The History of Leith

May 4, 2012

The preceptory for the canons of St. Anthony

On the east side of the Kirkgate, to take the
edifices in succession there, there was founded by
a preceptory for the canons of St. Anthony, the only establishment
of the kind in Scotland.
Arnot, in his history, unthinkingly mentions “the
monastery of Knights Templars of St. Anthony”
at Leith. These canons, says Chalmers, “seem to
have been an order of religious knights, not
Templars. The only document in which they are
called Templars is a charter of James VI. in 1614,
giving away their establishment and revenues; and
this mistake of an ignorant clerk is wildly repeated
by Arnot.”

(Since this was written it has been found that the preceptory was founded by the Templers
which was subsequently taken over by the Knights of St John)

Their church, burying-ground, and gardens were
in St. Anthony’s Wynd, an alley off the Kirkgate;
and the first community was brought from St.
Anthony of Vienne, the seat of the order in France.
They were formed in honour of St. Anthony, the
patriarch of monks, who was born at Coma, a
village of Heraclea on the borders of Arcadia, in
A.D. 251, and whose sister was placed in the first
convent that is recorded in history. A. hermit by
habit, he dwelt long in the ruins of an old castle
that overlooked the Nile; and after his death (said
to have been in 356) his body was deposited in the
church of La Motte St. Didier, at Vienne, when,
according to old traditions, those labouring under
the pest known as St. Anthony’s Fire—a species of
erysipelas—were miraculously cured by praying at
his shrine.
Gaston, a noble of Vienne, and his son Gironde,
filled with awe, we are told, by these wonderful
cures, devoted their lives and estates to found a
hospital for those who laboured under this disease,
and seven others joined them in their attendance
on the sick; and on these Hospitaller Brethren
Boniface VIII. bestowed the Benedictine Priory
of Vienne, giving them the rules of St. Austin, and
declaring the Abbot General of this new order—
the Canons Regular of St. Anthony. The superiors
of the subordinate preceptories were called commanders,
says Alban Butler, ” and their houses are
called commanderies, as when they were Hospitallers.”
Their preceptory at Leith was of the most magnificent
description, and the southern gate there
was named St. Anthony’s Port,
from its proximity to the establishment.
The lofty steeple was
long a conspicuous object; but
in the siege of Leith in 1559-60
it was beaten down by an English
eight-gun battery.

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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