The History of Leith

October 12, 2011

The ancient church of Restalrig

The ancient church of Restalrig, which, curiously enough, at first sight has all the air of an entirely modern edifice ; but on a minute inspection old mouldings and carvings of great antiquity make their appearance in conjunction with the modern stonework of its restoration. It is a simple quadrangular building, without aisles or transept.
The choir, which is the only part of the building that has escaped the rough hands of the iconoclasts of the sixteenth century, is a comparatively small, though handsome, specimen of Decorated English Gothic; and it remained an open ruin until a few years since, when it was restored in a manner as a chapel of ease for the neighbouring district. But a church existed here long before the present one, and it was celebrated all over Scotland for the tomb of St. Triduana, who died at Restalrig, and whose shrine was famous as the resort of pilgrims, particularly those who were affected by diseased eyesight. Thus, to this day, she is frequently painted as carrying her own eyes on a salver or the point of a sword. A noble virgin of Achaia, she is said to have come to Scotland, in the fourth century, with St. Rule. Her name is unknown in the Roman Breviary; but a recent writer says, ” St. Triduana, with two companions, devoted themselves to a recluse life at Roscoby, but
a Pictish chief, named Nectan, having been attracted by her beauty, she fled into Athole to escape him. As his emissaries followed her there, and she discovered that it was her eyes which had
entranced him, she plucked them out, and, fixing them on a thorn, sent them to her admirer. In consequence of this practical method of satisfying a lover, St. Triduana, who came to Restalrig to
live, became famous, and her shrine was for many generations the resort of pilgrims whose eyesight was defective, miraculous cures being effected by the waters of the well.”
Sir David Lindsay writes of their going to ” St. Trid well to mend their ene;” thus it has been inferred that the well afterwards called St. Margaret’s was the well of St. Triduana. Curiously enough, Lestalric, the ancient name of Restalrig, is that by which it is known in the present day; and still one of the roads leading to it from Leith is named the Lochsterrock Road. The existence of a church and parish here, long prior to the death of King Alexander III. is proved by various charters ; and in 1291, Adam of St. Edmunds, prior of Lestalric, obtained a writ, addressed to the sheriff of Edinburgh, to put him in possession of his lands and rights. The same ecclesiastic, under pressure, like many others at the time, swore fealty to Edward I. of England in 1296.Henry de Leith, rector of Restalrig, appeared as a witness against the Scottish Knights of the Temple, at the trial in Holyrood in 1309. The vicar, John Pettit, is mentioned in the charter of confirmation by James III., under his great seal of donations to the Blackfriars of Edinburgh in 1473.
A collegiate establishment of considerable note, having a dean, with nine prebends and two singing boys, was constituted at Restalrig by James III., and completed by James V.; but it seems not to have interfered with the parsonage, which remained entire till the Reformation.
The portion of the choir now remaining does not date, it is supposed, earlier than from the fourteenth century, and is much plainer, says Wilson, than might be expected in a church enriched by the contributions of three pious monarchs in succession, and resorted to by so many devout pilgrims as to excite the special indignation of one of the earliest assemblies of the Kirk, apparently on account of its abounding with statues and images. By the Assembly of 1560 it was ordered to be ” raysit and utterly casten doun,” as a monument of idolatry ; and this order was to some extent
obeyed, and the ” aisler stanis” were taken by Alexander Clark to erect a house with, but were used by the Reformers to build a new Nether Bow Port. The parishioners of Restalrig were ordered in future to adopt as their parish church that of St. Mary’s, in Leith, which continues to the present day to be South Leith church.

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