The History of Leith

April 16, 2011

The Church of St Nicholas

In Robertson’s map, depicting Leith with its fortifications, 1560 (partly based upon Greenville Coiiins’s), the church of Nicholas is shown between the sixth and seventh bastions, as a cruciform edifice, with
choir, nave, and transepts, measuring about 150 feet in length, by So feet across the latter, and distant only too feet from the Short Sand, or old sea margin

The church, or chapel, with the hospital of St, Nicholas, is supposed to have been founded at some date later than the chapel of Abbot Ballantyne, as the reasons assigned by him for building it seemed to imply that the inhabitants were without any accessible place of worship; but when or by whom it was founded, the destruction of nearly all ecclesiastical records, at the Reformation, tenders it even vain to surmise. Nothing now can be known of their origin, and the last vestiges of them were swept away when Monk built his citadel
They were, of course, ruined by Hertford in his first invasion, ” and from the circumstance of the church in the citadel being dedicated to St. Nicholas, the patron of seamen,” says Robertson, ” we may
infer that Leith at a very early period was a seaport town.”
St Nicholas, the confessor, was a native of Lycia, who died in the year 342, according to the Bollandists. He was assumed as the patron of Venice and many other seaports, and is usually represented
with an anchor at his side and a ship in the background, and, in some instances, as the patron of commerce. In Mrs. Jameson’s “Sacred and Legendary Art,” she mentions two: “a seaport with ships ia the distance; St. Nicholas in his episcopal robes (as Archbishop of Myra), stands by as directing the whole; ** and a storm at sea, in which “St Nicholas appears as a vision above; in one hand he holds a lighted taper; with the other he appears to direct the course of the vessel”
To this apostle of ancient mariners had the old edifice in North Leith been dedicated, when the site whereon it stood was an open and sandy eminence, overlooking a waste of links to the northward,
and afterwards encroached on by the sea; and its memory is still commemorated in a narrow and obscure alley, called St Nicholas VVynd,
according to Fullarton’s “Gazetteer,” in 1851.

Source-Old and New Edinburgh

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