The History of Leith

February 8, 2005

THE ANCIENT WEST WINDOW

(Reprinted from the Church Magazine of March 1911).

South Leith Window 1911

Much interest has been taken in the purchase of the old west window of the church of South Leith, and in its removal to a parish in the Loch Awe district of Argyleshire, where it is to be built into a church in connection with the Church of Scotland.

It will be remembered that until a few days ago it stood in the garden of the house, 43 Albany Street.
The window in question has often been examined, and there seems no reason to doubt that it formed part of the original fabric of St. Mary’s Chapel, built in 1483. It will be remembered that in the wars of 1560 the English cannon firing from Lady Fyfe’s Brae
arid the ‘Giant’s Bier “shot down some part of the east end of the Kirk of Leith,” as our chronicle records. The parts of the chapel destroyed in these assaults were the choir and the transepts, probably as large an area as the nave, winch escaped serious injury. At the Reformation the debris of the ruined parts were removed, a screen wall was built at the east end, and the rave then became the church, in size and outline exactly the same as it stands at I he present time. Minor alterations were made horn time to lime, and in particular a little tower or steeple was added in 1674, but for the most part the church throughout the changes and ‘vicissitudes of almost three centuries remained in the state it had assumed at the Reformation.
Early in the nineteenth century the west end of the church began to show alarming signs of decay, and in 1836 it was found necessary to take it down, the steeple being then twenty- four inches from the perpendicular. From this date onward extensive alterations were made, until in 1848 the church became complete in its present state.
No attempt seems to have been made to preserve the many relics which had gathered in the old building during its long and varied career, and these were either destroyed or passed into private hands, with the result that in the course of a few years they became lost to sight. It happened that Dr Robertson, one of the few antiquaries of Leith, was then a member of the congregation, and he eagerly took possession of a large number of articles, some of which he has described in his book,, Sculptured Stones of Leith., As the west window was taken down lie had it removed to the garden of his house in Albany Street, and rebuilt stone by stone, and there it has remained for about seventy years. Upon being removed in the middle of last month it was found that the window had been hewn from splendid weathering stones by thoroughly capable workmen, the arches were finely chiselled, and the whole structure was in a splendid state of preservation. The architecture of the window belongs to the period of the decorated Gothic, and the design is obviously a very beautiful one. This must have been appreciated in 1848, for the existing west window is in all respects a reproduction of the original window.
On either side there were carved panels, which Dr. Robertson had built in with the window. The left hand panel bears the arms of Mary of Lorraine with the inscription— Maria de Loraine regina Scotie, 1560. The right hand panel bears the motto, In Defens, with the date I560 and the initials, MR, The arms are the royal arms of Scotland, and the initials those of Mary, Queen of Scots.
It may be added that the purchaser of the window and of the panels has acted in a very considerate and generous manner. When it was brought to his notice that an endeavour was being made by the minister and session clerk to gather together some of the interesting relics of the past. he at once granted an inter view to the minister and Provost Smith, a member of the Kirk Session; and he has now agreed to hand over the panels and coat-of- arms, which it is hoped will find a place in south Leith Church as a memorial of our tercentenary. With this auspicious beginning it may not be vain to hope that many antiquities will gradually return to South Leith Church, which is now the oldest and probably the only historic building remaining in the town,
‘With regard to the window, the purchaser has shown no less consideration for the sentiment of South Leith. lie has given a written document (transcribed in our Minute Book) to the effect that, if in the future there should be any restoration of South Leith Church, and possibly the erection of a chancel, the window will be restored on condition that a window of similar design be substituted in the church to which it has been presently removed,
The community is deeply indebted to the purchaser of the window and the panels (who desires to remain anonymous) for his kindly consideration, his courtesy, and his generous gift.
Source-South Leith Records
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