History of Lesmahagow Old Church
The ruins of Lesmahagow Priory next to the Old Church
A Brief History
Lesmahagow, with a population of approximately 3,700, is a village on the edge of moorland, near Lanark in the central belt of Scotland. Its name means "Enclosure of St Machutus". The saint was born in Wales and may originally have been known as "Mahagw" prior to emigrating to Brittany where he became known by the Latinised form of the name and also as St Malo.
A Culdee settlement of Celtic monks existed prior to the 12th century. Their church was dedicated in the name of St Machutus. This dedication was retained when King David I of Scotland granted "the Church and lands of Lesmahagow" to the Tironensian Order of monks who had already established an Abbey at Kelso. The priory was built, by these Benedictine monks, in a sheltered valley on the western bank of the River Nethan, where it offered a place of refuge or sanctuary for those in danger of life or limb.
In 1335, the Priory Church was burnt down by troops under the command of John of Eltham, brother of King Edward I of England. Many people had sought sanctuary within the church at the time of the burning and are thought to have perished. Thereafter, a new church was constructed and lasted until the early 19th century. The present church was constructed in 1804 on the original site. Originally built as a plain, rectangular church, an apse was constructed later in the 19th century and an organ was built by Brindley and Foster and installed in 1889. The chapter house was added in 1934. After serious damage by fire in 1981, the apse was restored and the entire church redecorated. The church contains some notable stained glass: the central panel of the east window depicts the scene from the central panel of the triptych painting by Rubens, The Descent from the Cross, which he completed in 1614 as an altarpiece for the Cathedral of Our Lady, in Antwerp. Lesmahagow Priory, founded in 1144, no longer stands, but its foundations were excavated in 1978 and can be seen next to the Old Church, off Church Square.
Stained Glass Window in Lesmahagow Old Church