The History of Leith

March 20, 2012

KIRK SESSION SEALS (South Leith Church Magazine 1910)

In the January number of the Parish Magazine, one of
the extracts from the old minutes of the Kirk Session
contained a reference to a charter granted by the Kirk
Session, to which their seal was attached. A note gave
a description and illustration of the Kirk Session’s Seal
of 1608. The interest aroused by this discovery has
brought out an earlier seal, dated 1598, which is even
more interesting than the one dated 1608. The 1598
seal is considerably larger than the other, but like it is
round in shape. Most of the seals of religious houses
ind religious bodies were oval.

Over the door of a tower is a large shield with the coat
of arms of Scotland, and above the shield a royal crown.
Above the Church is a ribbon, which has the motto :
” Deus adjutor noster ” (God is our help). The legend
round the whole is ” Sigillum ecclesiiE ac sessionis oppidi
lethen . . .” (The seal of the Kirk and Session of the
town of Leith). This seal, which is in the same collection
as that of 1608, is appended to a similar document, for it
testifies the grant of a piece of land near the Kirk of
Leith to Henry Hall (l$th June 1598), the father of the
James Hall who was infeft as heir to the annual rent (4th
March 1608).
Several questions of interest arise when we examine
these two seals. Are there any more seals of the “Kirk
and Session of the town of Leith ” ? It is not the session of
the Church at Leith (it may be observed), but the Church
and Session of the town of Leith. The catalogues of
Laing, and of the British Museum, and the lists of local
collectors do not reveal any more. But it is always
possible that some old charters in the possession of a
Leith family or corporation might reveal another or
several variations. Both also belong to the period
between 1560 and 1609, when the people of the parish,
having been driven from the ruined church at Restalrig,
were worshipping’at St. Mary’s, Leith; but before the
Scottish Parliament had declared the latter to be the
Parish Church, with all its rights and emoluments.
Another point is this—Is it the Church at Leith at all ?
There is no doubt that the Kirk Session used this seal,
and the inscription confirms it. But, as far as is known,
the church did not, in any of its states, or among its
many alterations, ever present the appearance of the one
in this seal. There was not a tower or doorway like the
one there shown: the Royal Lion never adorned its
walls, nor yet the Royal Crown. The decoration on the
present tower was transferred from King James VI.
Hospital at a much later date, The motto also is strange,
for the dedication of the Church at Leith is to the Virgin,
and not even like the Church at Restalrig to the Trinity
and the Virgin.
Was it then simply a stock design of a Church adapted
for Leith ? This has been suggested ; but Kirk Sessions
in these days were a-u’ gust bodies, and we can scarcelJy
imagine the Session of Leith using a second-hand seal.
Could it be intended for the Church at Restalrig ? The
choir of that building has three bays with high buttresses ;
it was a royal foundation, and may have carried the
royal arms. The seal of the Collegiate Church in the
Roman Catholic period was very different, being oval
and showing the Virgin and Child. There are several
examples of seals of the various Deans and of the
Chapter. But the new Kirk Session could not be
expected to look favourably on this relic of popery. Did
they make a new one ? The powerful objection to this
theory is that the tower or transept porch occupies the
place really held by the Chapel of St. Triduana, still
remaining. So peculiar indeed is the design of this
seal, that if it was not attached to a real charter of the
Session, it might be argued that the somewhat corrupt
Lethen . . belonged to some other place.
There appears to be little doubt that the seal given
last month represents correctly enough the Church of
1608. If the original building possessed a tower it stood
at the east end of the Church, and was swept away along
with the transepts during the English wars prior to the
Reformation. The first tower at the west end of the
Church was built about 1615. Compare minute 6th
May 1614.
More light upon this small point in ecclesiology would
be of great interest locally. It may be added that copies
of these two seals have just now been placed in the
possession of the present Kirk Session of South Leith.
W. B.
[We are indebted to the Rev. William Burnett, B.D.,
for the copies of the two seals referred to in the above

source-South Leith Church

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