VANDALS have destroyed gravestones at a 16th century church in a raid which has devastated its congregation.
Ten of the 19 memorials targeted at Prestongrange Parish Church, in Prestonpans, are now smashed beyond repair.
The others – weighing as much as two tonnes – were pushed over, leaving the church with a huge repair bill.
The site contains headstones belonging to soldiers who died in the Jacobite Rising of 1745 as well as former ministers.
Church officer Ian Ness said: “I don’t think these vandals realise the graves they are toppling down are probably their own ancestors. It’s just mindless destruction.
“I don’t know where this leaves the church because it will cost us at least £3500 to get the council to put the stones back up. Who’s to say the vandals won’t come back the following day? I don’t know if we’ll be able to do much about it, and that’s really upsetting.”
The attack took place some time between Sunday evening and early Monday morning.
Church members have spoken of their shock at the incident, insisting it had shaken their confidence in people of the surrounding area.
Church session clerk Ian Wallace said: “I visited the church yard and almost cried. Headstones that had marked the last resting place of ‘Panners’ for nearly 400 years had been desecrated.”
Minister Marilyn Steele said: “The cemetery is such an asset to Prestonpans. I’ve lived here for 50 years and I’m so disappointed in the people of this town that don’t seem to understand just how important that cemetery is to their heritage.”
Built in 1560 upon the ruins of a 12th century abbey, Prestongrange Parish Church was one of the first houses of worship to be built in Scotland following the Reformation in 1560.
The area notably played host to one of the more iconic Jacobite victories in the uprising of 1745, which was documented by a priest watching from the Prestongrange Church tower.
East Lothian Council leader Willie Innes said the destruction would be a knock-back for tourism.
He said: “The cemetery is no longer in use, but it’s of great historical significance to the area and Scotland. It’s home to memorials honouring soldiers that died in the Battle of Prestonpans, and is a huge draw for the area.”
A police spokesman said: “Inquiries are ongoing to identify those responsible. Anyone who remembers seeing suspicious activity around the church between Sunday afternoon and Monday morning is asked to contact police.”