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 mediŠval 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 Whitekirks Shrine. St. Marys 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 mediŠval 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 nunnery 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. Marys, I commissioned a wood carver from Oberammergau, then living in Norfolk, to carve figures of the Magi and of Christ in his Mothers arms. The result is a wonderfully tranquil portrayal of Christs 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
For details of membership of the Fellowship of St Mary and the Three Kings (associated with the Aisle), contact Mrs. M. Thrusfield, The Old Granary, Buxley, Ormiston, East Lothian EH33 2NG +44 (0)1875 614609.