Historic view of the Palace of Seton
The Palace from Blaeu's Atlas c.1654.
© National Library of Scotland
Seton Palace, 1635.
Seton Palace and Forth Estuary by Alexander Keirincx, 1635.
© The National Gallery of Scotland
Queen Mary Stuart at a Game of Archery at Seton.
Mary, Queen of Scots at a game of archery at the Palace of Seton, 1560's.
The Seton Collection © 2005
The Seton Collegiate Church.
The remains of Seton Collegiate Church founded by George, 3rd Lord Seton.
The Seton Collection © 2005
The origins of Seton Collegiate Church go back to 1242 when the Seton Church was dedicated in the names of St. Mary and the Holy Cross, and was consecrated by the Bishop of St Andrews. The Church stands on a site previously occupied by the thirteenth century parish church, two miles east-north-east of Prestonpans.
The original church was a rectangular building which later became the nave of the Collegiate Church, and whose foundations can be seen to the west of the surviving building. Dated before 1390, when a south aisle was built by Catherine Sinclair, widow of William, the First Lord Seton.
In 1434 a side chapel was added by Lady Janet Dunbar to house the tomb of her late husband, Sir John Seton, the 2nd Lord Seton, and part of this side chapel was replaced by the later south transept, where other parts can be traced on the ground to the west of the south transept.  Unfortunately, the side chapel no longer exists although fragments can still be identified.
The Grandson of John and Katherine, George, 3rd Lord Seton, founded a college of priests to pray for his soul and those of ancestors and family. George began the building of the 'Magnificent Choir' - an addition to the east of the existing structure.
To the north of the choir he built a sacristy - used by priests to make the necessary arrangements for masses etc. He died in 1478 '... in the place of the Blak freires of Edinburgh queir he lyis in the queir of the samin.' Pope Paul II had granted a mandate c.1471 for the church to be erected into a collegiate church but this does not appear to have been acted upon.
The fourth Lord Seton was educated in Paris and St Andrews. He obtained official sanction to erect the church into a collegiate church from Pope Alexander VI, completed the choir in the 1480s, and received permission from the Pope to set up a college of priests in 1492.  The Church was erected as a Collegiate Church on 20 June 1493 and the church was dedicated to St Mary and the Holy Cross.




Collegiate Churches were established for a number of reasons, for instance:


 - As centres of learning (especially law)


 - As places for the study of Theology


 - As establishments given over to prayers for the souls of members of a particular family in perpetuity, or of his predecessors, and descendants.

The college comprised of a Provost, six Priests, a Clerk together with two choir boys. George was described as a man '... of cunning in astrology, theology and music.' He completed the work begun by his father by vaulting the choir and sacristy. Church income was thereafter entirely devoted to the upkeep of the Provost and canons, who were responsible for the cure of souls.  He built much of the choir which now forms the east end of the church and the sacristy, the side room to its north, and other additions to the building were made by George, 4th Lord Seton who died in 1508, and his son, George, 5th Lord Seton who perished at Flodden together with much of the Scottish aristocracy of the day at the Battle of Flodden in 1513.
Thereafter, another Lady Janet Seton, nee Hepburn, added the north transept in 1541 and generously endowed the Church and who oversaw the repairs, which involved the demolition of the 1434 side chapel and its partial replacement with the south transept. She also built the tower, the spire of which was never completed beyond the attractive stump you see today.  Lady Janet Seton died in 1558, 45 years after her husband's death at Flodden, at a considerable age.
In 1544 however, the Church had been damaged by the English during the invasion of the Earl of Hertford, who looted and stripped the vestments, communion vessels, organ and bell before burning the timber work in the building. In 1560, the Reformation swept across Scotland and the religious community here was dissolved. For a while the church returned to its first use in service of the community, but in 1580, the parish of Seton was joined with that of Tranent and the need of a separate church disappeared. Still, it was well patronised by the Seton family and reverted to a private chapel for family use.  In the years that followed, the church it was further damaged by zealots during the Wars of the Covenant in the mid 1600s.  About 1688 a mob damaged the church by smashing the windows, defacing memorials and gravestones, and many items not of religious nature but which were valuable were stolen.
The Seton family were staunt supporters of the Royal Stuart family, and their support for the 'Old Pretender', James Stuart (1688-1766) led to the church being desecrated in 1715 by the Lothian Militia
who desecrated the church, incited by the fact that Lord Winton was a Jacobite, and defaced the interior and demolished tombs and pavements looking for treasure and the lead used to encase bodies, and demolished the entrance and original nave.
In view of their long connection with the Church, there are many monuments to the several members of the Seton family, which were preserved by the Earls of Wemyss who acquired and restored the property and the surviving parts to become a family burial vault.  The Wemyss family passed it into state care in 1946, and granted the church and immediate surroundings to the people of Scotland and is now in the care of Historic Scotland, the Government body in Scotland, which preserves such edifices for the Scottish nation.

The Murdered Apprentice

One of the most interesting aspects of the lore of Seton Collegiate Church is that it like, Rosslyn Collegiate Church, also has a legend of a murdered apprentice. The legend is virtually the same as that at Rosslyn except that it doe not involve a pillar. The story is that the Master Mason in charge of building the church had a major problem erecting the vaulted roof of the nave and went to another church to examine how the vaulted roof there had been erected. It is not known if the church he visited was local or, as in the case of the Rosslyn legend, was somewhere overseas. Given that there were a number of churches in the vicinity with vaulted roofs it seems likely that a long journey was not involved.

In the absence of the Master Mason an apprentice had made the mathematical calculations and drawings showing how the vaulted roof could be built. The Master Mason, his pride being badly bruised (not to mention his ruined reputation of  'Master'), flew into a rage and hit the apprentice with a mallet killing him on the spot. Unlike Rosslyn there is no evidence that the remaining masons thought it worthwhile commemorating the Master Mason or the Apprentice's mother with a stone carving but there is a carving of the murdered apprentice. It is believed that the Seton Master Mason was none other than the Master Mason from Rosslyn Collegiate Church who had not in fact committed suicide after killing the Apprentice there but had moved to Seton in order to design and later build that church the re-construction of which began in 1470.  However, the legend of a murdered apprentice is more common than one might think, there are a number of buildings in the UK and in other countries with the same or similar legends.

Seton Collegiate Church is an impressive building with a friendly atmosphere. The transepts, choir and sacristy are in good condition and full of fascinating detail, from the possible tomb of the 4th Lord Seton and the original cracked dutch bell which hung in the tower from 1577, and is now on show in the crossing. In the grounds are the remains of the priests' houses, and there is a display of stonework recovered from Seton Palace, destroyed in 1715 and which was later replaced by Seton House Castle to the west of the church.

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