Historic Scotland

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History

Scotland has precious few parish churches surviving from the 1100s, the century in which the present parochial system was established under David I. The design of the windows in St Martin’s Kirk indicates it was built that century, making it a rare survival.

The kirk’s story begins in the mid-late 1100s, when Alexander de St Martin was granted land around Haddington from Countess Ada, the mother of William I ‘the Lion’. In turn, he gifted the land to the Cistercian nunnery of St Mary, about a kilometre to the east of the kirk.

The road connecting St Martin’s to the nunnery was called the Nungait, and as Haddington developed, the suburb of Nungate grew around the kirk.

The formative reformer

A notable resident of Nungate was John Knox, who went on to become the architect of the Scottish Protestant Reformation in 1560. Knox may have attended services in St Martin’s as a boy.

St Martin’s Kirk did not survive Knox’s Reformation intact. Its chancel may have been pulled down then, and today the rectangular nave is all that remains. It shows little architectural sophistication, though a few features stand out, including:

  • the chancel arch in the east wall
  • the round-headed piscina, or basin, south of the chancel arch
  • the round-headed windows with their broad internal splays

Of interest are the square holes penetrating the kirk’s walls. Their function is a mystery. They may have been used as ‘putlog holes’ for scaffolding, though other functions should not be ruled out.

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