The History of Leith

March 26, 2012

The Carmelite monastery of Greenside,

At the western side of the Calton hill stood the Carmelite
monastery of Greenside, the name of which
is still preserved in a street there, and which must
have been derived from the verdant and turfy slope
that overhung the path to Leith. Though these
White Friars were introduced into Scotland in the
thirteenth century, it was not until 1518, when the
Provost James, Earl of Arran, and the Bailies of the
•city, conveyed by charter, under date i3th April, to
John Malcolme, Provincial of the Carmelites, and
his successors, their lands of Greenside, and the
• chapel or kirk of the Holy Cross there. The
latter had been an edifice built at some remote
period, of which no record now remains, but it
served as the nucleus of this Carmelite monastery,
nearly the last of the religious foundations in
Scotland prior to the Reformation.
In December, 1520, the Provost (Robert Logan
of Coatfield), the Bailies and Council, again conferred
the ground and place of ” the Greensyde to
the Freris Carmelitis, now beand in the Ferry, for
their reparation and bigging to be maid,” and Sir
Thomas Cannye was constituted chaplain thereof.
From this it would appear that the friary had
been in progress, and that till ready for their
reception the priests were located at the Queensferry,
most probably in the Carmelite monastery
built there in 1380 by Sir George Dundas of
that ilk. In October, 1525, Sir Thomas, chaplain
of the place and kirk of the Rood of Greenside,
got seisin ” thairof be the guid town,”
-and delivered the keys into the hands of the
magistrates in favour of Friar John Malcolmson,
“pro marerall (sic) of the ordour.”
In 1534, two persons, named David Straiten
and Norman Gourlay, the latter a priest, were
tried for heresy and sentenced to be burned at
the stake. On the 2yth of August they were
carried to the Rood of Greenside, and there suffered
that terrible death. After the suppression of the
order, the buildings mus^ have been tenantless
until 1591, when they were converted into a
hospital for lepers, founded by John Robertson,
a benevolent merchant of the city, ” pursuant to
a vow on his receiving a signal merely from God.”
” At the institution of this hospital,” says Arnot,
” seven lepers, all of them inhabitants of Edinburgh,
were admitted in one day. The severity of the
regulations which the magistrates appointed to be
observed by” those admitted, segregating them
from the rest of mankind, and commanding them
to remain within its walls day and night, demonstrate
the loathsome and infectious nature of the
distemper.” A gallows whereon to hang those
who violated the rules was erected at one end of
the hospital, and even to open its gate between
sunset and sunrise ensured the penalty of death.
It is a curious circumstance that, though not a
stone remains of the once sequestered Carmelite
monastery, there is still perpetuated, as in the case
of the abbots of Westminster, in the convent of the
Carmelites at Rome, an official who bears the title
of // Padre Priore di Greenside. (” Lectures on
the Antiquities of Edin.,” 1845.

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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