— 17 The Old Burial Ground
When James IV (reigned 1488—1513) planned to build his Navy which would include the greatest ship of the age, The Michael — subsequently known as the Great Michael – he recruited craftsmen from all over Europe. He also built a new dockyard in the Novus Portus de Leith — the New Haven of Leith.
An able and enlightened monarch and, like his mother devoted to the church, James wanted to look after the spiritual needs of this new community of shipwrights and mariners. Accordingly, James founded the Chapel of Our Lady of Grace (the Blessed Virgin Mary) and St James, to give it its full and proper title.
Building started in 1505 and the Chapel was completed in 1508. In 1506, King James appointed Sir James Cowie to be Chaplain at the Chapel. James expected the need for a church to be long-term so no doubt it would have been finely decorated — the craftsmen working on the Great Michael would have seen to that. It is said that the beautiful carving in Edinburgh Castle’s Great Hall was undertaken by the French and Flemish wood carvers working on the great ship. Below are some suggestions of how it could have once looked.
Following the Reformation, the Chapel had sadly been abandoned as a place of worship by 1560, and by 1611 it was in ruins. Nevertheless, around 1654 it was used briefly by the congregation of North Leith Parish Church when they were not allowed to use their own church by the Commonwealth (English) occupying forces when the Citadel was being built.
The archaeologists’ survey of the Chapel site in 1972 revealed the foundations of a rectangular building, 19.2m (63ft approx.) E-W by 6.4m (21ft approx.) N-S, with 0.86m (almost 3ft) thick gable walls and 0.68m (over 2ft) thick side walls.