The History of Leith

November 2, 2011

St. Nicholas

Just as St. Anthony’s Hospital was founded before St. Mary’s Kirk in South Leith, so that of St. Nicholas would seem to have been erected long before St. Ninian’s, to which Abbot Ballantyne gave no churchyard, an omission that is unaccountable save on the supposition that North Leith already possessed one at the Chapel of St. Nicholas. And in the churchyard of St. Nicholas the good folk of North Leith continued to bury their dead until 1656, when chapel and churchyard were displaced by Cromwell’s citadel.
James IV., who was ever a faithful son of the Church, sometimes worshipped at this chapel. – His accounts show these two among several similar entries :—
” Offerit in St. Nycholase Chapel, in Leith beyond the brig,
vii s.”
” To twa puir laddies beside Sanct Nicholas Chapell of Leith,
xi d.”
As St. Nicholas was the patron saint of seamen, this hospital, like that of the old Trinity Hospital in the Kirkgate, may have been, in the first place, for aged and decayed mariners. It must have been a prominent object to those approaching Leith from the sea, and mariners, returning from a long and prosperous voyage, would not forget the good St. Nicholas who had safely brought them where they longed to be. Neither St. Ninian’s nor St. Nicholas’s would escape injury during Hertford’s devastating invasions, and at the Reformation the Chapel of St. Nicholas was allowed to fall into ruin, and all records connected with it were lost.
Among the last authentic notices of St. Nicholas’s Chapel is one in connection with the death of Mr. Muirhead, the first minister of North Leith after the Reformation, who in 1612, we are told, died in his upper chamber of the old manse of St. Ninian, which still stands beside the church, ” and was buried in St. Nicholas’s Chapel on Friday thairafter at the west gavel.” But workmen
in digging trenches for drains and other works in and about the foot of Dock Street, a thoroughfare that has displaced the ancient St. Nicholas’s Wynd, often uncover the bones of those who found their last resting-place in the old churchyard of St. Nicholas so many centuries ago, and wonder how they came to be there.

source-The Story of Leith

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