The History of Leith

April 5, 2004

From the pen of Bishop Robert Forbes

The reason for my very high regard for South Leith Parish Church is because it does as it preaches. But not only this it has shown a very marked tolerance towards all people over many centuries. So we find in the Churchyard good Protestants being buried beside good Catholics and others of different denominations. What arguments or differences they may have had life was forgotten about in the face of death when we all have to account for ourselves before God. There is no denomination in heaven.

However if we enter the Church by the West porch and go through a second door we find that we are in an area ,before entering the nave, behind the screen and below the Choir Gallery. It was in this area called the Maltman’s Aisle where in 1775 that Robert Forbes, Episcopal Bishop of Ross and Caithness was buried. We know this from the introduction of Bishop Forbes Journals of his travels because it explains that he had lived and died in his house in the Kirkgate and buried at South Leith Church in the Maltman’s Aisle. The funeral took place on the 21st Nov 1775. His wife died on the 8th January 1776 and was buried beside him. Bishop Forbes wrote “The Lion in mourning” about the Jacobite uprising and his Journal of his visitations to Ross and Caithness along with a memoir of his life was published in 1886 by the Rev J.B. Cowan of Kirkwall.

It is odd to relate that an Episcopal Bishop not only is buried at South Leith but he is also mentioned in an excellent little book by Alexander Mackenzie called “The Prophecies of the Brahan Seer” © 1970 in the Chapter entitled “Prophecies as to the fulfilment of which there is doubt” . The prophecy under discussion is when a magpie has made a nest for three successive years in the gable of the Church of Ferrintosh the Church will fall when full of people, This prophecy may or may not be applied to the destruction of the Abby Church of Fearn in 1742 by lightning. The following comes from the “Jacobite Memoirs” of 1762 by Bishop Robert Forbes.

In the writings of Bishop Forbes we find the following story “The ruinous Church of Ferne was of old an Abbacy of the White Friars (Keith’s Catalogue, p247). The roof of flagstones, with part of a side wall was beat down in an instant by thunder and lightning on Sunday, October 10th 1742 and so crushed and bruised about forty persons. That they were scarcely to be discovered who or what they were and therefore were buried promiscuously without any manner of distinction. The gentry having luckily their seats in the niches were saved by the sudden crash as was the preacher by the sounding board falling upon the pulpit and his bowing down under it. Great numbers were wounded” He didn’t mention if a magpie or even if a nest had been seen in the gable of the Church. So there is a doubt as to whether or not this prophecy has been fulfilled or not..

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