It is a significant fact that in the year when Luther, then an Augustinian monk, nailed to the church door at Wittenberg his ninety-five thesis denouncing in unmeasured terms the traffic in indulgences carried on by John Tetzel thus heralding the Reformation in Germanythere should have been established in the Newington district of Edinburgh what was probably the last religious house to be reared in Scotland prior to the great upheaval begun by Knox and brought to fruition by Andrew Melville.
I refer to the Convent of St.
Catherine was the greatest female saint in the Dominican Calendar, and was held in high veneration by the sisterhood of the Order for her piety and charity, as well as for the dexterity with which she allayed political disputes - this last a somewhat unusual function for a female saint. The nunnery in Sciennes was the only one of the Dominican sisterhood to St catherines convent of mercy edinburgh founded in Scotland.
This religious house stood approximately at the north-west corner of St. It was not a very large establishment. The conventual buildings were unpretentious and were surrounded by a high wall which also enclosed two acres stretching towards the east. This was the garden of the nuns. At the western extremity was the gateway leading to the convent, and at the eastern, adjoining Causewayside, was the chapel of St. Of this chapel Sir John was both patron and chaplain, and those who attended his ministrations were usually the inmates of the neighbouring convent, who approached the building by a pathway through the garden, now covered by the villas at the east end of Sciennes Road.
The Convent of St.
Under St catherines convent of mercy edinburgh Bull of Leo X the number of sisters was restricted to thirty, but it is doubtful whether those actually resident at any time ever reached that figure. In there were only eighteen nuns, most of whom were aged and decrepit. The nunnery owed much to its first prioress, Josina Henryson, and in due time became noted for the strictness with which it maintained the rule of the Order. Even Sir David Lindsay, who in his poems is unsparing in his censure of the corruption and abuses of the ancient Church, testifies to the propriety of the lives of those who took refuge in the Convent of St.
The nunnery at Sciennes was opened infive years after the battle of Flodden. It must therefore have stirred poignant memories. Scienne is a French derivative of Siena, the birthplace of the patron saint of the convent, but the name has been corrupted colloquially into Sciennes or in the eighteenth century Sheens.
When Edinburgh was burned by the English inthe Sciennes nunnery was one of the places which suffered in the general conflagration. But the buildings were re-erected and occupied by the sisterhood for more than twenty years thereafter - that is until the Reformation. In the whole possessions of the nuns passed into Protestant hands, and the sisters were expelled from the cloisters where, according to contemporary testimony, the inmates were faithful to their vows.
To quote, again, Sir David Lindsay: The walls remained in a ruinous state till when they were largely demolished. In the middle of the seventeenth century the edifice was used as a burial place for the victims of the plague which raged in Edinburgh at that time. The last fragment of masonry, however, was not cleared away till when the site was required for villadom.