Leith Local History Society

A Scandinavian Connection

The Scandinavian Church
The Scandinavian Church
Photo: D King; Date: 25/06/2012

In North Junction Street, wedged between a tenement and Ferrylee Nursing Home, stands a small, but significant, building still referred to by many Leithers as The Scandinavian Church. In 1863 a graduate of divinity — Johan Cordt Harmens — came to Edinburgh from Bergen in Norway in order to study the history of the Church of Scotland. He discovered that seamen from Scandinavia had no church of their own in which to worship and committed himself to establishing a Norwegian Church to provide a sanctuary for not only Norwegian seamen but for all seamen from many parts of the world.

He gathered together a small committee and by 1865 the first pastor, Adrias Michael Hansen, had travelled to Leith where he was welcomed by Christian Salvesen, the founder of the famous Salvesen Company whose headquarters were in Bernard Street for many years. In 1869 a new church was built in North Junction Street. It was designed by James Simpson, a well known Leith architect who based its design on a church in Copenhagen.

If you should happen to pass this way, you will see a boulder bearing an inscription in Norwegian. The story goes that this stone was brought to Leith in a ship which had run aground but was later refloated. When the ship docked in Leith the boulder was found in the bottom of the bow section and found a final resting place at the door of the small Church.

The Church received a visit from King Haakon of Norway in 1941 during the Second World War and Crown Prince Olaf attended the 75th anniversary of the Norwegian Seaman’s Churches in 1943.

Today the building is home to the Leith School of Art but many Leithers still think of it as a long established mission attending to the pastoral needs of seamen from the world over who were once upon a time frequent visitors to the Port.