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Edinburgh, 41 Cowgate, Magdalen Chapel

Almshouse (17th Century), Burial(S) (Period Unassigned), Chapel (16th Century)

Site Name Edinburgh, 41 Cowgate, Magdalen Chapel

Classification Almshouse (17th Century), Burial(S) (Period Unassigned), Chapel (16th Century)

Alternative Name(s) English Chapel; Blackfriars Wynd; Blackfriars Street; U.p Church; 39 Cowgate

Canmore ID 52256

Site Number NT27SE 23

NGR NT 25624 73409

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

(NT 2563 7341) St Mary Magdalene Chapel (NR)

(On site of Hospital) (AD. 1503)

OS 1/500 plan, (1895)

The Magdalene Chapel, to which were attached a chaplain's lodging and a hospital or almshouse for bedemen was founded by Michael Maqueen, who according to the confirmation charter of 1547, left $700 for the completion of the work when he died in 1537. His wife, Janet Rhynd took charge of the work adding a further $2000, and erected the buildings from their foundations. From the first, it was under the patronage of the Hammermen's Incorporation of Edinburgh, and was in their possession, still performing its original charitable functions, until the mid-19th century.

The hospital and chapel stood at the corner of the Cowgate and Candlemaker Row. Only the chapel now survives, alterations having been made to it in 1614-5, and the tower added in 1622. These parts are now incorporated in the buildings of the Livingston Memorial Missionary Training Institution and Dispensary and, except for the tower, the street frontage is entirely modern. Only the E gable and S side of the chapel are visible from the outside, and it will be seen that the masonry has been considerably altered and repaired.

The allegation that these buildings were erected on the site of the Maison Dieu (see NT27SE 42) seems to be based merely on the fact that both were near the Grey Friars (Easson 1957).

T Ross and G Brown 1915; RCAHMS 1951; D E Easson 1957.

This chapel is as described in previous information, it is still used by Edinburgh University.

Visited by OS (S F S) 3 December 1975.

Small scale excavation was carried out in summer 1992 during restoration of the chapel constructed c1540. Three areas were investigated- within the chapel, and in two rooms to the N of the chapel, fronting onto the Cowgate.

The Chapel

Lowering of the solum in a small area in the centre of the chapel uncovered 9 extended inhumations, buried in the original earthen floor. Evidence was recovered for one coffin. Shroud pins were associated with two other burials. A considerable quantity of disarticulated human bone was recovered during the lowering of the solum, representing at least a further five inviduals.

NW Room

The excavated area contained a single, uniform deposit of clay loam, within which a single extended inhumation was excavated. Again, quantities of disarticulated human bone were recovered. Small abraded sherds of East Coast White Gritty Ware were recorded at the lower levels of the deposit.

NE Room

Removal of features and deposits associated with the buildings pre-dating the standing 19th century addition revealed the existence of four inhumations, and quantities of disarticulated human bone. Three

of the skeletons were cut through by the foundations of the chapel tower, constructed between 1620 and 1625. Beneath the burials a series of ditches, running EW, parallel to the Cowgate were excavated. The ditches were cut through, and backfilled with midden deposits.

A continuing programme of recording of the above ground structure is also under way. The existence has been recorded of a medieval window in the N wall of the chapel, a window at the first floor level in the W face of the tower, a doorway in the S chapel wall, probably leading to an external turnpike stair and areas of original painted wall plaster. Sponsor: City of Edinburgh District Council.

M. Collard 1992.

Architecture Notes

Depicted on the coloured 1st edition of the O.S. 1:1056 scale map (Edinburgh and its Environs, 1854, sheet 35).


Stewart Smith collection -1 retouched photograph


Watercolour sketches by Thomas Brown Vol 11, No 9 Ref Adv. MSS 34.8.1-3.

Edinburgh, 39 Cowgate, Magdalen Chapel.

RCAHMS: Statfile copy interior view by Hanslip Fletcher, 1910.


Publication Account (1981)

Magdalen Chapel owed its origin to the benefaction of a private citizen. Located in the Cowgate opposite the Greyfriars, this chapel with a hospital attached was founded by Michael Maquhen and his wife Janet Rynd, for a chaplain and seven poor men in 1537 (Cowan, 1976, 176). Both the chapel and the hospital, whose patronage had meantime switched to the Incorporation of the Hammermen, survived the Reformation with little structural damage. It is possible that the first meeting of the General Assembly met within its walls and the 1578 Assembly which did convene in the chapel saw the birth of Presbyterianism under the moderatorship of Andrew Melville (Gray, 1940, 44). The chief glory of the chapel is, however, to be found in its four stained glass shields which now adorn the centre window. Represented on the plates are the arms of Mary of Guise, the Royal Arms of Scotland, the arms of Michael Maguhen and the impaled arms of Maquhen and Rynd. These are the only specimens of P,reReformation stained glass of any importance left in Scotland (Smith, n.d.,6-7).

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

Project (1997)

The Public Monuments and Sculpture Association ( set up a National Recording Project in 1997 with the aim of making a survey of public monuments and sculpture in Britain ranging from medieval monuments to the most contemporary works. Information from the Edinburgh project was added to the RCAHMS database in October 2010 and again in 2012.

The PMSA (Public Monuments and Sculpture Association) Edinburgh Sculpture Project has been supported by Eastern Photocolour, Edinburgh College of Art, the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust, Historic Scotland, the Hope Scott Trust, The Old Edinburgh Club, the Pilgrim Trust, the RCAHMS, and the Scottish Archive Network.

Field Visit (29 September 2001)

Scrolled pediment broken by a framed armorial panel, surmounted by a later (1649) smaller pediment topped by a perforated ball. On the central panel is a scrolled shield with the impaled arms of Michael MacQueen (three savages' heads) and Janet Rynd (a shield divided into four quarters, the first, third and fourth decorated with ermine, the second with two stars. Over the centre of the four quarters is a cross on which is a cross crosslet fitchee). Dividing these coats of arms is the crowned hammer of the Guild of Hammermen. The couple's initials appear either side of the shield, with thistles and the date 1553 either side of the crown. Originally, two small figures stood on square pedestals at the sides of the pediment: a bearded bedesman (or mason) in profile on the left, with a staff (or an instrument for measuring angles) in his right hand; and a hammerman in late Elizabethan or quite early Jacobean costume, a curved hammer in his right hand, his knees bent and his body turned to the front.

The Magdalen Chapel was founded by Michael MacQueen (died 1537) and his wife Janet Rynd (died 1553). The carved stone was originally placed on a monumental gateway to the chapel close. John Sawer painter was paid ten shillings and a pint of wine 'for drawing of ye croun upone ye stane to be set above ye foir yet heid'. Alexander Wat was paid for mason work on the chapel, but the heraldic stone was more probably carved by unnamed masons who received three pounds for 'hewand ye heid stane to be set upon ye foir yet heid'. (Quoted in 'The Magdalen Chapel', pp.30-31). The stone was moved to its present position in 1649 when the pediment was added.

Thomas Ross and G. Baldwin Brown describe the figure on the left as a mason 'dressed in a coarse gabardine and [holding] in his hands a hinged instrument for taking angles.' Gifford et al describe the figure as a bedesman.

Inscriptions : In pediment: 1649

Either side of crown (raised Gothic numbers): 15 53

Either side of middle of shield (raised letters): M M [Michael MacQueen]

In bottom corners (raised letters): I R [Janet Rynd]


Signatures : None Visible

Design period : 1615

Year of unveiling : 1649

Information from Public Monuments and Sculpture Association (PMSA Work Ref : EDIN1476)


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