John Knox is believed to have been born in
Giffordgate, on the opposite bank of the of the River Tyne from St
Mary's around 1514. He trained as a priest in St Mary's but never
held a parish. Instead, he became a notary and then a tutor to
landowning families near Haddington. These lairds supported the
Reformer, George Wishart and Knox became a guide to Wishart as he
travelled in the Lothians.
In January 1547, Wishart preached at two services
in St Mary's with Knox standing guard, below the pulpit bearing a
two handed sword. He was prepared to defend him against Cardinal
Beaton's armed men but Wishart sent him away, saying "One's enough
for the burning". Wishart was captured and burned at the stake
at St Andrews. Knox was exiled for his non-conforming beliefs
but was able to return to Scotland in 1558.
The Siege of Haddington in 1548 left St Mary's
roofless for 14 years. The Catholic Church was not in a position to
restore it as support for reformation grew. As the town council,
with limited resources was considering what it could do, Knox is
reputed to have suggested a barrier wall to restrict the church to
the area of the nave, leaving the crossing and choir open to the
sky. It may have suited Knox to shut from view of the congregation
the high altar and its associations with popery. Things remained
that way until the full restoration of 1972/73.
There is no record of Knox having preached in St Mary's, but,
as he was ordained priest there and the inventory of his estate showed that he
had a pension from the Kirk in Haddington, it seems likely.
3 Star attraction
In 2013 St Mary's Church has again been awarded the
prestigious 3 star award by the Scottish Tourist Board. The scheme focuses on the welcome, hospitality, service and
presentation of visitor attractions.