The Chapel

— 17 The Old Burial Ground

Overview The Chapel The Fishwives Fountain

Newhaven, Port of Grace

The oldest antiquity to be found in Newhaven is the remains of the 16th century Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St James, one wall of which can be seen in Westmost Close. Built by James IV (1473–1513), it inspired the name of the former hamlet – Port of Grace – which later became the village to be known as Newhaven.

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.

1_2061 An extract ot a map, a copy of which can be found in South Leith Parish Church, prepared for the invasion forces from the Siege of Leith in 1560 shows the Chapel as a significant building.  
The magnificent hammer-beam roof of the Great Hall in Edinburgh Castle was built around the same time as the construction of the Michael using, it is said, craftsmen contracted to adorn James IV’s flagship.
South Queensferry Priory Church built at the end of the 15th Century has strikingly similar proportions to the church in the spy map at the top of the page. Courtesy of 253335
The painted ceiling of the C16th St Mary’s Chapel, Grandtully (near Aberfeldy) makes this a must see visit. The fine ceiling was well within the capabilities of those who worked on the Michael and worshipped in the Chapel.. Courtesy of 986316

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.

The wall is part of the original structure if the Chapel. The glazed window would have provided light and protection from the elements.