St Patrick’s, in the heart of Edinburgh’s Old Town, has a long and intriguing history. Built between 1771 and 1774 for the Scottish Episcopal Church, it was sold to a Presbyterian Congregation in 1818. When they moved to a building in Infirmary Street, they agreed to sell their redundant building to the Catholic Church.

It was bought by Bishop Gillis in 1856 to serve the growing number of Irish immigrants who had settled in the Cowgate area of Edinburgh. The cost of the new church was £4000. Half was paid for by the Church; the rest was raised by the people. Though they lived in poverty they were determined to raise money for a church of their own. St Patrick’s was officially opened as a Catholic church on Sunday 3rd August 1856 by Bishop Gillis. The congregation present was estimated at 2,600.

In 1898 a new sanctuary was built, extending outwards from the north wall, and a high altar was installed. In 1921 the mortuary chapel was erected as a memorial to the 320 men of the parish who had fallen in the Great War. In 1924 a new Lady Chapel was built and the following year a chapel dedicated to the Sacred heart. In 1929 a facade was added incorporating the statues of St Patrick and St Brigid in niches above the entrance. An impressive terrace and steps completed the design of the church and gave it the appearance we know today.

St Patrick’s is a highly significant building in Edinburgh’s Old Town, its tower a notable part of the skyline. As well as being a place of worship for a flourishing congregation it is also known an oasis of peace for the soul in a busy city centre.


Not many parishes in the Catholic world can boast that one of their number is on the road to being declared a saint of the Church. But that has been true of St Patrick’s ever since the cause for the canonisation of Margaret Sinclair was introduced to the Sacred Congregation of Rites in 1942 by Pope Pius XII.

Margaret was born on 29th March 1900 in Middle Arthur Place, Edinburgh. She was the daughter of Andrew and Elizabeth Sinclair, one of a family of nine children. She was baptised at St Patrick’s on 11th April. Margaret’s family later moved to Blackfriars Street, overlooking St Patrick’s church.

She went to St Anne’s school and made her First Holy Communion at St Patrick’s on 8th May 1910. She was confirmed on the same day. She left school at the age of fourteen and worked as an apprentice French polisher, and later in McVitie’s biscuit factory.
The Sinclair family. Standing, left to right: Margaret, Lawrence, Bella, Andrew, Lizzie. Seated: John, the parents Elizabeth and Andrew, John’s wife, Nellie. The babies are the children of John and Nellie.

Sister Mary Francis

In July 1923 Margaret entered the Poor Clare Convent in Notting Hill, London. Her religious name was Sister Mary Francis of the Five Wounds. In February 1925 she made her religious profession. Less than two months later she was admitted to Warley Sanatorium, Essex, suffering from tuberculosis of the throat. She was nursed throughout her long and painful illness by the Sisters of Charity, and died on 24th November 1925. She was buried in Kensall Green Cemetery, north London. Very soon after her death a number of cures and favours, attributed to her intercession, led to her becoming more widely known. In December 1927 Margaret’s remains were brought from Kensal Green Cemetery and re-interred at Mount Vernon Cemetery in Edinburgh.

Cause introduced

In 1942 the cause for her canonisation was introduced by Pope Pius XII. Meanwhile, devotion to Margaret grew and a National Margaret Sinclair Centre was established in Rosewell, Midlothian in 1965. On 6th February Pope Paul VI declared that Margaret practised the Christian virtues to a heroic degree and she was given the title ‘The Venerable Margaret Sinclair’. A strong devotion to Margaret developed throughout the world, but especially in Scotland. Each year an annual pilgrimage to her tomb at Mount Vernon Cemetery took place followed by Mass at St Patrick’s. On October 6th 2003 Margaret’s remains were re-interred in St Patrick’s Edinburgh and later that month, on October 25th 2003, the new shrine was blessed and dedicated by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Pablo Puente in the Presence of Cardinal Keith Patrick O’Brien. Shortly afterwards a small museum telling the story of Margaret’s life was established in the foyer of the church.

The Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Pablo Puente, bless the new resting place and shrine of the Venerable Margaret Sinclair in the Sacred Heart Chapel.

A saint for today

A special Mass is celebrated on the first Monday of every month at 7 p.m. to pray for the beatification of the Venerable Margaret, and to ask the Lord to grant our requests through her intercession. The Friends of Margaret Sinclair, are also dedicated to furthering the cause. The annual Margaret Sinclair pilgrimage, which takes place in the autumn, is held at St Patrick’s.  The 2018 pilgrimage will be held on Sunday 9 September beginning with a Holy Hour at 2 p.m. and ending with Mass at 4.30 p.m.

The life of Margaret Sinclair powerfully captures the imagination of people today. She worked for a living, she was a member of a trade union, she knew what it was to be made redundant, she experienced prejudice in the workplace because of her Catholic faith. Margaret was immersed in the realities of everyday living yet was able to transform the ordinariness of her life into the foundation of a deep spirituality.

The people of St Patrick’s recognise Margaret as one of their own who attained great holiness. People from all over Scotland come to her shrine to pray, as well as visitors from all over the world. Her shrine in St Patrick’s is a focus for prayer and devotion in the city.

Dr John Watts has recently revised his biography of the Venerable Margaret, A Beautiful Fragrance – copies of this are available from St Patrick’s costing £5


St Patrick’s is a notable landmark in Edinburgh’s Old Town. Located in a site designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, St Patrick’s fascinating social history combines with its architectural beauty to make a highly significant building in the city.

As well as the work of the Runciman Apse Trust (SC0046772), www.runcimanapsetrust.com, enabling the restoration and maintenance of the last remaining murals by the celebrated Scottish artist, Alexander Runciman. which are of outstanding national importance for their rarity and completeness. the parish hopes to make further improvements to the layout of the church and the lighting, and especially to restore to pristine condition the pipe organ, built in 1834 for the original St Patrick’s in Lothian Street.

In the St Patrick’s chapel on the right side of the church are a number of art works by the Scottish artist Alexander Runciman. These were commissioned by the Episcopal Congregation who first occupied the church, and they decorated the space which was at that period the focal point for worshippers. The paintings depict Christ addressing the woman of Samaria, the return of the Prodigal Son, Moses, Elijah – and a mural of the Ascension painted on the dome of the ceiling. When the Presbyterians took over the church they painted over the mural.

Exploratory examination of the mural of the Ascension in the dome has shown that restoration is possible. These works of art are of outstanding national importance for their rarity and completeness and we hope to uncover the mural and restore it and the paintings to their original beauty.  A trust has been established under the chairmanship of The Lord Hardie to enable the restoration of the mural and paintings.  For more information and/or to make donations please contact Runciman Apse Trust , St Patrick’s, 5 South Gray’s Close, 40 High Street, Edinburgh EH1 1TQ (Tel 0131 556 1973; email stpatricksparish@outlook.com)  The Runciman Apse Trust is a charity registered in Scotland – number SCO46772.