History of St Mary's
The earliest reference to a church in Haddington dates from 1139. In addition to the parish church there were monastic establishments, all of which suffered at the hands of Edward 111's army in 1355 in a campaign known as "The Burnt Candlemas".
The light of the Christian Gospel, however, was not extinguished: within 2 or 3 decades the present fabric was begun, its period of erection extending for half a century or more.
The title "Lamp of Lothian", which referred originally to the choir of the Franciscan Friary a few hundred yards down river, has since, passed to the present building, now restored 'for the solace of the whole community'.
Founded as a Collegiate Church in 1380, and taking over one hundred years to build, the church was largely ruined during the mid-sixteenth century Siege of Haddington. This was after the Rough Wooing by Henry VIII the siege of Haddington taking place in 1548-49.
At the instigation of John Knox, born in Giffordgate just across the river, the Town Council repaired the Church in 1561 "frae steeple to the west end". A barrier wall was built and the enclosed nave served as the parish church for over 400 years.
Many improvements were made in that time, notably the heightening of the galleries by some six feet in 1811. The outline of the original arches is easily seen. The rib vaulting of the aisles was replaced by plaster.
By 1892, further radical changes had taken place during the ministry of the Rev Robert Nimmo Smith, who dreamed of a beautiful sanctuary and restored transepts. The floor was lowered and red pine blocks laid. Plaster was removed from the walls, and two new galleries, east and west, built. A new organ was installed in the East Gallery. Pulpit, font and lectern, and communion table, as well as several stained glass windows were gifted. Only the mullions of the Great East Window and of the South Window were restored, leaving the choir and transepts open to the skies. During the 1920s a concrete raft was sunk in the choir: this undoubtedly preserved the pillars from further subsidence and indirectly laid the foundation for future restoration.
This last and greatest restoration took place in the early 1970s. It came about as the culmination of cooperation between the Kirk Session and the newly-formed Lamp of Lothian Collegiate Trust, whose intention to build a centre for renewal in Haddington found early expression in the conversion of the Poldrate Mill and cottages into youth and community purpose buildings.
The restoration of the Church was the largest challenge. People rose to it locally and much further afield. Miss Hilda Nimmo Smith gave a generous benefaction, the Kirk Session sold four silver Communion Cups made in the reign of Charles I and no longer in use, and Her Grace, the Duchess of Hamilton initiated an Appeal for funds to restore St Mary's and for the upkeep of the neighbouring Lamp of Lothian buildings - all for community healing and renewal through the Arts and creative activity. Through her untiring efforts, the success of the Appeal was assured.
A most timely and economic benefit in the re-ceiling of the tower, choir and transepts was the skilful introduction of fibreglass - lightweight and durable. New flagstones were laid. A central dais was gifted by the Kirk Session and carpeted by The Friends of St Mary's. A temporary organ was also gifted.
The building is not only an inspiring place of worship for its congregation, but one of the riches of the Lothians which people, of all denominations and none, regard as a communal asset and one with which they have a legitimate concern.
The church contains the early 16th century Lauderdale Aisle, the chapel of the Maitland family, set aside and protected by trust deed for ecumenical worship by the mainstream churches.
Inaugurated in May 1990, the Lammermuir Pipe Organ built in nearby Oldhamstocks, is of traditional design. It is housed in the North Gallery.