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Edinburgh, Pleasance, 'convent Of St Mary Of Placentia'

Non Antiquity

Site Name Edinburgh, Pleasance, 'convent Of St Mary Of Placentia'

Classification Non Antiquity

Canmore ID 52131

Site Number NT27SE 127

NGR NT 2625 7349

Datum OSGB36 - NGR


Ordnance Survey licence number 100057073. All rights reserved.
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Administrative Areas

  • Council Edinburgh, City Of
  • Parish Edinburgh (Edinburgh, City Of)
  • Former Region Lothian
  • Former District City Of Edinburgh
  • Former County Midlothian

Archaeology Notes

NT27SE 127 2625 7349.

(Name: NT 2625 7349) Site of Convent of St Mary of Placentia (NR)

OS 1:1056 plan, (1854)

The so-called nunnery of St Mary of Placentia, which is mentioned in all histories of Edinburgh and other works dealing with the ecclesiastical establishments of the city, is completely spurious. The only authority for its existence is Maitland (1753) who considered that the Pleasance, in which it stood, was a corruption of the name of the Italian city of Placentia. There is, however, no such saint in the Calendar as St Mary of Placentia, and it is safe to conclude that Maitland invented the convent to provide a derivation for the Pleasance, accepting a ruinous building near the NW end of the street as the remains of the structure.

W Maitland 1753; RCAHMS 1951.


Publication Account (1981)

Edinburgh boasted only one nunnery, that of the Dominican order dedicated to St.Katherine of Siena, which was founded in 1517 (Cowan, 1976, 153). The allegation that there was an order dedicated to St.Mary of Placentia is wrong. Maitland alleged that a nunnery dedicated to St. Mary of Placentia stood in the Pleasance, but 'at what time or by whom the said monastery was founded, I cannot say' (1753, 176). The claim was perhaps strengthened by the donation to the newly-formed Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in 1781 of a 'representation of Our Saviour before the Jewish High Priests' which .was covered in alabaster and said to have been found .in the ruins of an old religious house in the Pleasance (Wilson, 1891, ii, 128). C.A. Malcolm convincingly showed that the nunnery was purely an invention of Maitland to account for the place-name Pleasance (1937, 2).

Information from ‘Historic Edinburgh, Canongate and Leith: The Archaeological Implications of Development’ (1981).


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