Patrick, the 17th Earl recalls "In the mid 1950s, Fr. Patten, restorer of the Anglican Shrine at Walsingham, said to me "One day you must restore the Shrine of Our Lady of Haddington". Until then, I had little notion of the relevant history. The Lauderdale Aisle had been overlooked in the details of the Maitland/Lauderdale inheritance, and my recent predecessors had therefore cared little about it.

Detailed research convinced me of the importance of the Aisle. Our Lady of Haddington was a major focus of mediæval devotion in the British Isles, with a Shrine at Whitekirk, which was in the old county of Haddingtonshire. However, English invasions left the Shrine desecrated, and Whitekirk in ruins. Subsequently, the Forrest family endowed "an Altarage of the Blessed Virgin and the Three Kings of Cologne" in the "Northwest corner" of the recently dedicated Church of St. Mary in Haddington, and this was presumably a revival of Whitekirk’s Shrine. St. Mary’s subsequently suffered severe damage during the Siege of Haddington, and details of the precise position and appearance of the Shrine were lost. Initially, I thought that it was situated in the North Transept, but it was most likely located where the current bookshop stands. The only clue to its likely appearance was a mediæval carved panel of the Adoration of the Magi, now in the crypt of St. Nicholas East Church, Aberdeen. This depicted the Kings literally running in haste to bring their gifts to the Christ-Child, and clad in toga-like plaid kilts. Here, then, was a model costume for the Three Kings. Moreover, I learned of a seal of the erstwhile Priory of Haddington, deposited in the British Museum, with the inscription ‘House of Our Lady at Haddington’. Thus, equipped with two images, and stimulated by the surge of interest in restoring St. Mary’s, I commissioned a wood carver from Oberammergau, then living in Norfolk, to carve figures of the Magi and of Christ in his Mother’s arms. The result is a wonderfully tranquil portrayal of Christ’s Mother, visible to all in the Lauderdale Aisle.

Once the Aisle had been converted back to its original use as the private chapel of the Lauderdales, it was consecrated for public worship by the Bishop of Edinburgh, the late Primus Alastair Haggart, during one of the early Pilgrimages in the 1970s. An ecumenical service - never before seen in Scotland - followed. The Primus presided; Dr. Roy Sanderson, then a former Moderator, also participated and offered prayers; then the Polish Orthodox priest in Edinburgh offered a prayer; and the Abbot of Nunraw blessed the figures which had been newly instated.

Since then the Aisle has been visited by many hundreds of people, and is the focus of an annual ecumenical pilgrimage . Intercessions are requested by people from all around the world. Many people write back to thank us for the prayers that have been offered, and tell us that their prayers have been answered. The Aisle continues to maintain its reputation for holding special healing qualities.

Patrick, Earl of Lauderdale

The Aisle is the former sacristy of the great 15th century parish church, with a splendid monument of the early-17th century, in marble, with alabaster effigies. St Mary's is one of the 'three sisters' Scottish Collegiate churches, set in capitals and former capitals of Scotland, including Edinburgh and Linlithgow.

St Mary's Haddington was known as the 'Lamp of Lothian' due to its beauty and spiritual significance. The church was badly damaged during the Siege of Haddington (1548-9) when the English barricaded the town against the joint forces of Scots and French.

St Mary's is the longest parish church in Scotland, and is of cathedral scale. The Lauderdale Aisle - an Episcopal Chapel within a Church of Scotland Building with strong Catholic and Orthodox influences - was the inspiration for the annual international ecumenical pilgrimage on the second Saturday in May.

Today St Mary's Church maintains a tradition of ecumenicalism. The Aisle is the burial place of the Earls and of the Duke of Lauderdale.

In addition to spaces in the burial vault for the interment of the coffins of the Earls and Countesses of Lauderdale, there are niches in the vault for the interment of ashes. Any clansfolk who would like their ashes to be interred in the vault of the Aisle should contact the Chief.  


Recent history of the Aisle - Classification as an ancient monument

The Minister of Public Buildings and Works determined in 1964 that the Aisle with its outstanding 17th century alabaster monument, one of the finest of its period in Scotland and the United Kingdom, should be classified as an ancient monument, and that the Minister was of the opinion that the preservation of the monument was a matter of public interest by reason of the historical, traditional and archaeological interest attaching thereto. The Minister undertook the maintenance of the fabric of the Aisle, whilst the Earl of Lauderdale undertook day to day operation of the aisle and to provide free access.   Historic Scotland has taken over the responsibilities of the Minister of Public Buildings and Works.               

The Lauderdale Aisle on the north side of the church of St Mary, Haddington is a burial aisle which incorporates a memorial dedicated to Sir John Maitland, 1st Baron Maitland, Chancellor of Scotland, who died in 1595 and to his son, John Maitland, 1st Earl of Lauderdale, who died in 1645 and their wives. Around 1590, the Lord Chancellor, John,1st Lord Maitland who  had the friendship of King James VI  was allowed to use this vestry as his mortuary aisle. The present monument was probably ordered by the 1st Earl in the 1640's. The entrance to the aisle is through a 13th century Romanesque doorway, but the present structure seems to date from the 16th century. It is not clear what structure lay beyond the doorway, though it is thought that it was the former vestry. 

         Before the Reformation, Maitlands were interred in the floor of the church.   Following the Siege of Haddington (1548 - 1550) which left the choir and transepts derelict, Sir John Maitland (shown above) began to restore the Aisle, and around this time a family crypt on the west side of the Aisle was built to accommodate burials, because the Kirk began to discourage interments in the church.

         The memorial may have been planned by the 1st Earl, who died in 1645, but it was probably erected by the 2nd Earl, and only Duke of Lauderdale, after the Restoration. Its design is attributed to Nicholas Stone (died 1647), and is similar to the memorials to the first Earl of Dunbar at Dunbar, and to Viscount Stormont at Scone Palace. These memorials were made in London by Italian craftsmen but erected by local labour. Close to the Aisle was the “Altarage of the Blessed Virgin and the Three Kings” which was derelict after the siege of Haddington, and had disappeared by 1590.

         On May 6th 1978 the ancient Altarage was restored in the private chapel by the XVIIth Earl of Lauderdale with the intention that the chapel should be used for ecumenical worship and use by Christians of all Trinitarian traditions.

         The Collegiate Church of St Mary the Virgin is a Church of Scotland parish church in Haddington, East Lothian, Scotland. Building work on the church was started in 1380, and further building and rebuilding has taken place up to the present day.