Scottish Churches and Ruined Abbeys - South

St Mary’s Church, Haddington


The largest parish church in Scotland


Set in a graveyard on the edge of the town along the River Tyne, this is the largest parish church in Scotland.

It is a long low building with side aisles, transepts and a low square tower. Looking at the church, the colour of the stone to the west of the tower is paler than that to the east. The architecture is less ornate to the east. This is explained by the history of the church.

Haddington Church

The church was built in the C14th replacing an earlier church destroyed by Edward I. Haddington was occupied by the English Army in 1548 during the Siege of Haddington, at the time of the Rough Wooing when Henry VIII was trying to persuade the Scots to agree a marriage between his son Edward and the infant Mary Queen of Scots. The chancel, transepts and tower were left roofless after the siege ended. The townsfolk could not afford to restore the church and built a wall across the end of the nave and just used this. The rest was left open to the elements. The church was finally restored in the 1970s in what has been described as one of the most significant church restorations of the 20thC. The only clues to the restoration are in the slightly different colour of stone, architecture and erosion of some of the pillars in the chancel.

There is a splendid west end with two double doorways with round arches above each with to larger carved arches above them. There is a carved frieze of foliage round the tops of the pillars and a large stained glass window above.

Haddington Church

Inside, steps lead down into the church.

The church is large with side aisles extending the length of the church. There is a small balcony above the west end. Pillars with a carved frieze and pointed arches separate nave and side aisles. The ribs of the vaulted ceiling are deep beige and have carved bosses where they meet.

Haddington Church

Clerestory windows above the side aisles are plain glass, side aisles have 19th or 20thC stained glass. These include a Burne Jones Crucifixion with the Virgin and St John in the south transept, which came from a church in Torquay and was given to the church when it was restored. The pulpit and font in the nave date from 1892.

There is a large organ in the north transept.

The south transept has a huge carved stone memorial on the wall with full size figures on either side with a very worn inscription between them. Above are two figures holding a shield.

Haddington Church

At the end of the north and south aisles are altars with a tapestry wall covering above them and on the altar front. That in the south aisle is supposed to represent ‘hills’. That in the north aisle ‘coast’.

The chancel is furnished with a modern wood altar, chairs, reading desk and floor standing pulpit.

The highlight of the church must be the Lauderdale aisle off the north wall of the chancel.

Haddington Church

This was originally the sacristy but after the reformation, John, 1st Lord Maitland was allowed to use it as a burial vault. He is buried here with his son, the 1st Earl of Lauderdale  and their wives in a splendid black marble and alabaster joint tomb. The monument was erected in 1675 by the 2nd Earl of Lauderdale, a very powerful man who virtually ran Scotland for Charles II. Beneath is the Lauderdale family vault.

On the wall opposite is a small stone altar, with  a clothed and crowned figure of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child and the three Magi bringing gifts. This were carved by an Oberammergau woodcarver when the aisle was restored in 1978.

Opening times are fairly restricted. It is open Sunday - Friday from 1.30-4 with a short service at 2pm. On Saturday it is open 11-4 with a short service at noon. The nearest post code is  EH41 4DA and the grid reference is NT519736.

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