Ian M Miller traces the history of a Scottish pilgrimage


The origins of the devotions to Our Lady of Haddington belong to a shrine at the village of Whitekirk, which was at the time in Haddingtonshire, now East Lothian. Whitekirk was a place of Christian worship from at least the seventeenth century, and had a holy well (now lost) dedicated to the Virgin Mary and also a famous miracle-working statue called Our Lady of Haddington. It was on the pilgrimage route from St Andrew’s to Santiago de Compostela and is described as a place pilgrims should worship (see inter pro peregrinits de compostela in book five of the codex Calixtimas).

The Shrine of Our Lady at Whitekirk was desecrated by the armies of King Edward III of England in 1356 and it is believed that the statue of the Madonna was then gifted by one of the soldiers to a church in Leicestershire. The shrine was restored by the Scottish kings and in 1435 Aeneos Piccolomini (later Pope Pius V) was on a diplomatic visit as papal legate after his ship was beset by storms and he made a vow to walk barefoot to the nearest shrine of the Virgin which was eight miles away from the coast. There he prayed to Our Lady, giving thanks. Unfortunately this walk, barefoot in the Scottish winter, made him suffer from rheumatism for the rest of his life! As the threat of raids, particularly in the countryside, had continued it was decided that the Shrine of Our Lady would be moved to a large newly built church—St Mary’s in Haddington. Here pilgrimages continued until these were suppressed by the reformers in 1632. St Mary’s itself suffered severe damage during the Siege of Haddington in 1548 and all trace of the shrine was lost until the late Earl of Lauderdale, Patrick Maitland, discovered a panel of the Magi and Our Lady in the church of St Nicholas East in Aberdeen. He also discovered in the British Museum a seal of Our Lady’s congregation of nuns at Haddington.

When the seventeenth Earl of Lauderdale, a great Anglo-Catholic figure of the twentieth century, became earl on the death of his elder brother, he was in a position to fulfil a task that had been entrusted to him by Father Hope Patten, the restorer of the Anglican shrine at Walsingham (Patrick Maitland had become a guardian of Walsingham in 1955). At that time, Father Patten said to him: ‘One day you must restore the Shrine of Our Lady of Haddington.’ The earl subsequently found that the Lauderdale aisle in St Mary’s Haddington belonged to his family and he then strove to get images of Our Lady of Haddington and the Three Kings and he commissioned a wood carver from Oberammergau to carve the figures of the Magi and of infant Christ held by Our Lady. The result was a wonderfully tranquil portrayal of Christ’s mother.

The earl then converted the aisle back into a private chapel of the Lauderdales and had the chapel consecrated for public worship by Bishop Alastair Haggart of Edinburgh in early 1972. Although presided over by the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church this was an ecumenical service—never before seen in Scotland. Dr Roy Sanderson, a former moderator of the Church of Scotland, also participated in the event and led prayers, and the Polish Orthodox priest in Edinburgh also took part whilst the Roman Catholic Abbott of Munro blessed the newly installed figures.

Thereafter the aisle became the focus of an annual ecumenical pilgrimage. The first pilgrimage was only attended by 30 people, but 30 years later over 2000 were coming to the day’s various services. Even as quite a frail old man, the earl would visit the Church Times office in person to deliver photographs of this annual event. The last of the modern ecumenical pilgrimages was in 2007. This was a great pity as the pilgrimage was a sign of the whole church for which Our Lord prayed.

On the subject of modern miracles it would appear that this actually happened. I have in my correspondence, which I received from the late earl, a press cutting reporting the apparently miraculous recovery of a lady who had prayed in desperation to Our Lady of Haddington. During St John Paul II’s visit to Scotland in 1984, the earl was granted a private visit with the pontiff who then blessed the statue of Our Lady of Haddington.

On Saturday, 12 May 2018, the third of the renewed pilgrimages to Our Lady of Haddington took place. The Mass began at 12 noon in the Chapel of Our Lady and the Three Kings in St Mary’s Church, Haddington, celebrated by the Revd the Honourable Sydney Maitland, who is priest-in-charge of All Saints, Jordanhill, Glasgow. The preacher was the Revd Canon Beau Brandie, whose main theme was the crucial role of the Blessed Virgin in the Christian faith. Lessons were led by Canon Keith Pagan and Canon Woodlie. At this Mass, we were joined by Father David Mumford, the leader of the Scottish Walsingham pilgrimage.

Thanks to the kind invitation of the late earl’s nephew, Father Sydney Maitland, a new series of May pilgrimages has been started and if those who love Our Lord and Our Lady choose to support this annual event it will again be what Father Patten had urged the late earl to re-establish: ‘One day, you must restore the Shrine of Our Lady of Haddington.’

We hope that Anglo-Catholics will decide to come and support this annual event as Scotland and the UK in general really need Our Lady’s prayers to her son, as never before in her history.


Ian M Miller assists with the Haddington pilgrimage.