgh mob (the earliest form of democracy in the city) reacted by destroying the Thistle Chapel.
The churchyard is as interesting as the church - with the graves of many of Edinburgh's celebrities - including a headstone to the poet Robert Fergusson which was paid for by Robert Burns and has an inscription by the bard. www.rampantscotland.com
The Palace Forecourt: It was at this palace in 1688, after the landing
of William of Orange, that an Edinburgh mob built a great fire and
burned books, images, and every tangible symbol of Roman Catholicism.
The altar vessels and monstrance were saved and are in the possession
of the Scottish Hierarchy of the Roman Catholic church. The
fountain was erected much later, by Queen Victoria, but based on a
design created for James V.
The Abbey saw some famous events:
The nave was used as the parish kirk
under Presbyterianism or
Episcopacy depending on the times.
An interesting final chapter in the life of the Abbey was written when James VII (II) established a College of Jesuits within the Holyroodhouse and had a printing press set up for them. He revived the Noble Order of the Thistle in 1687 and intended to have its chapel there. (It's now in St. Giles' Cathedral.) The congregation was moved to the new kirk in the Canongate. By May 1st 1688 James VII had turned Holyrood Abbey into a Roman Catholic place of worship. William of Orange landed at Torbay on November 5th. People of Edinburgh, accompanied by Magistrates, Heralds, City Guard, invaded the Palace. They overcame the musketeers who defended it, forced entrance into the Royal apartments, and tore out all the furnishings. and ornaments of the King's private chapel. They broke into the Kirk and harried the interior. They broke into the Royal burial vault and cast out bones of Kings and Princes. A post-Reformation burial vault on the south aisle contains the remains of:
St. Giles 'Cathedral'
The first stirrings of the Protestant Church in Scotland were
centered on the university town of St. Andrews. It was there that
John Knox (see his
house) first began preaching. He spent twenty years in
exile in England and on the Continent until the Protestant movement
gained popular support. In 1555 Knox returned secretly from
Geneva and lodged in High Street. For nearly a year, he went
about Scotland, preaching and giving the Lord's Supper by Common
Cup and Common Bread.
During the late 1550s popular feeling against the established church grew. In 1557 a statue of Saint Giles was stolen from the church and never recovered. Later that year another statue of the saint was mobbed during the annual Saint Giles Day procession.
(The statue of John Knox, shown in the picture above, stood outside the church - as shown - for 18 years. It was taken back inside the church in 1983 when it was realized that the statue was being damaged. It is now on display at the west end of St. Giles' where it is easily visible to all visitors.)
In 1558, John Knox wrote of petitions then
before the Scottish Parliament.
In 1559 Knox preached in Perth, and following his sermon the church was stripped in a riot. A group of Protestant nobles, known as the Lords of the Congregation, rallied around Knox as he travelled towards Edinburgh. Mary de Guise, Scotland's Queen Regent, agreed to allow him to enter the capital, after the Lords of the Congretation promised that no violence would follow. On July 1, 1559, Knox preached for the first time in St. Giles', but within a month the Reformers were driven out of St. Giles' and the priests returned and re-consecrated the church.
The last mass was said in St.
Giles' on March 31, 1560.
That night the reformers broke into the church and the work of altering
the interior began. It took over a year to remove the altars and
change the furnishings. Internal walls were built, helping to
ensure that the congregaton sould
see and hear the minister, and allowing parts of the chjurch to be used
for community purposes. The last of these walls was not
until 1883. (The window in the nave, shown here, was removed in
Mary Queen of Scots returned from
France in the summer of
1561. She never attended worship in St. Giles', but disputed with
Knox over matters of faith and government at the Palace of
Holyroodhouse. Knox had an interview
with Queen Mary in September 1561 during which he lectured her on
religious liberty. The events of Queen Mary's troubled reign were
played out with St. Giles' as a backdrop. The plans for both her
second and third marriages were anounced there, and accusations of
Bothwell's involvement in Lord Darnley's murder were pinned to the
When Queen Mary abdicated in 1567, James Stewart, the Earl of Moray and her illegitimate half-brother was chosen as Regent for her son James VI. Moray was one of the Lords of the congregation and a friend of Knox. Knox had officiated at Moray's wedding in St. Giles' in 1561. In 1570 Moray was assassinated by a supported of Mary, and Knox preached at the funeral service. Moray was buried on the south side of the church where a restored version of his tomb still stands. Her party fought on. Once cannon were mounted on the roof of St. Giles' to fire on the castle. Knox was exiled to St. Andrews, but brought back in 1572, a dying man. He is buried in the graveyard behind St. Giles'.
Knox was in poor health by the time of Moray's funeral, and spent most of his time at St. Andrews. He returned shortly before his death to install his successor and to preach for a final time. He asked to be buried in an old burial area behind St. Giles'. This area now forms part of Parliament Close.
Knox was in poor health by the time of Moray's funeral, and spent most of his time at St. Andrews. He returned shortly before his death to install his successor and to preach for a final time. He asked to be buried in an old burial area behind St. Giles'. This area now forms part of Parliament Close.
As an adult, King James VI became convinced of a monarch's right of
authority over the Church. This belief was not lessened by his
the throne of England. His son, King Charles I, attempted to
bishops upon Scotland, and gave St. Giles' cathedral status. The
Episcopalian service was read in St. Giles' in 1637. Legend has
that in St. Giles' a riot began when a stool was thrown at the Dean by
woman called Jenny Geddes.
The National Covenant (1638) was drawn up as a formal rejection of royal interference in the Church. A copy of the Covenant is displayed in St. Giles' to this day.The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, meeting in a section of St. Giles' in 1643, drew up the Solemn League and Covenant - a more radical alliance with Oliver Cromwell during the religious disputes of the Civil War. The people of Scotland were of divided sentiments during this time, and St. Giles saw executions from both sides. The head of the Marquis of Montrose, a Royalist Covenanter, was displayed outside the church for eleven years, from 1650 to 1661, until it was replaced by that of his rival Argyll. Both men are commemorated in the church today.
King Charles II named St. Giles' a cathedral for a second time, and it was not until the reign of William II and Mary III that both the Presbyterian and Episcopalian systems were able to coexist in peace.
Giles - Thistle Chapel - seats and arms of members of Order of the
Thistle: The Sovereign's Stall bears a carving of the Royal Arms.
Knights' stalls, ranged around the walls, display the arms of past and
members of the order.
For much of its existence St Cuthbert’s was a country kirk, outwith the city wall and in the county of Lothian and Tweeddale. In the reign of King David I of Scotland (1124 - 1153), Edinburgh was clustered on the ridge which runs eastwards from the Castle. All along the foot of the northern slope of the Castle rock was a morass or marsh and from there northwards it was all countryside until one came to Newhaven and Leith on the coast.
The Kirk below the Castle of Edinburgh has a claim to great, but imprecise, antiquity. One theory about its origins is that St Cuthbert journeyed from Melrose and stayed awhile in the sheltered hollow below the Castle rock. Another view is that the Church came into being only fifty years before the 1127 Charter. Simeon of Durham, in 1130, wrote of a church in Edwin’s Burgh in 854 but whilst some believe it was St Cuthbert’s others think St Giles.
1127 - King David I granted a Charter giving all the land below the Castle to St Cuthbert’s. This is the oldest document in the Scottish Records Office, Register House, Edinburgh.
1128 - Foundations laid for the Abbey of Holyrood. A few years later, King David gave the Church and Parish of St Cuthbert to the new Abbey. St Cuthbert’s parish was very extensive in the 12th century with considerable revenues but the transfer to the Abbey meant a material lessening of status. The new Augustinian Abbey employed vicars to care for the souls of the parish but it also pocketed the surplus revenue!
Very little is known of the life of the Church during the Roman Catholic period - the 12th to the mid-16th century - but an occasional reference to St Cuthbert’s appears in Vatican documents.
1242 - 16th March, St Cuthbert’s-under-the-Castle rededicated by the Bishop of St Andrews.
1314 - An English Knight, St Giles de Argentine, fought and died at Bannockburn. Sir Walter Scott would later describe in his "Tales of a Grandfather" and "Lord of the Isles", how the Knight’s body was brought to a quiet resting place "in Sanct Cuthbertis Kirk beside Edinburgh".
Scottish Independence was restored after Robert the Bruce's defeat of the English army.
1385 - Richard II led an army north and burned Holyrood and Edinburgh. It is possible St Cuthbert’s was damaged or even destroyed at that time.
1450 - Large marshy area beside the Church used to form the Nor’ Loch.
1544 - The Earl of Hertford was sent by King Henry VIII to enforce marriage between Mary, Queen of Scots and Henry’s son, Edward. Mary had become Queen at one week old in 1542. The Scots refused this "Rough Wooing" and so Leith was captured, Border Abbeys destroyed, Holyrood and Edinburgh burned and St Cuthbert’s suffered severely.
1550 - In "Cosmographie", published in Basle, Alexander Alesius wrote that "Under the rock of the Maiden Castle is the new parish Church of St Cuthbert".
The Reformation and William
1559 - John Knox became leader of the Reforming Party and drew up the Scottish Confession of Faith. The Reformation sought to restore Christianity to its early purity.
1560 - Scottish Confession of Faith adopted by the Scottish Parliament. 20th December, William Harlow, first Protestant Minister of St Cuthbert’s, attended the first General Assembly of the Church of Scotland (held in the Church of St Mary Magdalene).
Originally a tailor in the Canongate, Harlow became a noted leader in the new Kirk of Scotland. He conducted the first reformed service in St Cuthbert’s. Previously a priestly exercise watched by the people, this service - in their own tongue - invited participation.
Each parish appointed a Kirk Session of lay-elders. Any wrong-doers, be they rich or poor, were brought before the Session. One of the elders' duties was to go out into the parish on Sundays and find out what the absentees were doing !
1573 - English artillery sent to end the siege of Edinburgh Castle, held for Mary, Queen of Scots (reign 1542-67, executed 1587). A battery, set up near the Church by the English, attracted gunfire from the Castle and the thatched roof of St Cuthbert’s Church was set ablaze.
1574 - Rev. William Harlow gained a distinguished colleague named Robert Pont. Under their ministries, the West Kirk, as it was now called, had "ane greit congregatioun".
King James VI (reign 1567 - 1625) had grown to hate the Presbyterian Church, especially when it became extreme and calvinist. He appointed bishops and forbade the Assembly to meet.
Robert Pont was the second minister of St Cuthbert’s after the Reformation. He was one of the most eminent of its Ministers and was born in Culross and educated at St Andrew’s University. Learned in law, he was, at various times, a senator of the College of Justice, Provost of Trinity College, Commissioner of Orkney and five times Moderator of the General Assembly.
He strongly opposed James VI’s attempts to introduce Episcopacy but he and others had to flee to England. On his return he was briefly imprisoned. Nicol Dalgleish was appointed in Robert Pont’s absence, and he too was arrested for sympathising with his exiled brethern.
1583 - Kirk Session issued begging permits for use by the parish poor.
1584 - During Robert Pont’s absence, William Aird became Minister of the West Kirk. This able and fearless man was chosen by the Presbytery to excommunicate the wild Earl of Bothwell, a great favourite of the King!
1585 - Robert Pont welcomed back to St Cuthbert’s.
1592 - Being near the City, the Church had many aged, helpless, infirm and vagrant people to provide for. The list of the poor recorded 80 names.
1593 - Badge system introduced to help each parish identify its own poor.
1594 - Extensive church repairs left no money for a Manse. Robert Pont agreed to pay for one himself and it was later bought from his heirs. By the end of the 16th Century, the Kirk also had a small cemetery which - in over a century’s time - would have the unwelcome attention of grave-robbers.
The main thoroughfare we now call Princes Street was then a straight country road called the Lang Dykes and, to the north, was a bleak common called Bearford’s Parks. A road called Kirk Loan ran from the Church to Stockbridge and, because of this, the Princes Street gate of St Cuthbert’s is still known as the Stockbridge Gate.
1596 - First reference made to a school, run by the Session Clerk1606 - After much loyal service to St Cuthbert's, Rev Robert Pont died. His body was originally interred in the Church but was later moved to the churchyard.
At the Reformation, the parish population was 2000 but, by 1606, congregation size had increased considerably so lofts were added inside the Church and new parts were built on.
1612 - Samuel West applied to run a school at West Port and others followed in different parts of the Parish.
1621 - Parliament disjoined several parts of the burgh of Edinburgh which lay within St Cuthbert’s parish. These transferred to Kirks within the city.
1627 - Another Act led to more lands being annexed and so began the gradual reduction in size of St Cuthbert’s Parish.
1633 - King Charles I (reign 1625 - 49) visited Scotland and tried to establish Episcopacy. He appointed a bishop in Edinburgh and introduced an English style Prayer Book but the West Kirk refused to conform.
1638 - Opposition to the rule of the King led to the drawing up and signing of the National Covenant in Greyfriars Churchyard (it disavowed the Divine Rights of Kings in favour of man's duty to God). The General Assembly met, deposed the bishops and rejected the Service Book. Charles I sent an army but it was defeated by the Covenanters.
1640 - St Cuthbert’s Church and Churchyard used by the Covenanters.
1650 - After defeating the Scots at Dunbar, Oliver Cromwell (rule 1653 - 1658), his troops and their horses, occupied the Church. The result was described thus:
"The Church was altogider spoyled; naither pulpit, laft, nor seat left therein and full of filth; and also the roof ruinous by shotts of canone and muskett"!
1661 - In this year, King Charles II (reign 1660 - 85) re-instated bishops, and banned the Assembly. Reverends Reid and Williamson of the West Kirk were amongst about 350 non-conforming ministers deprived of their charges. David Williamson, probably the most romantic of St Cuthbert’s Ministers, prophesied he would "return and die minister of this Church".
He served the persecuted Covenanters over many years, preaching in the hills and fields. His most famous narrow escape took place at the house of a Lady Cherrytrees near Edinburgh. Troopers arrived suddenly, but the astute Lady Cherrytrees gave Williamson a night-gown and put him into bed with her daughter, Jean Kerr.
That escapade may have earned him the sobriquet of "Dainty Davy" but he may also have been dainty in person. He was probably a lady’s man because he married seven times, including the girl in the bed! As he prophesied, he returned in happier days as Minister of St Cuthbert’s.
1688 - The "Glorious Revolution" replaced James VII (also James II of England, reign 1685-1688) with William and Mary and the Presbyterian Church was restored in Scotland. Rev Williamson and Rev Anderson substantially increased St Cuthbert’s congregation. This was reflected in collections for the poor whose numbers had continued to grow.
1706 - Reverend David
died aged about 72 years. He was buried next to his predecessor, Robert
Pont but his widow erected no headstone - perhaps because her six
predecessors would have had to be listed!
1707 - The Union of Parliaments. There was much opposition to this, particularly in Scotland, where people felt they would lose more than they would gain. Rev Neil McVicar was appointed to the collegiate charge of St Cuthbert’s.
Courage and a muscular Christianity marked the Rev Neil McVicar, a Highlander and previously an army chaplain at Fort William. He spoke Gaelic and so was appointed to take charge of the Highlanders in and around the city.
He strenuously upheld the Government position during the two Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745 - the Jacobites being those who remained loyal to James VII after he was deposed by his son-in-law, William of Orange.
This Minister feared God but feared no man. Once he was threatened by a fellow who said he would have thrashed McVicar but for his clerical coat. In a moment the coat was on the ground and the Minister cried: "There lies the Minister of the West Kirk and here stands Neil McVicar, and by Yea and by Nay, sir, come on". The man wisely fled !
1721 - Act of Parliament restored patronage, that is the congregation lost the right to choose their own Ministers. Ministers and congregation strongly opposed the Act but did so in vain.
1732 - Edinburgh was notorious for its riots and St Cuthbert’s experienced this around the Church doors. A new Minister was presented to the congregation but he was not acceptable to some of them and so a riot began.
The City Guard, commanded by Captain Porteous, was called for, to quell the disturbance. Musket shots were fired and several rioters injured. Four years later, the same Captain Porteous and his Guards fired at rioters in the city, killing six of them. The mob took their revenge then and hanged Porteous in the Grassmarket.1743 - Rev Neil McVicar produced a survey of the Parish population - 9,493 people living throughout 26 area divisions.
Bonnie Prince Charlie takes
1745 - September, news reached Edinburgh that the Highland Army was approaching. The Gaelic-speaking horde had a fearsome reputation and so great excitement and terror was roused in the population.
Prince Charles Edward Stuart seized the city. Several hundred in Edinburgh actively supported him and attended the Ball at Holyrood House after the Jacobite victory at Prestonpans but the Ministers of St Cuthbert’s Church - Rev Pitcairn and Rev McVicar - opposed him.
Apart from one service held at the Tron Church, there was no public worship in the city itself during this time and many people sought refuge in the countryside. The Ministers of St Cuthbert’s, however, continued to hold normal services which were well attended despite the political and military upheaval happening all around.
1747 - After nearly forty years serving St Cuthbert’s, Neil McVicar died aged 75. He was buried in the Churchyard.
1753 - Parish population over 12,000 and Church accommodation quite inadequate. The Little Kirk, as it was known, was almost a ruin.
1754 - Proposal made and approved by the Kirk Session to build a Chapel of Ease on the south side of the parish. Funds were duly raised.
1756 - The Chapel of Ease opened. It accommodated 1200 people and cost £640 and 10 shillings.
1758 - Proposal made to build a Charity Work-house for the parish. It was in Riding School Lane to the west of the Church. 84 people were there the first year and it was enlarged as the need arose.
1759 - In this year, the draining of the Nor' Loch (Princes Street Gardens area) was begun.
1763 - The Little Kirk’s bell was hung in the Chapel of Ease.
1772 - Sunday 27th September, the imminent collapse of the Church was feared. Tradesmen gave their verdict that it was beyond repair and should be replaced.
1773 - Workmen, digging in the foundations of the pre-Reformation St Cuthbert’s Church, found a leaden coffin containing bones and a leaden urn.
They opened the urn and a fragrant smell issued forth. It was found to contain an embalmed human heart. This most likely belonged to a Crusader killed in the Holy Land because the custom was to send the embalmed heart home to the Crusader’s family.
1775 - 31st July, the new St Cuthbert’s Church was opened. Unusually, it had no steeple or bell but was fitted with a sundial !
1789 - A steeple was added to the tower of 1775.
Restoration of Old Greyfriars took many years. Following the fire
the original roof and arcades were removed and, a few years later, a
new, single-span roof introduced. The windows were made into lancets
and stained glass-the first in any Scottish parish church since the
Reformation-was introduced in 1857.
At the same time a movement began towards reviving a less puritanical style of worship. In l860, Dr Robert Lee, the Minister of Old Greyfriars, introduced a harmonium to accompany the singing, followed five years later by the first organ to be installed and kept in any Presbyterian church in Scotland. He also used a service book and encouraged the congregation to kneel for prayers and to stand for singing.
"And, First, We protest, that seeing we cannot obtain a just reformation, according to God's word, that it be lawful to us to use ourselves in matters of religion and conscience, as we must answer unto God, unto such time as our adversaries be able to prove themselves the true ministers of Christ's Church, and to purge themselves of such crimes as we have already laid to their charge, offering ourselves to prove the same whensoever the sacred Authority [Ed. i.e., the protective authority of the State] please to give us audience."
"Secondly, We protest, that neither we, nor yet any other that godly list to join with us in the true faith, which is grounded upon the invincible word of God, shall incur any danger in life or lands, or other political pains, for not observing such Acts as heretofore have passed in favour of our adversaries, neither yet for violating of such rites as man without God's commandment or word hath commanded."
"We, Thirdly, protest, that if any tumult or uproar shall arise amongst the members of this realm for the diversity of religion, and if it shall chance that abuses be violently reformed, that the crime thereof not be imputed to us, who most humbly do now seek all things to be reformed by an order: But rather whatsoever inconvenience shall happen to follow for lack of order taken, that may be imputed to those that do refuse the same."
"And last, We protest, that these our requests, proceeding from conscience, do tend to none other end, but to the reformation of abuses in religion only: Most humbly beseeching the sacred Authority to take us, faithful and obedient subjects, in protection against our adversaries; and to show unto us such indifference in our most just Petitions, as it becometh God's Lieutenants to do to those that in his name do call for defence against cruel oppressors and bloodthirsty tyrants."
Knox, John, citing petitions before the Scottish Parliament, late 1558
History of the Reformation in Scotland, Volume 1, pp. 156-158,
Dickinson, William C. Ed.,
Philosophical Library, New York, 1950.
"Madam, as right religion took neither original strength nor authority from worldly princes but from the Eternal God alone, so are not subjects bound to frame their religion according to the appetites of their princes. For oft it is that princes are the most ignorant of all others in God's true religion, as we may read in the histories as well before the death of Christ Jesus, as after. If all the seed of Abraham should have been of the religion of Pharaoh, whom to they were long subjects, I pray you, Madam, what religion should there have been in the world? Or, if all men in the days of the Apostles should have been of the religion of the Roman Emperors, what religion should there have been on the face of the earth? Daniel and his fellows were subjects to Nebuchadnezzar, and unto Darius, and yet, Madam, they would not be of their religion, neither of the one nor of the other. . . . And so, Madam, ye may perceive that subjects are not bound to the religion of their princes, albeit they are commanded to give them obedience."
"God forbid, that I ever take upon me to command any to obey me, or yet to set subjects at liberty to do what pleaseth them. But my travail is that both princes and subjects obey God. And think not, Madam, that wrong is done unto you when ye are willed to be subject unto God: for it is He that subjects people under princes, and caused obedience to be given unto them; yea God craves of kings That they be as it were foster-fathers to His Church, and commands queens to be nurses unto His people. And this subjection, Madam, unto God, and unto His troubled Church, is the greatest dignity that flesh can get upon the face of the earth, for it shall carry them to everlasting glory."
Source: Knox, John, citing himself in
an interview with Mary Queen
September 4, 1561
History of the Reformation in Scotland, Volume 2, p. 16,
Dickinson, William C. Ed.,
Philosophical Library, New York, 1950.