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Old and New Edinburgh Vol. III


I34 OLD AND NEW EDINBURGH. [West Church. When peace came, Messrs. McVicar and Pitcairn, his coadjutor, continued faithfully and successfully to discharge the duties of the ministry. In 1247 Mr. McVicar, when about to deliver one of the old Thursday sermons, suddenly dropped down dead ; and amid a vast concourse of sorrowing parishioners was deposited in his tomb, which has a plain marble monument. A well-painted portrait of him hangs in the vestry of the present church. His colleague, the Rev. Thomas Pitcairn, followed him on the 13th of June, 1751, and a pyramidal stone, erected to his memory by his youngest daughter, stands in the ancient burying-ground. So early as 1738 attempts were made to violate graves, for surgical purposes, in the churchyard, which, of course, was then a lonely and sequestered place, and though the boundary walls were raised eight feet high, they failed to be a protection, as watchers who were appointed connived at, rather than prevented, a practice which filled the parishioners with rage and horror. Hence, notwithstanding all the efforts of the Session to prevent such violation of tombs, several bodies were abstracted in 1742. George Haldane, one of the beadles, was suspected of assisting in this repulsive practice; and on the 9th of May his house at Maryfield was surrounded by an infuriated mob, and burned to the ground. The old church, which stood for ages,and had been in succession a Catholic, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, and finally a Presbyterian place of worship again, and which had been gutted and pillaged by Reformers and Cromwellians, and cannon-shotted in civil wars, was found to be dangerous, and condemned to be taken down. Although the edifice was insufficient, and in some parts dangerous, there was no immediate cause for the growing terror that pervaded the congregation, and culminated in a general alarm on Sunday, the 27th September, 1772. Part of a seat in one of the galleries gave way with a crash, on which the entire assembled mass rushed to the doors, and in an instant the church was empty. A jury of tradesmen met to inspect the church, which they were of opinion should be taken down without delay; but this verdict had hardly been drawn up and read, than a fear seized them that the old church would fall and bury them in its ruins, on which they fled to the adjacent charity work house. The work of demolition was begun forthwith, and when removing this venerable fane, the interior of which now, ? formed after no plan, presented a multitude of petty galleries stuck fip one above another to the very rafters, like so many pigeons?-nests,? a curious example of what is namqd heart-burial came to light. The workmen, says the .!!ots Migazine for September, 1773, discovered ? a leaden coffin, which contained some bones and a leaden urn. Before opening the urn, a most fragrant smell issued out ; on inspecting the cause of it, they found a human heart finely embalmed and in the highest state of preservation. No inscription was upon the coffin by which the date could be traced, but it must have been there for centuries. It is conjectured that the heart belonged to some person who, in the time of the Crusades, had gone to the Holy Land, and been there killed, and the heart, as was customary in those times, embalmed and sent home to be buried with some of the family.? Prior to the erection of the new church, the congregation assembled in a Methodist Chapel in the Low Calton. In 1775 it was completed in the hideous taste and nameless style peculiar to Scottish ecclesiastical irchitecture during the times of the first three Georges. It cost A4,231, irrespective of its equally hideous steeple, and is seated for about 3,000 persons, and is now the mother church, associated with ten others, for a parish which includes a great part of the parliamentary burgh of the capital, and has a population of more than 140,000. The church, says a writer, ? apart from its supplemental steeple, looks so like a huge stone box, that some wags have described it as resembling a packing-case, out of which the neighbouring beautiful toy-like fabric of St. John?s Church has been lifted? At the base of the spire is a fine piece of monumental sculpture, from the chisel of the late Handyside Ritchie, in memory of Dr. David Dickson, a worthy and zealous pastor, who was minister of the parish for forty years. Some accounts state that Napier of Merchiston, the inventor of logarithms, was interred in the cemetery; but from an essay on the subject read before the Antiquarian Society by Professor William Wallace in 1832, there is conclusive evidence given, from a work he quoted, ? that Napier was buried without the West Port of Edinburgh, in the church of St. Cuthbert,? and in a vault, in the month of April, 1617. The baronial family of Dean had also a vault in the old church, which still remains under the new, entering from the north. Above it is a monumentaI stone from the old church, fo the memory of Henry Nisbet of that ilk, by whom we thus learn the vault was built. The arms of the Dean family are still above this black
Volume 3 Page 134
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