Whitekirk Parish Church

(Parish Church of St. Mary)

The historic Whitekirk Parish Church
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

The historic Whitekirk Parish Church

Beautifully located in the hamlet of Whitekirk is the 15th Century red sandstone structure which is the Parish Church of St. Mary. Oversized for this small community, the explanation being that Whitekirk was an important mediaeval centre of pilgrimage when a nearby well was pronounced to have healing qualities around 1300. A shrine to Our Lady of Haddington was constructed. The original structure on this site was a 12th Century parish church, under the jurisdiction of Holyrood Abbey. However, in 1413 it is said that some 15,653 pilgrims came to Whitekirk and King James I (1394 - 1437) placed the church under his personal protection and built hostels to shelter the growing numbers of pilgrims. In 1435, Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, the future Pope Pius II, walked barefoot through the snow from Dunbar to give thanks at Whitekirk for his survival of a storm in the Firth of Forth while coming on a mission to Scotland.

King James IV (1473 - 1513) regularly made the journey to Whitekirk, but his son King James V gave the site to the Sinclair family (1537). The church declined in importance following the Reformation, returning to the role of Parish church and the well dried up in the early 19th Century following the installation of agricultural drainage on the surrounding land. The next notable event was in 1914 when Suffragettes burned the church, as an act of protest, destroying everything but the stone walls, much to the distress of the minister, Rev. Edward Rankine, and the local community. A sympathetic restoration both inside and out was undertaken in 1917 by Sir Robert Lorimer (1864 - 1929), who also designed several pieces of new furniture for the building.

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