On the 1st March 1832, eight gentlemen met together in the shop of Messrs Young and Miller, 375 High Street, to confer with David Nasmyth in regard to the formation of a City Mission in Edinburgh.
Annual Report, 1895, p.101
Thus began Edinburgh City Mission. It was probably the 19th city mission to be formed by Nasmith, the first having been in Glasgow, the second in Dublin, and probably 16 city missions before Edinburgh City Mission (ECM) in America (ibid., p.10). However, ECM is ranked now as the second oldest surviving city mission in Britain.
As with all city missions, Nasmith set out a clear vision for ECM, because “without a vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18).
The ECM Vision
Attached to every Annual Report was a clear constitution, parts of which read:
Article II: The design of the Society shall be to carry the Gospel, irrespective of denominational distinction, more extensively among the inhabitants of this city, by visits for religious conversation and reading the Scriptures, by meetings for prayer and Christian instruction, – by stimulating all persons to a regular attendance upon the preaching of the Gospel, – by increasing Scriptural education, through the medium of Sabbath or Infant Schools, or otherwise, – by the formation of loan libraries, – and adoption of such other means, as the Managers may judge important to attain the designs of the Society.
Annual Report: 1834 – 1835, p.3
Instructions to the Agents (missionaries):
1st: Your business is to visit the inhabitants of the district assigned to you, for the purpose of bringing them to an acquaintance with salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ, and by doing them good by every means in your power…..the sole object of the Mission being to bring sinners to the Saviour.
Your work is awfully important: you have to deal with immortal souls, many of whom may never have an opportunity of hearing the Gospel but from you, and whose eternal destiny may depend upon the message which you deliver to them: Be faithful, be simple, keep the Lord Jesus continually before your own mind, and commend Him and His finished work to the people. Never forget the awful possibility suggested by the Apostle, – that after one has preached the Gospel, he himself may ‘become a cast-away.’
Go forth daily to your work with your hearts lifted up to God for the assistance and direction of His Holy Spirit, relying upon his promise for wisdom and strength, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay or resist. Let the glory of God, and the salvation of souls, be your chief – your only end.
You can read more about the Edinburgh City Mission from the articles listed below:
Founder: David Nasmith (1799 – 1839) 1832: "On the 1st March, eight gentlemen met together in the shop of Messrs. Young and Miller, 375 High Street, to confer with David Nasmyth in regard to the formation of a City Mission in Edinburgh." (Annual Report, 1895)City...
May the glory of God and the salvation of souls be your chief – your only end! David Nasmith, 1826 David Nasmith: A Dynamic Founder of Missions (1799 – 1839) In 1799 David Nasmith was born in Glasgow. He grew up to become a devout Christian with endless energy and...
By 1839 the churches were well aware of what God was doing through ECM, as it spearheaded outreach in the city: In regard, indeed to the whole operations of the Mission, its indirect effects are at least equal to all the other good which it produces. Of these the most...
In the first year six missionaries were salaried by private individuals and the city was split into 30 districts. The vision was to have missionaries from ECM in all those districts. By 1834, seven of those districts were covered. The first report on ECM in 1834...
God gave a promise to Abraham: ....I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the...
In 1859 Christians were stirred to pour out their hearts in united prayer across the city, and God answered them with a deep revival: A spirit of fervent prayer and of earnest 'waiting for the promise of the Spirit', has of late years pervaded, in a remarkable manner,...
The first wave of revival and awakening hit Edinburgh in 1841. The Shelter, in the Grassmarket, had been set up by some Christian ladies in 1840, for the purpose of providing a rehab house for young women who had been involved in crime and prostitution. ECM...
In 1865 ECM moved its HQ from the High Street (first 375 High St., then 126 High St.) to 5 St. Andrews Square and in this period the number of missionaries either being salaried by ECM, or working in conjunction with it, grew to 33, which was the highest number on...
ECM celebrated its 30th anniversary with this glowing report: When the Edinburgh City Mission was formed, not one congregation in the city was known to employ and support a missionary; there are now at least forty congregations in town that have a salaried missionary...
The 1898 Report concluded that "Multitudes have been lifted out of the degradation into which they had fallen, and larger numbers have been prevented from falling." (p.10) It had been a glorious time of harvesting; particularly between the years 1840 and 1880. Now ECM...
Amidst the carnage of the First World War, the ECM workers were kept very busy, counselling and encouraging many who had lost loved ones. The 1915 Report says: "Never before have our City Missionaries won and held the confidence of the people to a greater degree than...
In 1958 effective work began in the Inch, meetings being held in a primary school, and much District Work was done to reach the locals. Hospital visitation was blessed by God in an extraordinary way, as many elderly people gave their hearts to the Lord Jesus. One ECM...
In 1970 there were only four missionaries left running five Mission Halls (Abbeyhill; Dumbiedykes; Broughton; Hay Drive and The Inch), and reaching the Special Classes of Hospitals and Eventide Homes (Retirement Homes), Lodging Houses and Prisons, the Post Office and...
A growing God-given desire seemed to grip the hearts of a number of Christians for an outreach to begin on the new West Pilton estate, and so, a new missionary, W. Bullin, was appointed there in 1981 to visit homes. The work became effective and the West Pilton...
Over and over again the reports tell of multitudes in abject poverty, usually caused by alcoholic addiction. The subhuman existence of people in these places was horrendous: In looking over the names of those I have visited, I believe that one out of every five, is...
A Group which met weekly on Thursday afternoons in St Thomas’ Scottish Episcopal Church, Costorphine, Edinburgh, asked Ian Balfour in 2001 to give a Paper about evangelistic missions in Edinburgh, particularly those in which St Thomas had been involved. St Thomas was constituted as an Independent Chapel within the Anglican Church in 1844, and has a long and worthy history of contributing to interdenominational evangelistic outreach in Edinburgh, particularly since 1945 under its rectors Rev George Duncan, Rev Dr Geoffrey Bromily, Rev Philip Hacking, Rev Gordon Bridger, Rev John Wesson, Rev Dennis Lennon, Rev Mike Parker and Rev Ian Hopkins. This is the text of the Paper which Ian gave. (Permission given by Ian Balfour).
This is not the story of the Edinburgh City Mission, which started in 1832 and which still does valuable Christian work, but an account of the years between 1873 and 1991, when Christians of many denominations in Edinburgh came together and arranged evangelistic Missions, latterly often called Crusades. I’ve chosen six criteria for selecting which events to talk about and which ones not to include. We will look at the occasions when:
Christians of many denominations worked together
Invited a guest preacher
Planned a series of consecutive evangelistic meetings
Held them in a neutral venue (i.e., in non-church premises)
Made solo singing an integral part of the message
Had an ‘enquiry meeting’ at the end of the service
These were the characteristics of the Moody and Sankey Mission in 1873, and of a dozen or more subsequent Crusades until 1991. I’ll explain at the end why I’ve chosen 1991 for the last such occasion. These criteria distinguish Missions/Crusades from other Christian activities. Obviously, there had been large evangelistic meetings in Edinburgh long before 1873. For example, from John Wesley’s Journal: ‘Sunday,
29 May 1763. I preached at seven in the High School yard, Edinburgh, … which drew together … an … abundance of the nobility and gentry, many of both sorts were present; but abundantly more at five in the afternoon. I spoke as plainly as ever I did in my life.’ That meets two of our criteria, a guest preacher and a neutral venue, but it wasn’t an interdenominational activity and it wasn’t a series – just morning and evening on the one day – there was no singing and no enquiry meeting. Another area not covered is the many Rallies in neutral premises, for example in the Methodist Central Hall, when groups like Scripture Union, Christian Commandos, Youth for Christ, Youth With A Mission, and many more held evangelistic Rallies, particularly on Saturday evenings.
What about the description ‘Revivals? The word Revival is used today in three different senses:
First, with a capital R, it is used for spontaneous, sometimes fairly brief, outpourings of the Holy Spirit, often characterized by (a) anxiety about sin, (b) a wish to return to righteousness and (c) many conversions. On several occasions in Edinburgh, over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there has been Revival with a capital R, but that’s not our subject this afternoon.
Second, revival with a small ‘r’. Following Revivals in 1905 and 1907 in Charlotte Chapel here in Edinburgh, the old building was demolished and replaced by the present one. At the opening of the new building in 1912, the church secretary said: ‘this one-time little congregation has … enjoyed an almost continual revival, witnessed almost continually men and women far down in sin being gloriously rescued and blessedly converted to God. And then, their crowning act of faith, the erection of this new church.’ That is a common use of the word ‘revival’ (r), to describe God’s blessing over a period of time in vibrant church life. That’s not our subject this afternoon, either.
Third, the word ‘revival’ is sometimes used, more in America now than here, although it was used in this sense here at the beginning of the twentieth century, for ‘a planned evangelistic event’. American church notices may say: ‘There will be a revival here, next Sunday at 11 a.m.’, meaning a planned future event with a gospel message, culminating in an appeal. That has some of our six characteristics, it is planned and it is evangelistic, and it may have a guest preacher, but it is not inter-denominational and it is not in neutral premises.
So, to 1873
1873, when for the first time in Edinburgh a guest preacher and his soloist were invited to conduct a series of evangelistic meetings in a neutral venue (i.e., in non-church premises), supported by Christians of many denominations. This set a pattern that was followed for over a hundred years, as we will see.
In June 1873, two Americans, Dwight L. Moody (preacher) and Ira D. Sankey (soloist) landed at Liverpool, practically unknown. The two men who had invited them to England had both died before Moody and Sankey arrived, so no one met them and nothing had been arranged for them. They had a contact in York, and held a mission there. This led to other engagements in the north of England. An evangelical Leith minister heard about them from his brother in Sunderland and went to see for himself; he was so impressed that he invited the Americans to come to Edinburgh. He called together a local committee, representative of all the Protestant churches, to organize the campaign. They had only six weeks to make the preparations, and started by a daily prayer meeting at noon for ministers and laypeople. The first service was on Sunday 23 November 1873 in the Music Hall in George Street, but soon the Assembly Hall on the Mound, then the largest public building in Edinburgh, was crowded every evening, except Saturday, when there was a break.
There were four innovations, all of which took Edinburgh by surprise at first, but people soon warmed to them. The first was the advertisement that ‘Mr. Moody will (D. V.) preach the gospel, and Mr. Sankey will sing the gospel’.
Many/most here will remember when it was common in evangelical circles, to add the letters D.V. – Deo Volente, ‘in the will of God’ – to announcements, because James 4:13-17 chides those whose forward planning does not include the words, ‘If the Lord wills ….
Singing was not new in revival work, but for the first time Sankey made solo singing an integral part of the service. He accompanied himself on a small organ, borrowed from the Carrubbers Close Mission and returned to them when the campaign was over. (Some of you may remember the furore when the Mission sold it to an American organisation in.1960s). Sankey’s singing ‘struck home to hearers left unmoved by Moody’s preaching’ and many conversions were directly traceable to his singing.’ One of the stories worth repeating is how a favourite hymn of earlier generations, ‘There were ninety and nine that safely lay, in the shelter of the fold …’ became popular. The evangelists had been in Glasgow and at the station on the way back, Sankey bought a local evening newspaper. When on the train, Moody asked for time to prepare for the evening rally, so Sankey glanced through the newspaper. He was taken with a poem and so cut it out and put it in his wallet. A few nights later, after Moody had preached on the parable of the Lost Sheep, he then turned to Sankey and asked him to sing an appropriate concluding song. Sankey pulled the cutting from his wallet, put it on the music-stand, and began to sing – impromptu, which is why the tune is so ‘tuneless’. Having completed the first verse, he had to remember the music he had just composed and repeat it for the other verses. It was so well received that it was soon included in hymnbooks and was a favourite at evangelistic meetings for much of the first part of the twentieth century.
The second innovation was that Moody stressed the joys of heaven and the love of God, demonstrated at Calvary; contemporary evangelists preached more on hell and judgement.
The third innovation was written requests for prayer, either by people themselves or by relatives and friends; the requests were read out by the preacher and responded to by people in prayer. Those who were ‘anxious’ (that is, concerned about their spiritual state), were invited to say so, and concerted prayer was offered for them.
The fourth novelty was the ‘enquiry meeting’ at the end of the service, for those whose conscience had been awakened by the message. Experienced Christians personally counselled them and ‘Decisions for Christ’ became the watchword of the campaign. The Campaign continued from 23 November 1873 to 21 January, two months. At the concluding meeting for converts only, 1700 were present, including a young solicitor, Andrew Urquhart, who had been converted during the Crusade and who became the saviour of Charlotte Chapel when there was serious talk in 1900 about disbanding the congregation and closing the building. The permanent effect of the mission, apart from individual conversions, was that Sunday services in many churches became more ‘user-friendly’. After the first edition of the hymnbook Sankey’s Sacred Songs and Solos came out – one penny for the words, sixpence for the music edition – Sankey’s gospel songs were sung in homes, although not yet in church services, all over the whole country.
1881, the Second Moody and Sankey mission
Moody and Sankey returned to Edinburgh by invitation in 1881, for a campaign that lasted six weeks. This time it was held in the Corn Exchange. Many came to the Saviour, but not on the scale of the 1873-4 visit. There was, however, one outcome of their second visit that has been a feature of Edinburgh evangelical life ever since. During the campaign, Moody heard that Carrubbers Close Mission, off the High Street, held an open-air meeting every evening of the year. He paid a surprise visit to one of these meetings and was greatly impressed. He was told that the work of Carrubbers could be extended if they had better premises. He set about personally collecting £10,000 for a site and a new building, and he personally laid the foundation stone of the present building at 65 High Street in 1883. A year later, in 1884, he opened the premises and preached on the text, ‘Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.’ The present internal layout dates from the late twentieth century, and the name is now Carrubbers Christian Centre.
1903, Reuben Torrey’s mission
The next citywide mission of which I am aware, and which meets the six criteria set out, was in February 1903. An American evangelist, Reuben Torrey, conducted a four-week mission in the Empire Theatre. One convert, a railwayman, who was still active at open-air meetings fifty-five years later, loved to tell how he had gone forward in response to Dr Torrey’s appeal, and how Torrey gave him a Bible, inscribed with the words:
Read daily your Bible if you would be strong To witness for Jesus and overcome wrong; The Author and Book will surely abide, But they who neglect it will surely backslide.
One feature of this 1903 mission is worth noting – appealing directly to children for conversion.
Fresh ground was opened up by the evangelist on Friday afternoon [of the third week], when the Central Hall, Tollcross, was packed from floor to ceiling with young people from all ages and classes. The scripture lesson consisted of memorising Isaiah 53 v 5, ‘He was wounded for our transgressions’; after this had been done, ‘our’ was changed to ‘my’.
He was wounded for my transgressions’ After every precaution was taken to prevent boys and girls from simply following one another impulsively, about three hundred professed to accept the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour. Particularly touching was the testimony of a nine-year-old girl, whose father had previously protested against children being encouraged to go into the inquiry room. She begged him for leave to go in, because ‘He was wounded for my transgressions’.
1913, The Gipsy Smith Mission
‘Gipsy’ Rodney Smith (1860-1947) was a much-loved evangelist. Born in a gypsy tent near London, he had no education. His father was in and out of jail, and first heard the gospel from a prison chaplain; when he was released from prison, he asked where a gospel meeting might be found, and took his six children to the local Mission. The father was converted and later sixteen-year-old Rodney, partly through hearing Ira Sankey sing. He was illiterate, but said: ‘One day I’ll be able to read and I’m going to preach too. God has called me to preach.’
He taught himself to read and write and began to practice preaching. One day at a Salvation Army meeting, William Booth asked the young lad to say something. Rodney sang a solo and gave his testimony. Booth asked him to become an evangelist, and he travelled widely. In 1913, the Edinburgh Evangelistic Association invited him to conduct a mission in the Assembly Hall on the Mound from Sunday 2 to Wednesday 12 March 1913. Thousands flocked to hear him, and hundreds were unable to get in. As many men were turned away from the Sunday afternoon meetings for men only as would have filled the hall twice over. The inquiry room was filled daily with seeking souls.
At a meeting for converts – note the parallel with Moody in 1873 – 120 were present. Mature Christians offered advice on how to grow in the faith, under three headings: (1) Good food (Bible study), (2) Good air (prayer) and (3) Good exercise (Christian service). Gipsy Smith was later awarded an O.B.E. for his services as an evangelist.
1914, The Chapman–Alexander Mission
John Wilbur Chapman (1859-1918) was an American Presbyterian. He is best remembered as an evangelist, but he was also the author of:
One day when heaven was filled with His praises, One day when sin was as black as could be, … Chorus: Living, He loved me; dying, He saved me; Buried, He carried my sins far away,
Chapman teamed up with Charles Alexander (1867-1920), another American, a soloist – note the continuing practice, introduced by Moody, of having a guest soloist as well as a guest preacher – still the pattern with Beverley Shea singing with Billy Graham in the 1950s, and many more. In 1913 Chapman and Alexander were asked by the Edinburgh Evangelistic Association to hold a preliminary mission in the Assembly Hall for several weeks, followed by the main mission n the Olympia Palace Picture House (Cinema), in Annandale Street, off Leith Walk, from 4 February to 4 March. A huge redbrick garage for Edinburgh city buses now occupies the site.
Chapman was dignified and serious in his preaching, but ‘Charlie’ Alexander, as he was called, ‘warmed up’ the audience with jovial humour and lively singing. His style was copied by many others, and has continued to influence the pattern of evangelistic meetings – someone to come on and get the audience into a good mood before the preaching.
A contemporary report of the Mission, while it was still in progress, read:
What shall we say about the Chapman–Alexander Mission? Unprecedented crowds. Preaching full of convicting power. Hundreds dealt with. All classes and conditions present. Great singing. Many, both saints and sinners, blessed. Cannot describe the scenes and the experiences. Wonderful. Prayers answered. Hearts cheered. Homes and lives changed. Glory be to God. And the tide is rising.
The Committee advertised the services in Olympia as ‘5,000 comfortable seats – grand music’. In writing the history of the Olympia Palace Picture House (the cinema in Annandale Street), an Edinburgh historian, George Baird, recently ridiculed the advertisement of 5,000 seats as ‘poetic licence’ or ‘kidology’’. He maintained that the Cinema sat only 1,800. But the Mission shows how there can be two different answers to the same question. There was such interest in the Mission that Chapman preached six times a day, so even if one ‘sitting’ could accommodate only 1,800, during one day at the Olympia, there was ample scope for 5,000 to hear him preach in a series of services.
Christian counsellors, who met with enquirers at the close of the meetings, were issued with a supply of covenant cards, perforated into two parts. The first was a record of the ‘Decision’ made and was given to the new believer; the bottom part was sent to the church of the enquirer’s preference, so that they could follow it up. Some churches continued to use Alexander’s Hymnbook No. 3, which had been the mission songbook, at their evening (evangelistic) services for many, many years.
1924, return visit of Gipsy Rodney Smith
The Edinburgh Evangelistic Association, which had invited Gipsy Smith for the mission in the Assembly Hall in 1913, renamed itself the Edinburgh Evangelistic Union in November 1924, with two hundred Edinburgh ministers and Christian workers in membership. One of its first activities was to arrange a return visit of Gipsy Smith in April and May 1925. Lunchtime and evening meetings in St Cuthbert’s Church on weekdays were attended by over two thousand, and Sunday services in the Usher Hall, at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., attracted three thousand a time, plus an overflow.
I don’t have details of any other citywide, interdenominational Crusade between the end of the First World War in 1918 and the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939; perhaps some of you can help me on that? My father spoke about Bryan Green, a Church of England rector and a passionate evangelist, who in the early 1930s was one of the youngest speakers to address the Keswick Convention; he came to Edinburgh for a series of evangelistic meetings, but where and under whose auspices I do not know.
An Irish evangelist, William Patteson Nicholson (1876-1962) was invited to conduct a Campaign in the Assembly Hall on the Mound in the late 1940s. He was known for his blunt language and some went to hear him just for that. The leader of our Covenanter Class – we had a class before church on Sunday mornings – told us that he had been at one of the meetings and that ‘WP’ had asked, ‘Is there anyone here who has never quarrelled with his wife? Half a dozen men sheepishly stood up, and Nicholson said: ‘Remain standing, and the rest of us will pray for these liars’. Ten of his sermons may be heard at
Roy Hessian held a Crusade/Mission in the Usher Hall, early in 1946. He is perhaps best known for his 1950 book, The Calvary Road, but I remember him particularly because one of the boys in my class at school, Geoffrey Oliver, knowing that I came from a Christian home, asked me in 1946 whether I had been to any of the meetings? I said that I had been a couple of times, to which he replied that he had been every night and at one of the meetings he had become a Christian. Then there was the Tom Rees Crusade in the Usher Hall in 1953; as he stayed with my parents for the duration of the Crusade, I was there every night as chauffeur – one could park without difficulty at the front door of the Usher Hall in 1953. He had powerful messages, initially challenging Christians and, as they became enthusiastic and brought their friends, encouraging many to come to the front for counselling and conversion.
1955, All Scotland Crusade, with Billy Graham and soloist Beverley Shea
Although Billy Graham spoke only twice at public meetings in Edinburgh during the 1955 All Scotland Crusade – the main meetings were in Glasgow, and special buses and trains were laid on every afternoon for travel from Edinburgh to the Kelvin Hall there – it qualifies for inclusion in Edinburgh citywide Crusades for two reasons. First, the organisers asked Edinburgh Christians to form special prayer groups, including several all-night prayer meetings. The first of these was on Friday 18 March 1955, and seven hundred were present for the start at 10 p.m. There were four sessions of two hours, with a break for light refreshments at 2 a.m. ‘The tide of prayer flowed spontaneous and free. It was an inspiration to be present. Our oneness in Christ, though all denominations were represented, was abundantly manifest.’ Five hundred were still present and participating when the meeting concluded at 6 a.m. Two similar nights were held on Fridays 1 and 22 April. There was also a daily central meeting for prayer at lunchtime throughout the month of April.
Secondly, the All Scotland Crusade qualifies for mention here because on Wednesday 20 April the evangelists and their team appeared personally at Tynecastle Park, the home of the Heart of Midlothian Football Club, for a rally at 2 p.m. Twenty thousand (including me) were present and after a service lasting for 90 minutes, 922 came forward and recorded their decisions for Christ. Two days later, Billy Graham spoke to students in the McEwan Hall, at which I was also present. (In the committee room, preparatory to the meeting, someone asked Billy Graham how he prepared to address an audience of students. He replied, ‘As I do to speak to my Sunday School class.’
For the last ten days of the All Scotland Crusade, there were audio relays from the Kelvin Hall to forty centres throughout Scotland, including Edinburgh.
1965, Edinburgh Christian Crusade
On his arrival in Edinburgh, as the new minister of Charlotte Chapel, Alan Redpath proposed holding a citywide evangelistic crusade for three weeks in the autumn of 1965. He had a speaker and a committee already in his mind, with Philip Hacking (Rector of St Thomas) as chairman, but he was anxious that it should be an inter-church effort. The Edinburgh Evangelistic Union was renamed the Edinburgh Evangelical Council, and Stephen Olford from New York was invited. He asked to have Bill Hoyt, who had a lot of Red Indian blood in him, as the soloist. I was the Crusade Secretary and when I suggested to Stephen Olford that he consider one of the many good soloists in the country (to avoid expense), he said that it was crucial to have a soloist who had worked with him and understood his methods – like Moody and Sankey.
Meetings were held in the Usher Hall for 19 evenings in October 1965, nightly except for Friday, when the Scottish National Orchestra had a prior booking. Well over two thousand attended every evening, with a closed-circuit television overflow to a nearby church at the weekends. The public meetings attracted 46,000 people in total, of whom 1,200 were counselled, most of them young, and about half of them made a first-time profession of faith. Inquirers were referred to a church of their choice for follow-up.
Trying to publicise the Crusade gave me an insight into the mind of the secular Press. I contacted all the local newspapers to suggest that an event which was filling the Usher Hall to overflowing night after night was worth at least a mention in their paper. Not a word was printed until the minister of the nearby Unitarian church in Castle Terrace told the Edinburgh Evening News that he had attended one night and that Stephen Olford’s preaching reminded him of Hitler. That made the front page, and my effort to answer it in a subsequent edition was ignored.
Before coming to the last Crusade to be described in this Paper, the 1991 Billy Graham Crusade, I should say a word about (a) Arthur Blessit, who travelled round the country pulling a large wooden Cross and who held a series of evangelistic meetings in the Assembly Hall, (b) Dick Saunders’ several annual tent campaigns in the Meadows, (c) Luis Palau, and others. The reason for not saying more about them is that they don’t fit our criteria of ‘Christians of many denominations working together’. Groups of interested Edinburgh people invited these evangelists, but they were not truly inter-denominational efforts.
Billy Graham conducted Mission Scotland 1991, including two afternoon rallies at Murrayfield; at the conclusion of the Mission, he invited everyone who had been involved to meet him in the Tron Church in Glasgow. I was there, and the building was packed. Billy Graham said how much he appreciated being in Scotland and encouraged those present to plan for a return visit of himself and his team. Talking to people afterward, it was clear that the citywide, multi-church, interdenominational, evangelistic Crusade had had its day, and now, a decade later, I can safely say that we will not see its like again in our lifetime. The enormous energies which were poured into these ventures are now being used to evangelise through Home Groups, ‘friendship evangelism’, welfare organisations like Bethany and many, many others in more modest ways.
Let me finish by mentioning a book, now made into a film, called ‘The Gospel Blimp’ (American for an airship). In the imaginary story, a young couple were concerned to evangelise their neighbourhood. When they saw a blimp cruising overhead, they got the idea of purchasing one, flying it around their city with gospel texts on banners behind it, broadcasting Christian music and dropping leaflets with gospel messages. They got a group of friends together, raised the funds, bought a blimp and hired a pilot. For months they put all their energies into this novel method of evangelism, without seeing a single response. One day the blimp broke down. With time on their hands, they held a barbecue in their garden and invited some neighbours. To their astonishment, when they said that they would like to talk to the neighbours about Jesus, the neighbours replied that they would love to do just that, but that the couple had obviously been so busy over recent months that the neighbours had never been able to catch them at home to have a chat.
This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of its author, Ian Balfour.
The Scottish Church History Society, founded in 1922, asked Ian Balfour to give a Paper on this subject at their May 2008 meeting, held in the Free Church of Scotland College, Edinburgh. The proceedings of their monthly meetings are published annually as Scottish Church History Society Records, but for those who do not have access to this periodical, the Paper is made available here also. It is copied here exactly as given.
The church that is now Charlotte Chapel, in Rose Street, Edinburgh, was constituted in 1808 in the Pleasance district of the city. Ten years later, the Scottish Episcopalians vacated their church in Rose Street, which they called Charlotte Chapel, and moved across Princes Street to the newly built Church of St John the Evangelist. The founding pastor of the Pleasance church, Christopher Anderson, bought the vacant building, which seated 750, and kept the name. In 1911, the members demolished the original Chapel and replaced it with the one we have today – except for the lounge, which was added in 1983. The new sanctuary seated exactly one thousand, and for most of the next 70 years it was well filled, often to overflowing, on Sunday morning and Sunday evening. 1
For the bicentenary of the constitution, this year, I was asked to prepare a history, which has been published as Revival in Rose Street. Your President, in reviewing it for The Baptist Quarterly, suggested that the Chapel’s social involvement, throughout the years, might be of interest to you.
One of my sons, having read the book, remarked that there was nothing in it about prison reform or dismantling apartheid in South Africa. That is fair comment; members have contributed, as individuals, to these and other public concerns, but the Chapel has not, as a church, taken a stance on social issues other than Sunday Observance and temperance. This paper may explain ‘why not?’ It covers three areas:
Financially supporting worthy causes, motivated by compassion, which has been generous, altruistic and unconditional.
Pioneering half-a-dozen local social-amelioration projects, motivated by compassion but inspired by evangelism.
Taking a public stand on Sunday Observance and Temperance, motivated by concern for people’s welfare and for God’s honour.
There is no time to do more than mention three other aspects of the Chapel’s social involvement: (1) pastoral care; since 1907, the Chapel has employed a full-time deaconess (now called a ‘pastoral care worker’) and since 1981, a male equivalent as well; (2) Scout and Guide Troops, run in the Chapel’s name and on its premises since 1919, training youngsters in ‘whole-life’ development, (3) overseas involvement; between 1821 and the Ter-jubilee in 1958, 102 members, (58 women and 44 men), were commissioned and supported for doctoring, nursing, teaching, church building and evangelising in Palestine, Syria, Africa, India, China and South America.
First main area: Financially supporting worthy causes
Supporting worthy causes, motivated by compassion, has, as mentioned, been generous, altruistic and unconditional. Two examples from the first hundred years are: (1) year-on-year support for Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, and (2) a typical response to a special appeal. Other churches undoubtedly gave more, but the Chapel’s gifts came from a congregation where, in Christopher Anderson’s words, there was ‘not one opulent member’. 2
Edinburgh Royal Infirmary
Until the creation of the National Health Service in 1948, the Infirmary relied on voluntary donations; it received no public funding and never required payment for treatment or care. When, in 1808, Christopher Anderson constituted the church in the Pleasance, the Infirmary was a 228-bed building located two hundred yards away, in the High School Yards, off Infirmary Street, opposite the east end of Chambers Street.
Anderson passionately taught his congregation that no Christian could withhold support for it without loss of respect. When, in 1879, the Infirmary moved to Lauriston Place, the Chapel was running an annual deficit of £25 on its general account; only personal approaches to selected members every December balanced the books. £25 may not seem much today, but a male secretary earned £30 a year, a good cook earned £28, and a kitchen maid £14 a year. People like these made up the majority of the congregation, so their regular giving to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary may reasonably be described as ‘sacrificial’. Support continued even when, in 1907, the Chapel was urgently and unsuccessfully trying to raise money to rebuild the premises in Rose Street. Looking at the Infirmary offering for 1907, the pastor, Joseph Kemp, commented: ‘we might do more for this noble Institution’.
For eighty-eight years, from 1890 to 1978, Chapel members (as well as many others) conducted half-hour Sunday services in one or more wards in the Infirmary, At first, volunteers were few and teams had to move from ward to ward, repeating a short service. As numbers grew, a full half-hour of singing and Scripture reading was possible in every ward. All went smoothly until 1913, when the Infirmary chaplain withdrew permission; he had difficulty in attracting a congregation to the service that he held in the Infirmary chapel, and he blamed ‘the competition’. The Chapel workers and others formed the Sacred Song Union, which pointed out to the infirmary managers that the chaplain never got more than 70 to the chapel, while the teams could take hymns and a message to all 850 patients on the wards. Ward services were resumed in November 1913, and by 1921, there were enough volunteers to cover the adjoining Simpson Maternity Pavilion as well; services were later held in the Leith Hospital also. The Sacred Song Union assumed responsibility for administering the large number of people involved, from many churches, but its annual meetings were held in Charlotte Chapel. Except for the years of the Second World War, ward services continued until 1978.
A public appeal
A second example of unconditional giving is the response, in 1901, to The Scotsman newspaper’s ‘Shilling Fund’ appeal (5 new pence), to provide relief for widows and orphans of British soldiers killed in the Boer Wars. During February 1901, 40 shillings were collected in the Borders town of Hawick – ‘a town which has been as generous to the Fund as almost any Border district’. 3
In the same month, the Chapel raised 80 shillings, twice as much as Hawick, 4 by fund-raising ‘cinematograph entertainments’. ‘Motion pictures’ or ‘cinematograph’ (as it was known) had come to Edinburgh five years previously, in 1896. The pictures were flickering, soundless, disjointed and frequently broke down, but the Chapel put on shows that packed the building and raised 80 shillings.
The generosity of 1901 has been repeated many times, but successful appeals now have a different rationale. Neither the beneficiaries of the 1901 gifts (widows and orphans) nor the agency administering the gifts (The Scotsman newspaper) were church-based. Humanitarian needs still determine the beneficiaries, but gifts nowadays are hugely more generous if they are to be channelled through church-based organisations. Collections are taken for equally deserving secular charities, with equally reliable local workers, for equally deserving beneficiaries, but they are much less well supported. Let me illustrate from three events in 2005.
Following the tsunami devastation on Boxing Day 2004, £18,200 was donated over the following weekend, after pulpit announcements stressed that local church-based groups would organize the relief. That was also the ‘selling point’, if one may use the phrase, when Niger’s harvest failed in July 2005; £8,650 was sent through The Evangelical Alliance Relief Fund. When an earthquake devastated North India, Pakistan and Kashmir in October of that same year, £6,000 was contributed as soon as the Baptist Missionary Society was chosen to distribute the aid. (Donations are rounded up from general funds,) Has the channel become as important as the destination? It would seem so, from the bicentenary weekend in October 2008.
The bicentennial appeal had home and overseas components. It asked for £20,000 toward replacing two of Edinburgh City Mission’s motor vehicles, their ‘Carevan’, which goes out nightly with food and warm drinks and clothing for the homeless, and the minibus that transports volunteers to their Night Care Shelters. Another £20,000 was targeted, to build a Community Health Centre for a tribe on the India-Nepal border, among whom one of the Chapel members has worked for many years. To ask a church membership of 650 to give £40,000 over one weekend, for Edinburgh’s homeless and for a remote Indian tribe, seemed over-optimistic. However, with the focus on the church-based agencies that would handle the money, the weekend brought in £68,800.
Second main area:
Pioneering half-a-dozen local social-amelioration projects, motivated by compassion but inspired by evangelism Although this paper is entitled: ‘evangelical social involvement’, the adjective ‘evangelistic’ might be a better word. When members gave their time and energy to social amelioration, motivated by compassion, most were hoping for spiritual as well as material results. For example, between Christmas and New Year in 1907 and again in 1908, the Chapel hired the Corn Exchange for five days and provided accommodation and meals for two thousand men and women living rough in the city. The report on the week ended: ‘The Chapel choir sang and gave brief messages. No response was recorded to the gospel message, but the organisers remained hopeful’; 5
in other words, they were motivated by compassion, but inspired by evangelism. Joseph Kemp distinguished the Chapel’s social involvement from the prevalent Social Gospel, which he described as ‘a danger that must not be treated lightly’. 6 I’ll come back to the Social Gospel, but two projects at the beginning of the Chapel’s second hundred years illustrate how social concern went hand-in-hand with evangelism.
1908 – The White House
In 1908, destitution and prostitution went hand in hand on Edinburgh’s streets. If girls came to Edinburgh for work and were unable to find it, some sought an easy way of making a living. Chapel women, coming out of meetings into Rose Street, were confronted by the spiritual darkness of its nineteen public houses. What could they offer to those who wanted to make a fresh start? It was not enough to lead them to Christ – what about their future? In January 1908, Dr Maxwell Williamson, a deacon in the Chapel and soon to be appointed Chief Medical Officer of Health for Edinburgh, took up the challenge and opened a rescue centre for young women on the streets; it was called the ‘White House’. 7
Gifts poured in, some from women who had already been helped. One, saved at an openair meeting, offered a month’s free work to prepare the new home for occupancy. A lady member of the congregation went out ‘into the highways and the lanes and streets of the city’, speaking to girls whom the White House might help. 8
It accommodated twenty girls at a time, from age fourteen upward. Not only were they fed and clothed, but attempts were made to place them in good situations or to persuade them to return to their homes. At the same time, the power and claims of Christ were pressed on them. There were some triumphs of grace, but there were disappointments as well. Many admitted to using the House only as a temporary lodging, without any intention of reforming their ways. Many of the girls were Roman Catholics, and they were not prepared to stay when they found they had to attend the Chapel services twice on Sunday and once during the week, as well as a Bible Class every Sunday afternoon in the White House. There was a fairly high turnover – in the first seven months, 78 girls came and 62 went.
The White House was maintained for nearly two years, but the running costs were more than the Chapel could afford. With regret, it closed in July 1910, after securing situations or homes for all of the girls. 9
1912 – The Rock Mission
Dr Williamson, who set up the rescue centre just mentioned, was equally concerned for people who lived in lodging houses and derelict slums in the Grassmarket. He rented a hall in the Cowgate every Sunday afternoon, and provided free tea and sandwiches to all who were willing to listen to a gospel message afterward. He called it the Rock Mission, and he led it until his death in 1923. The Chapel then took it over, and ran it weekly for 64 years, until 1987. Both in the number of people involved and the length of their involvement, this was the Chapel’s biggest-ever social activity. The work was difficult and largely unrewarding, but there were many willing helpers, one of whom wrote in 1926: To us these men are not broken earthenware neither down-and-outs. We resent to hear them referred to as such. We see in them souls for whom Christ died and we have learnt to love them for His sake. 10
Every Sunday afternoon, the Chapel members served tea and sandwiches in the Cowgate hall, for men who lived rough in the Grassmarket area. This was followed by a short evangelistic service, and attracted about 80 men weekly; the men listened attentively and visitors remarked on both their good behaviour and their obvious attention to the service. The annual social in January brought in up to two hundred. Clothing was provided, and money for a bed in a lodging house. Numbers were steady throughout the year, even in the summer. The meeting was followed by heart-to-heart talks with some of the men and a few of them professed acceptance of Jesus as Saviour. That was when the real challenge began – ‘No work, no food, no decent clothing, and no bed is a test to try the faith of established Christians, far less of men old in sin, but young in the faith.’
In 1986, the Chapel reviewed the work of the Rock Mission. Most of the men and women now coming on Sunday afternoon were severely alcoholic; they required specialist counselling and support, which the Carrubbers Christian Centre in the High Street was now providing. Nearly all the people who attended the Rock also attended the Carrubbers Christian Centre, so it was agreed to merge their resources and to end the Sunday afternoon tea and gospel meeting.
The Social Gospel
What did Joseph Kemp, the minister of Charlotte Chapel from 1902 to 1915, mean, when he distinguished the Chapel’s social involvement from the Social Gospel, which he called ‘a danger that must not be treated lightly’? 11
As you know, Christians in every country with an Industrial Revolution were concerned about the inequalities and miseries it brought. Between the 1880s and the 1920s, diverse groups of American Christians combatted slum housing, bad hygiene and poor schooling under the banner of the Social Gospel, popularised by Charles M. Sheldon’s best-selling novel of 1896, In His Steps or What Would Jesus Do? Sheldon argued that society would be transformed if only people would face up to the question: ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ His book was still popular half a century later, and I have a copy of it, given to me as a Sunday School prize at the age of 12 in 1944 (but not in Charlotte Chapel).
When the Social Gospel became popular in Scotland, Kemp was concerned for two reasons. First, he was pre-millenial in his theology, teaching that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent, and that Christians should devote their energies to evangelism. Social Gospel leaders were overwhelmingly post-millenial, believing that the Second Coming would not happen until humankind had rid itself of social evils by human effort. Secondly, Social Gospellers preached collective social action as the Christian’s primary duty in this world, in place of individual conversion-experience. An influential Social Gospel leader, Walter Rauschenbusch, taught that ‘sin’ should not be attributed to individuals, but to society as a whole. 12
It was in society, not in individual lives, that sin must be fought and overcome. The theology of the Chapel and of the Social Gospel might be summed up as:
Sin is individual and inherited
Evangelism is proclaiming the gospel
Vertical-relationship with God is key
Individuals are transformed by new birth
Sin is environmental and structural
Evangelism is correcting social evils
Horizontal-relationship with others is key
Society is transformed by education and by legislation 13
Evangelical social action does seem to have had a low profile while the Social Gospel flourished, but in 1916 and in 1921 the Chapel initiated two long-term projects, which combined the vertical relationship with God through individual faith (always the first step) and the horizontal relationship with impoverished society (as an outworking of faith.) The first of these, chronologically, was:
1916 – The Jamaica Street Mission
Chapel members delivered a four-page paper, The Monthly Evangel, to homes in the area. They were so concerned about the drab and depressing situation of people living in Jamaica Street – the service road for the lovely Heriot Row – that they secured the let of an empty shop and turned it into a meeting hall in October 1916, accommodating one hundred. As this paper is about social involvement, there are no details here of evangelistic meetings and Bible studies, but scarcely a week went by without someone accepting Christ as Saviour; one of the Jamaica Street boys went into the ministry and another became a missionary. The first (and pleasant) surprise on the social side was when twenty young men, all over school age, said: ‘the mission hall is a sort of home … we would not miss the Sunday afternoon lads’ class.’ Similarly, a Tuesday evening women’s meeting filled a large place in the otherwise empty lives of the women in the district; attendance averaged between 40 and 50, sometimes up to 80. The younger women held a girls’ class on Wednesday, with an average attendance of 50, from which they formed a choir of sixteen to eighteen year old Jamaica Street girls. Christian Endeavour met on Thursday; the Friday evening Band of Hope grew and grew until seniors and juniors had to meet on different nights to get into the hall. This worthwhile community involvement lasted for 36 years; it was discontinued only when the houses in Jamaica Street were scheduled for demolition in 1952.
1921 – The High Street Mission
The tenements around the Tron Kirk, in Edinburgh’s High Street, were areas of great social deprivation. Two young Chapel men had started an afternoon Sunday School in rented premises in 1913. Initially, two children came but by contacting parents, they built up friendship and confidence and soon had a midweek boys’ club and a girls’ sewing class as well as a Sunday School of 50 to 60. A gift from Santa Claus, at the end of the Christmas social, was the only Christmas present that many of the High Street children received.
When one of the founding members entered the ministry in 1921 and moved away, he asked the Chapel to take over the work. As with the Jamaica Street Mission, this paper does not cover directly evangelistic meetings, but after the Chapel purchased premises at 128 High Street, eleven different groups used them for a variety of social activities – study classes, women’s meetings, girls’ clubs for sewing and talking, and boys’ clubs for games, reading or discussion. Many of those who came during the week came also to the Sunday School, where attendance averaged 150, with 26 teachers. In the summer, they had open-air games and went on rambles. The annual picnic in June, usually to Riccarton, attracted up to three hundred children and mothers; no fathers came – ‘Women and children attended the Mission Hall but self-respecting working men did not.’ 14
Despite extensive canvassing, not one man ever turned up for a men’s meeting; every effort was made to retain the interest of boys, but generally they disappeared as they grew into adolescence. The mission flourished until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939; but it was badly affected by wartime restrictions and closed in 1943.
The commitment of Chapel members to these three missions – the Rock, Jamaica Street and the High Street – may explain, at least in part, why the Chapel was not also active, as a church, in wider areas of social reform. If working people spent every evening of every week at the prayer meeting on Monday, the open-air on Tuesday, one of the missions on Wednesday, the Bible School on Thursday, a uniformed organisation on Friday, and the missions again on Saturday and Sunday – as they had to do, to keep these going – they had neither time nor vision for other areas. I believe that that is the key to what might seem a parochial outlook; the leaders may have had their reservations about the Social Gospel, but ordinary members saw that other people, Christians and non-Christians, were throwing their weight behind desirable social reforms, so they concentrated on the ‘corner of the vineyard’ to which they felt called.
1956 –The Deaf and Dumb Christian Fellowship
In May 1955, a widowed deaf woman, a Chapel member, felt a burden for others in her silent world; she invited them to a meeting in her kitchen every second Friday, and gradually others joined them. Soon they were meeting in larger premises every second Friday, and looking for somewhere to worship together on Sunday. In October 1956, the Chapel arranged simultaneous interpretation, by sign language, for the evening service. A room was equipped with a loudspeaker for the interpreters, and an epidiascope projected hymns and Scripture readings onto a screen. When the Edinburgh Evening News featured this in an article, two married couples came along and were converted. About a dozen came regularly on Sunday evening, as well as meeting in a home, now every Friday, alternating Bible study and prayer with a social gathering. Some came to the Chapel on Sunday morning as well, and a member interpreted for them, in a reserved pew, for over 30 years. Forty attended their first weekend residential conference in October 1959. A family moved to Edinburgh from the south of England, so that their deaf daughter could enjoy the fellowship available here. ‘Signing’ of the Chapel’s evening service continued until the late 1990s, when the last available interpreter, now in his 80s, could not persuade anyone else to take over.
There was never a corresponding Chapel involvement with the blind. An Edinburgh Torch Fellowship for the Blind was started in 1971, with 25 attending monthly Saturday meetings, but it was not a Chapel initiative. The Chapel did, however, provide Braille hymnbooks and Scriptures at the regular Sunday services, and from 1992, the Chapel’s tape librarian read the whole of the monthly Charlotte Chapel Record onto audiotape, for the benefit of the blind and partially sighted. 15
1956 – an Eventide Home
I said that this paper would not cover social involvement for members, but setting up an Eventide Home in 1956 is mentioned, because latterly other churches were involved and, for the last decade, the majority of the residents were non-members. In 1947, one of the Chapel deacons felt a burden for elderly members in tied accommodation, where the house went with the job; they had to leave it on retiring at 60 or 65, and many had nowhere to go. Retirement homes were almost unheard of in those days. After nine years of fundraising, a detached house in Newhaven Road, Leith, overlooking Victoria Park, was purchased and renovated, with accommodation for 14 residents, all in single rooms, and a staff of three. It was called Beulah Home. Family worship twice a day, landline transmission of Chapel services and regular visits from Chapel auxiliaries, made Beulah ‘special’ for fifty years. Local Authority inspections invariably concluded that Beulah provided a happy atmosphere and a high standard of care. However, in the 1990s, Beulah’s raison d’etre disappeared. Most people now had their own home, where they were supported by family or by social services until they needed hospital or nursing home care. Beulah could not be structurally adapted for a nursing home; by 2006, there were so many vacant rooms that it was reluctantly decided the Home could not continue. It closed at the end of September 2008.
Third main area:
Taking a public stand on Sunday Observance and temperance, motivated by concern for people’s welfare and for God’s honour.
Until December 1901, staff on Edinburgh’s tramcars enjoyed the traditional Sabbath rest, and the public walked to church. However, the Tramway Company wanted to increase its revenue, and so from December 1901 it operated 82 cable cars from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. The congregation of Charlotte Chapel was ‘gathered’ from all around the city, but many Chapel members (including Joseph Kemp) and many other Christians refused on principle to use them, for two reasons: (1) it was wrong to make staff work on Sunday, and (2) using Sunday trams would encourage the company to run even more. Until the First World War, my maternal grandparents walked their four children from Goldenacre to the Chapel and back, although trams ran from door to door; some in membership today recollect walking to and from the Chapel, twice every Sunday, until the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.
In the 1930s, commercialisation began to undermine Sunday as a ‘different’ day; Sidlow Baxter, the minister from 1935 to 1953, carried on a relentless campaign against ‘the beaming, bland-faced, Sabbath-commercialising Sunday-amusement agitator, [shopkeepers and cinema-owners], pretending to want his gayer Sunday for the benefit of the public … whose real interest was increased profit’. He urged Chapel members to find out the views of candidates in both municipal and parliamentary elections, and to vote for those who opposed shops, theatres and cinemas opening on Sunday.
In March 1955, the Chapel learned that Edinburgh Corporation, who owned Carrickknowe golf course, was planning to allow play on Sunday. The Chapel was not the only one to express concern, and its letter of protest, along with others, persuaded the Corporation not to open the course. 16
Those now under the age of 60 may find it difficult to picture a Sunday in Edinburgh in the 1950s; the Sabbath meant that pubs were closed, hotels served alcohol to only bona fide travellers, no games or sports took place, swings in public parks were tied up, cold meals were served and many families (including ours) unplugged the television. It was a different and a special day. In the early 1960s, my wife and I gave hospitality to an American with the Billy Graham organization; we were genuinely horrified when he said, as we returned from the Sunday evening service, ‘Let’s watch Sunday Night at the Palladium on BBC TV.’
The Chapel saw Sunday Observance in black and white. When the Government proposed legislation in 1967, to allow some sport and commercial entertainment on Sunday, the Evangelical Alliance, of which the Chapel was a member, suggested working for an acceptable compromise. The Chapel rejected this and gave full support to the Lord’s Day Observance Society, which opposed the Bill outright. 17
It is said that when two principles conflict, the higher principle should prevail. In 1982, Ingliston Sunday market, beside Edinburgh airport, was attracting thousands of people from all over the country. The Chapel obtained permission to hold an open-air service for half an hour every Sunday afternoon, with singing, preaching and giving out gospel literature. This took place in the summer months of 1982 and 1983; some Chapel members then felt that Bibles and Christian books, primarily children’s books, should be on sale. This was not approved – ‘selling on the Lord’s Day could be a reflection on the name of the Church’; without it, the enterprise was not considered worthwhile and it was discontinued in 1984. 18 Looking back, one wonders whether, in this instance, the higher principle had prevailed.
In 1990, the Chapel supported opposition to the Government’s Bill to remove all restrictions from Sunday trading in England and Wales. As the Chapel’s representative on the ‘Keep Sunday Special’ committee put it: ‘A day of rest is part of God’s plan for all mankind. God cares about family and community life. A day in the week when almost everyone is free from work is essential for family life and for friendships to flourish by having time to spend together.’ 19
Through prayer and lobbying, encouraged by Christian Members of Parliament, it was the only Bill put forward by Margaret Thatcher’s government to be defeated on the floor of the House.
The only other issue on which the Chapel has taken a public stance is ‘temperance’. The Temperance (Scotland) Act 1920 introduced local plebiscites, on whether public houses should be closed or restricted in number. Evangelicals throughout Scotland called plebiscites in over 500 wards; Women’s Guilds, Bands of Hope and other church agencies were marshalled into a massive campaign, especially in the cities. Licensing was a live issue for a church in Rose Street; although the street was sparsely populated by end of the Great War, it still had nineteen public houses and the disorder, after closing time, was ‘disgraceful’. With the encouragement of Graham Scroggie, the pastor of the Chapel at the time, the church actively supported the 1920 campaign for Edinburgh to go ‘dry’. Chapel members canvassed from door to door with literature about ‘the curse of the drink traffic’, seeking to get at least 35 per cent on the municipal register to vote for ‘no licence’. The pastor, office-bearers and many members joined a ‘no licence’ march in the Meadows on Saturday 16 October 1920, and arranged a rally in the Usher Hall, on the eve of the poll, attracting fifteen hundred people.It took courage for businessmen to support such rallies, because the ‘trade’ was pressing as strongly for increased sales as the churches were pressing for abolition. My maternal grandfather was the Manager of the Union Bank of Scotland. When the press reported that he had chaired a temperance meeting, the directors of one of Edinburgh’s breweries, who had an account with the bank, closed it, saying they were not prepared to do business with ‘the opposition’. The churches’ stance against the drink trade – Baptist churches throughout Scotland had not one single licence-holder in membership in 1923 – may have driven a wedge between them and non-churchgoers, but they preached the gospel in order to liberate men, women and children from, among other things, slavery to alcohol. When the result of the Edinburgh poll was declared, allowing the sale of liquor to continue, Chapel members were disappointed, but pledged to continue educating the public about ‘the awful bondage of drink’. Bands of Hope generally went into decline after that disappointment, and the chairman of the Church of Scotland’s temperance committee resigned in depression. However, the Chapel’s Young Women’s Temperance Association, formed in May 1926 with 55 members, ran a Band of Hope in the Cowgate every Friday and distributed temperance tracts along Rose Street. Graham Scroggie encouraged them to persevere with ‘the great task that is before the women of Scotland in helping to rid our country of one of its greatest menaces’.
On Sunday 1 April 1928, the Chapel’s evening service was given over to a temperance rally, with supporters from many outside organisations. Scroggie led the service and preached on the evils of the drink trade. When preparations were being made for the Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh in 1970, the City Council proposed having bars inside the spectator areas of the stadium. On behalf of the Chapel and the Free Church of Scotland, I lodged objections with the Secretary of State for Scotland, pointing out the incongruity of having alcohol in a stadium dedicated to healthy living. The objections were successful; rereading them now, I realize how much society has changed in four decades, and yet how relevant the objections still are. They included:
… the degradation of moral character through the abuse of strong drink. Many crimes are committed under its influence, and much anti-social behaviour stems from its influence. Many a man or woman under its influence has slipped into acts of immorality. Because their customary alertness and self-control had been weakened by alcoholic liquor, they consented to acts which they would never have tolerated if sober. … to put alcoholic drink in the ways of those who are using the stadium is not a responsible attitude for a Local Authority to adopt. 20
The Chapel was remarkably successful, between 1970 and 1991, in opposing the opening of new licensed premises and the extending of opening hours. In 1972, it successfully opposed the first modern attempt to open Edinburgh public houses on Sunday. 21
The three ‘pubs’ near the Chapel applied in 1977, 1980 and 1990 for Sunday opening, and the Chapel successfully opposed all of them, partly on principle and partly because of the security measures necessary when people in the area were under the influence of drink. The Chapel’s last success was in 1990, when the public house nearest to the Chapel was again refused a Sunday licence. In 1991, the law was changed, and neighbours could no longer object. It was 1999 before this pub opened on a Sunday morning; fortunately, none of the anticipated disruption has followed.
As this paper is about social involvement, it may be appropriate to mention the boundaries of permissible social activity for Chapel members in the middle years of the twentieth century. In 1939, the minister, Sidlow Baxter, added a question to the membership application: ‘As a Christian do you see the necessity of dissociating yourself from all such practices and pleasures as might be considered questionable or of a ‘worldly’ nature?’
Why was the question formulated in this way? Toward the end of the nineteenth century, partly as a reaction to the rise of Biblical criticism, many evangelical Christians retreated behind barricades, both theological and in terms of conduct. Joseph Kemp defined ‘worldliness’ as smoking, drinking, card playing, dancing, novel reading, theatre and cinema going. He told the congregation, with approval, about a friend in the ministry whose work ‘has been chiefly amongst the card-playing, dancing, worldly Christians. Hundreds of mothers have withdrawn their children from the dancing schools, and many of the Church card parties have been smashed up, let us hope for ever.’ Eric Lomax, whose book The Railwayman was a best seller in 1995, was converted in the Chapel in 1936, and became engaged to be married to a Chapel girl, aged nineteen. In his book, he describes how their courtship consisted of ‘walking out together, avoiding the temptations of the city or the world. Dances and films and similar occasions of sin were out of the question for us; we visited each other’s houses, took long walks in the country and busied ourselves with Chapel affairs.’
A woman who married in the Chapel in 1949, at the age of 26, and who returned for her Golden Wedding in 1999, told me then about her early years in the Chapel. She was from a non-Christian home; she attended the Chapel from the age of fourteen, was converted, became active in youth work and was appointed a Guide leader. When she went, with her non-Christian parents, to a dinner-dance, this was held to be incompatible with leadership of a Chapel youth group, and she was compelled to resign. She was then asked to start a Guide troop at the Granton Baptist Church, which she did; she commented wryly to me, in 1999, about the different attitudes of the two churches.
When the stock of membership applications ran out in 1975, the elders agreed that the paragraph about disassociating ‘from … practices … of a worldly nature’ was unduly negative, and they replaced it with a more positive question.
One of the Chapel’s peer groups, covering the age range 45 to 65, invited a representative of the Telephone Samaritans to talk about their work. At question time, one of the group asked the speaker what he would say to a caller who phoned after taking an overdose that would soon prove fatal, and who was (for the purpose of the question) beyond the reach of the emergency services? Would he ask about the caller’s faith? If the caller had none, would he introduce ‘personal faith’ into the conversation? The Samaritan said that he would not do either, unless the caller raised it first – otherwise, he would talk soothingly until the line went dead. The questioner disapproved of the Samaritan’s answer, and the Samaritan disapproved of the questioner’s eagerness to bring faith into the conversation. There are different views of ‘evangelical social involvement’.
This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Ian Balfour.
Cramond was originally Caer Amon the fort on the River Almond. You will recognise Caer as a regular prefix in Welsh place names, eg Caernarvon, so why does it appear in Scotland?
At the time when the Romans built the fort on the River Almond (AD142), English, Welsh and Scots did not exist. They were all British and spoke a language akin to Welsh. The local people called themselves the Gododdin and the Romans called them the Votadini.
In the course of the next century the Romans departed but there were many more invasions to come. In AD638 the Angles (from north-west Germany) captured the fortress which the British called Din Eidyn; they renamed it Edinburgh. It is to them that we owe the word Kirk for the Church.
Historical Features within the Kirk
The tower is the oldest part of the building, dating back to the 15th century although the parapet was not added until 1811. The bell, which is still rung before the 11 am service on Sundays, has had an exciting history. Like many other Scottish bells of the 17th century, it was made in Holland, a country of fellow Calvinists.
When Oliver Cromwell invaded Scotland in 1651, his soldiers made off with Cramond Kirk’s bell. However, as the kirk’s record shows, “after much solicitation employed and interest made Cromwells General Monk agreed to arrange for its return.”
If you had come through the tower door in 1475 you would have seen not one altar in the east of the kirk, but two. One was dedicated to the Virgin Mary, the other to St Columba who brought Christianity to Scotland in the 6th century. You would also have heard chaplains saying Masses.
There have been a few changes since then. For one thing, we no longer talk about altars but about the Communion Table. For another, the Kirk has had a lot of alterations since an almost total ruin was rebuilt in 1656.
The third thing was the Reformation of 1560 when the Church in Scotland decided to recognise no longer the sovereignty of the Pope but instituted its own (Presbyterian) form of government. The Inglis family vault is the other part of the kirk which was in existence at the 1656 restoration. It is the building with the stone slabbed roof which you pass on the way to the car park. The Craigie Halkett family were the last owners of Cramond House; the last occupant was Miss Dorothy Craigie Halkett (1893-1959) whose memorial stone you may be able to make out at the far end of the Inglis vault.
West & East Aisle
The first memorial along the west aisle towards the north gallery is to Lieutenant Hamish S Mackay of Whitehouse. Next is a stained glass window in memory of Robert Wilson of Inveralmond.
The mansion of Inveralmond is now demolished but its name lives on in roads off Whitehouse Road. The last owner of Inveralmond was Captain Salvesen who donated the steps on the riverside walk north of the weir.
The ship at the top of the window symbolises the mission of the Church to preach the gospel to all nations. You will find the symbol repeated in the pulpit fall and the war memorial mosaic.
To the left of the window is a bust of Sir James Hope, builder of Hopetoun House, who died on 27 November 1661. His elaborate tomb is on the outside wall.
The wooden board contains the names of the ministers of Cramond Kirk since the Reformation. A remarkable trio served in the 18th century – William Hamilton (1694-1709) and his sons, Robert and Gilbert. All three became Moderators of the General Assembly. Robert Walker (1776-1784) became known as the Skating Minister, his portrait by Henry Raeburn hangs in the National Gallery.
Across the kirk in the east aisle is another stained glass window, also in memory of Robert Wilson of Inveralmond.
The Greek words on each side translate Christ the Victor. They are repeated on the war memorial.
The Kirk’s Windows
At the back of the kirk
The painted glass windows below the north gallery depict four saints who have influenced Scottish religious life. It would be incorrect to describe them as Scottish saints since they are, from left to right, a Galilean, a Scotsman, an Irishman and an Englishwoman.
St Andrew: the patron saint of Scotland, was the brother of St Peter and his connection with Scotland is that St Rule brought some of his relics from Constantinople to St Andrews in the 8th century.
St Cuthbert: the Bishop of Durham in Northumbria which in his day extended to the Firth of Forth. He died in AD 687. Many Scottish churches are dedicated to him.
St Columba: came from Ireland in AD 563 and landed on the island of lona from where his missionaries travelled to preach to the Picts and Scots.
St Margaret: great niece of Edward the Confessor. Driven into exile by William the Conqueror, she landed by chance in south Fife. King Malcolm Canmore (son of the Duncan who was slain in battle by Macbeth) came to greet the noble refugees, fell in love with Margaret and married her in 1070. She is remembered for her piety, good works and the institution of the ferry crossing known as the Queensferry Passage which persisted for 900 years until the building of the Forth Road Bridge in 1964.
The inscription on one window tells us that it was gifted by E & A W W in celebration of 38 years of happy marriage. The initials stand for Elizabeth (nee Croall) of Craigcrook and (Dr) Andrew Wallace Williamson who were married in Cramond Kirk in 1888. The windows were in Dr Williamson’s study when he was Minister of St Cuthberts in the West End of Edinburgh. In 1910 he became Minister of St Giles, where the service is held which begins every Edinburgh Festival. He retired in 1925 and died in 1926. His widow gave the windows to Cramond Kirk in 1930.
At the front of the kirk
The Communion Table shows a carved cross surrounded by a circle, the circle being the Celtic symbol for light. Here the minister and elders sit on Communion Sundays and distribute bread and wine to the congregation.
To the left is the Pulpit which dates from the 1911 refurbishment. The base and the steps are in blue Barnton stone, hewn from a long-disused quarry on the Bruntsfield Golf Course in Davidson’s Mains.
The font also dates from 1911 and the inscription, “The Gift of the Children”, records the old pennies and halfpennies given by children.
The three windows (by Morris & Co to designs by Edward Burne-Jones) above the Barnton gallery are in memory of William Reid, former owner of Lauriston Castle, and William Barton, his brother in law.
Lauriston Castle is now now held by the City of Edinburgh Council. It is in Davidsons Mains and is open to the public.
The War Memorial
The window is a memorial to the dead of World War I and depicts conflict and triumph. High over all is the burning bush.
The brass with its enamels of the four Evangelists (St Matthew a man, St Mark a lion, St Luke a calf, St John an eagle) contains, beside the inscription, the names of 105 men connected with our parish who died in the Great War. After World War II a further 12 names were added.
In the corner beneath the window is the motto from Horace Odes 2.6.13 which is translated “that nook of earth has charms for me over all the world beside”.
One of the names on the war memorial is connected with the gallery at the west end, the Dalmeny gallery. The Honourable Neil J A Primrose (1882 – 1917) was the younger son of the 5th Earl of Rosebery whose estate of Dalmeny lies on the far bank of the River Almond, across the ferry.
The mosaic was gifted by the artist (Douglas Strachan) who was responsible for the stained glass window above and it recounts the legend of Jock Howieson, a peasant living at Cramond Brig, who came to the aid of a stranger being attacked by robbers and found that he had rescued his king.
To show his gratitude the king granted him the lands of Braehead in return for which he was to provide the monarch with a ewer and basin for washing his hands whenever he passed Cramond Brig.
The work of the 20th century craftsmen in stained glass below the Dalmeny gallery has been much admired. The window on the left (fashioned by Alexander Strachan in 1939) is in memory of Miss Jessie Colvin (died 1938 aged 84), younger daughter of Walter Colvin, minister from 1843 – 1877. The window on the right is in memory of Dr G C Stott who was minister of Cramond from 1910 – 1943.
The Kirk’s Galleries
In the Church of Scotland years ago only the heritors (or landowners) used the galleries “the laird’s loft”. Here in comfort and often with a stove sat the most important heritors (landowners) with their family and entourage while below them the ordinary folk stood or sat on stools brought with them.
The heritors were responsible for the upkeep of the kirk and manse, the cost being apportioned on the rental value of their estates. The largest by far was Barnton (bounded approximately by Quality Street, Cramond Road South, Lauriston Brae, Gamekeepers Road, Whitehouse Road and Queensferry Road) which bore 36% of the expenses.
The Barnton Gallery is above the Communion Table and Elders’ chairs. It is where the choir sits. Barnton House was demolished in 1925 and its parkland is now occupied by golf courses. In 1891 a railway line was opened from Edinburgh to Barnton after which there appeared two prestigious golf clubs, the Royal Burgess Golfing Society (from Musselburgh) and the Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society; Cargilfield Preparatory School (founded in Trinity in 1873); big houses in Barnton Avenue; sturdy villas in Barnton Gardens and what is now Cramond Road South.
The Cramond Gallery is the one on the left hand side as you face the Communion Table. It was where the owners of Cramond House used to sit. This is the big house on the far side of the car park which was built in three stages : 1680, 1771 and 1818.
In the Cramond Gallery is a small blue velvet-covered chair which Queen Victoria sat upon whilst attending a service at Cramond Kirk. She was staying at Cramond House on her journey further north to Balmoral.
It is interesting to note that on the census night of 5 April 1891 there were 15 in the house: the tenant Mr James C Hope, a civil servant (Inland Revenue), his wife Sophia, four children aged 5 to 10 years and nine live-in employees; a governess, a cook, two nurses, a lady’s maid, a laundry maid, a housemaid, a kitchen maid and a footman. At the North Gate lived the lodge keeper Betsy McKinley and her young daughter; at the Main Gate the gatekeeper, Janet Howden and a former laundress aged 71. In the Henhouse (also known as the Poultry Yard) lived the coachman, his wife, four children and his widowed father. In the Gardens lived the gardener, his wife and five children; in the Stable Yard the unmarried under-gardener aged 20.
Nowadays only the Kirk’s beadle and his wife live in Cramond House, the remainder being leased to the Scottish Wildlife Trust.
The Dalmeny Gallery, in the west of the kirk, is associated with the Dalmeny estate which is across the River Almond from Cramond village. One of the names on the war memorial relates to this gallery: the Honourable Neil J A Primrose (1882 – 1917) was the younger son of the 5th Earl of Rosebery (of Dalmeny). When Cramond Kirk celebrated its tercentenary in 1956, the 6th Earl of Rosebery read the second lesson from the lectern where an elder reads the lesson every Sunday.
The North Gallery is also the newest gallery as it was built in 1911 when the church was extended northwards, towards Cramond Glebe Road. At one time there existed a previous gallery on the north side which was damaged by fire in 1868. The heritors employed a famous architect, David Bryce, who was then engaged on building Fettes College, to devise a plan and he recommended the demolition of the old gallery, and gave the occupants special raised seats against the north wall. It is recorded that they also got a new stove place, though it is not known whether the original stove was the cause of the fire. The Dalmeny Gallery, in the west of the Kirk
Gerald F Morris with a lot of help from Jean M Crichton
The Chapel & Organ
The Chapel Until 1998, when most of the pews were removed from under the Cramond gallery to install a new organ console, the interior of the church had not changed since the comprehensive renovation in 1911. However, in 2003 the chapel was created to provide a multi-purpose space which could be used for the 8.45 am Morning Prayer service as well as being suitable for small weddings, funerals and baptisms. The original pews were placed around three sides of the chapel and, with the addition of chairs and stools, seating for up to 50 is now available and regularly filled on a Sunday morning.
In design and detailing the interior of the kirk is Edwardian with just a hint of Art Nouveau. Furniture design, detailed by Ben Dawson of Musselburgh, is a 21st century update of that style using the same timber – oak – in the solid for the cross and in veneers for the furniture. Pine is used elsewhere, notably for the fence, the low screen defining the chapel area. The carpet, made by a Stoddard of Kilmarnock subsidiary is ultramarine in colour with a bold width of heather under the table. The two candlestick holders were turned by Kays of Scotland, Mauchline, from Ailsa Craig granite, as was the font base with its spherical pewter bowl and cover.
A good brief is a prerequisite for creating “commodity, firmness and delight” but would St. Columba, to whom the Kirk was originally dedicated, feel at ease within the new chapel? Would he, after marvelling at the electric lighting and central heating, be at home with the space planning, the utility and the symbols of his faith which we share? Would he be delighted or would he be cross?
The Organ The Wyvern digital organ was installed in 1998 and the console is at the back of the chapel. The speakers are hidden behind the dummy organ pipes beside the Pulpit. Prior to the installation of the Wyvern organ, music was played on the Norman & Beard organ which dated back to 1911.
This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Cramond Kirk.
John Mack (1797–1845) (in India from 1821–45) was the first Scottish missionary recruited specifically to serve at Serampore, India, with William Carey, and the first overseas missionary to be supported by Charlotte Chapel. He was never in membership at the Chapel (his membership was with the Baptist Church in Shortwood, Gloucestershire) but he was supported financially by the Chapel in the following circumstances. His father was a solicitor who worked at the Sheriff’s Office, and John was born in Edinburgh on 12 March 1797. He was educated at the High School, where his interests lay in the natural sciences, particularly chemistry. He showed considerable ability.
Although trained in science, Mack wished to enter the Church of Scotland ministry. It seems that he needed to have his Edinburgh accent polished up before he could be considered for pastoral office in the national church, so he was sent to a school in Gloucestershire, to improve his social graces. While there, he met William Winterbottom, a Baptist minister at Shortwood, and he came to a personal faith in Christ. [Fisher’s book says at p. 37 that he visited the Baptist church in the village of Nailsworth in Gloucestershire, and that he was baptized there.] He changed his views on baptism and proceeded to Bristol Baptist Academy in 1818, to train for the Baptist ministry. His mother and his friends in Edinburgh were horrified at this turn of events, but Mack was clear that the Lord had laid his hand on his life.
Mack’s conversion and enrolment in Bristol Baptist Academy therefore owed nothing to Christopher Anderson or to Charlotte Chapel. His call to India similarly owed nothing to Scotland, but came through contact with William Ward, one of the Serampore missionaries on furlough in Britain in 1821. Looking for someone to work with him at the Serampore College, which had been established three years previously, Ward addressed the students at the Bristol Baptist Academy. John Mack was drawn to the work and, with the commendation of the Principal of the Academy, was accepted for Serampore. At the request of William Ward, and at the expense of the Serampore missionaries, John Mack came back to Edinburgh for further study in the University here, in Natural Philosophy, before sailing for India. (Life and Letters, p. 257)
While back in Edinburgh, John Mack formed a link with both Charlotte Chapel in general and with Christopher Anderson in particular. Although he was commissioned from the Church in Shortwood, Gloucestershire, where he had been baptised, and where his membership remained, he ‘was commended to the grace of God for the work by Mr. Anderson, before he sailed to India.’ His presence on the Chapel roll means that he was financially supported by the Chapel.
He sailed for India in May 1821. In a letter from London, William Ward commended John Mack to Christopher Anderson, and expressed his pleasure at the progress that John Mack was making in his studies. Donald Meek at page 39 dates the letter 20th May 1821; there may be two letters, but the one in Life and Letters at page 257 is dated 31 May 1821, and is written on board ship, 30 miles below Gravesend, as Ward was sailing for India. ‘I am pleased with Mack; his progress in science pleases me’. The letter goes on, ‘Mack in prayer this morning refreshed us all. We have family worship in Miss C.’s cabin morning and evening, and have our song of praise too.’
As soon as he arrived in India, Mack he threw himself into the work of the College. Although his appointment was as Professor of Chemistry at the Serampore College, he wrote textbooks in Bengali and compiled the first Bengali map. He had considerable gifts as a writer, and when a paper, Friends of Bengal, was launched at Serampore in 1835, Mack contributed to its editorial management.
Mack arrived in India at a time of tension and difficulty in the Serampore mission. The unhappiness which later caused the breach with the Baptist Missionary Society in 1827 was already evident. He wrote to Christopher Anderson in 1821, hoping that ‘the Society’s last resolution, to cease all strife with Serampore, will heal these wounds, so long kept open.’ The tension continued, but the Serampore brethren found Mack a great source of strength, and that his arrival had been timely. When William Ward died of cholera in 1823, Mack was able to fill something of the gap, and to give pastoral help.
In June 1832 he was ordained (along with Doctors William Carey and Joshua Marshman) to be co-pastor of the Baptist Church at Serampore and in 1834, on William Carey’s death, he succeeded Carey as the Principal of the College. His qualities of ‘understanding, loyalty and patience’ helped the mission to survive.
John Mack had a furlough in England in 1837, to recover from a fever, and he was able to sign the Act of Reunion of the Serampore Mission with the Baptist Missionary Society. He returned to India in the following year. He took charge of Dr. Marshman’s seminary and ‘raised its reputation to the highest degree and made it the first private educational establishment in India’. He continued his pastoral charge at the Serampore church, and preached to both Europeans and Indians.
Whether he ever again visited Charlotte Chapel after 1821 is not recorded, but since Christopher Anderson was in regular contact with the leaders of the Serampore College, the Chapel would have been kept fully informed of his contribution.
John Mack died during an epidemic of cholera in 1845. John Marshman wrote to Christopher Anderson:
Serampore, 2nd May 1845. My dear Anderson, I write you under feelings of the deepest anguish, to announce the irreparable loss we have sustained in the removal of Mr. Mack to his eternal rest, and I must trust to your kindness to break the intelligence judiciously to his aged mother. He was in perfect health and the highest spirits on Tuesday evening, 29th April; next morning he found himself unwell, called in medical aid by eight o’clock: at ten the symptoms of cholera became unequivocal, and in spite of the most assiduous attention and of every remedy which medical skill could devise, he was a corpse in twelve hours. He was interred yesterday afternoon. Every European in the town paid the last tribute of respect to one who had secured their love and esteem, and his own Baptist brethren in Calcutta, the Independent missionaries, and Messrs. Ewart and Smith of the Free Church Mission, were so kind as to come up from Calcutta and attend his funeral. The loss to the congregation, to the Church, to the Mission, and to the little circle of friends who clung closer to each other as the circle became narrower, appears irreparable. Now we are indeed bereaved. I have lost the friend of twenty-two years’ standing, endeared to me by a thousand associations, and with whom, during this long period, there has never been the slightest discord, but a long uninterrupted enjoyment of the happiest and most endearing intercourse. I cannot command my feelings sufficiently to write more on this deeply painful subject at present. Will you kindly assure his mother that I will not allow her to feel his death in the interruption of the allowance he was in the habit of sending her. Believe me, yours most affectionately, John Marshman.
The Baptist Reporter and Missionary Intelligence, New Series, Vol II, August 1845, at p. 299 [copy in the vestry in the Chapel – no other obvious reason for this isolated volume to be there unless it is because of this letter] recorded:
Death of Mr. Mack, of Serampore. Extract of a letter
I had the pleasure of receiving your letter of the lst March, on the 18th April; rather a quick passage – 41 days from London. Since I last wrote you we have enjoyed very good health indeed, notwithstanding the prevalence of cholera, in Calcutta and the neighbourhood, to an alarming extent. For many years there has not been such a mortality among the European portion of the community as this year’s bills exhibit; and many of them distinguished members of the community. Till yesterday, its ravages in Serampore were confined to the natives; but most unfortunately our dear pastor, Mr. Mack, a native of Edinburgh, and a labourer in the mission-field for twenty-three years, was attacked at ten o’clock in the morning, and entered into his rest at a quarter past ten in the evening, having suffered for only twelve hours. It was one of the worst cases of spasmodic cholera. He has left a widow, but no children; but every one was so much interwoven with him, that both European and native feel that they have lost a father, in every sense of the word. In him is broken the last connecting-link of the male portion of the Serampore mission commenced by the late Dr. Carey. Helen drank tea with him on the 24th, when their whole conversation was of home. She was a particular favourite of his, and she was equally attached to him. We have lost a kind friend. He arrived in this country in October, 1822, and officiated as Professor of Chemistry in the Serampore college while it lasted; being also co-pastor with Carey and Marshman in the church here. Since their death the whole duty has devolved on him, both of the native and European churches here; and it is not too little to say that he faithfully fulfilled the trust committed to his charge. Since the funeral of Dr. Carey, in 1834, a larger assemblage has not been seen in Serampore. It was pleasing to see the respect the heathen paid to his memory. Not only was the road covered with them, but every house-top was crowded with men, women, and children. He was a man who had enjoyed almost uninterrupted good health, and a most abstemious man in everything but fruit, of which he was excessively fond. The cholera was supposed to have been brought on by the fruit he had the night before. He was in the prime of life, (48) stout and robust. His mother still lives in Edinburgh. Who is to be his successor has not yet been decided on. This being a very healthy place, the pastor of the church always supports himself by keeping a school; and a most excellent one Mr. Mack has left.
OBITUARY IN THE ORIENTAL CHRISTIAN BIOGRAPHY, Vol. 1, pages 282 – 286 (obtained through Regent’s Park College, Oxford.)
John Mack was a native of Edinburgh in Scotland. He was born on the 12th March, 1797. Of his early life, but little is known; his father was writer to the signet in Edinburgh, but died while he was quite a child; and his mother, a lady of sterling piety, determined to bring up her children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord; – her instructions were blessed; and Mr. Mack, whilst yet but a boy, was not only deeply concerned about his own salvation, but strangely thoughtful about the perishing state of the heathen.
Being designed from his very earliest days, by his friends, for the ministry of the gospel in the Church of Scotland, he was, after the usual routine of education, sent to the University of Edinburgh. Here he gave many indications that he possessed original and strong independent powers of mind. Having passed through a number classes in the University, but being as yet too young to enter into the ministry, it was deemed advisable by his relations, that he should, with a view chiefly to his acquiring a thoroughly English style in speaking, spend some time in the southern parts of the kingdom. Accordingly an ushership was procured for him in a classical and respectable school in the west of England, the principal of which was a leading member of the Society of Friends. In the neighbourhood of this gentleman lived a very intelligent Baptist Minister, Mr. Winterbotham, who in the course of years, had drawn around him a very pious and enlightened circle. Having never, whilst in Scotland, attended to what is called the baptismal controversy, he found, when in England, the question thrust upon him, by his quaker friend who on the one hand denied water-baptism altogether, and by his Baptist friends who denied every thing like baptism to infants on the other. For a time, he was sorely perplexed; but resolving to study the controversy thoroughly for himself, the result was his adoption of Baptist sentiments, and his being immersed in the face of a congregation of a thousand people. This change in his views was a sad blow to his relations in Scotland, and particularly to his mother, who regarded him as the flower of her family, and whose heart was set on his being a minister of the Church of Scotland.
Having shortly after this received a call from the church at Shortwood, Gloucestershire, of which he was a member – to preach the gospel to his perishing fellow-sinners, he entered the Baptist College at Bristol. Here in a short time he occupied the very first place in point of attainments, his only competitor being (the Rev. J. Acworth, A.M.) the present learned president of the Baptist College at Bradford; the two constituting but one class, and that the highest in the institution. His disposition was then, what it ever after continued to be, one of the most frank, open, kind, attached and sympathising that ever possessed a human breast. He was a favourite with all his fellow-students in the very highest degree, sincerely loving all, and being sincerely loved by all in return. Concealment was no part of his nature; nothing being more abhorrent to his mind than hypocrisy on the one hand, and feigned humility on the other.
In 1821, the late Rev. Mr. Ward visited England for the purpose of obtaining an individual, who might with advantage be appointed to the post of professor in Serampore College. After some conversation with the students for the ministry at Bristol, his choice fell upon Mr. Mack, who almost immediately yielded himself up to the call, and was encouraged by all his fellow-students to proceed on his way. Having after this spent some time elsewhere in the study of Chemistry and other branches of Natural Science, he returned to the neighbourhood of Bristol; where in the chapel in which he had been baptised, he was set apart as a missionary to the heathen. The ordination prayer was offered by Mr. Waters of Pershore, and the charge delivered by Mr. Winterbotham, from Acts xxvi. 17-19. The high estimation in which Mr. Mack was held by the church at Shortwood, together with the close and endeared friendship subsisting between him and his pastor, called forth feelings which rendered the service more than ordinarily interesting and impressive. After the congregation had retired, the church having been detained, Mr. Mack took an affectionate farewell, and commended the pastor and flock, with which he had been so happily united, to the Father of mercies, in a solemn and fervent prayer, while they mourned that they should see his face no more.
Mr. Mack arrived in India, on the 15th of November, 1821, and immediately entered upon his duties as professor in Serampore College; and for fourteen years he was actively and successfully engaged in directing the studies of the youth connected with it, and more especially in training up young men for missionary labor in India.
From a congeniality of disposition, he soon contracted a strong attachment to Dr. Carey and his colleagues, and, in addition to his engagements in the College, rendered them every assistance while they lived, and endeavoured to carry forward their labors, as they were successively removed to their eternal reward. In all their trials and difficulties he adhered to them with unshaken fidelity and affection, As to the interesting sphere of his own labors he thus expressed himself in a letter dated January, 1824:- “Through our native brethren the gospel is now preached around Serampore, to an extent and with a regularity unprecedented here; and we endeavor, in the best way we can, to prepare them for the work of preachers. Every Thursday evening we have a conference upon a text of importance, by which means we are enabled to correct and enlarge their ideas, and at the same time become acquainted with their abilities, and the knowledge which they possess, and so understand how far we can confide in them as preachers. Several of them are men of superior abilities and ready utterance. On Saturday evening they meet at my house, again for instruction. Something like a theological lecture is delivered, and then we enter into a free and full conversation on the subject. * * * We have established seventeen schools, in which there are nearly three hundred girls. Five of the schools are in Serampore, and the rest in the adjoining villages. The children generally get on very well, and we have received much encouragement.”
On the 27th June 1832, he was ordained co-pastor with Drs. Carey and Marshman of the church at Serampore. The prayer was offered by Dr. Carey and the charge delivered by the Rev. W. Robinson, from Acts, xi. 24.
On his return from a tour through the eastern provinces of Bengal, the Cossya Hills, and Assam in 1836, he was attacked with a fever, from which he recovered with great difficulty, and which rendered a voyage to England indispensable. Mr. Mack returned to India at the beginning of 1839, with a determination to devote his energies to the maintenance of the labors of his deceased colleagues. From his own love of independence, as well as from a hope of usefulness, he took charge of the seminary which the death of Dr. Marshman had left vacant. He soon raised its reputation to the highest degree, and rendered it the first private establishment of education in India. While engaged in the laborious duties of a teacher, he sustained the pastoral charge of the Church at Serampore, both European and Native, directed the missionary efforts of the station and its neighbourhood with the warmest zeal, and gave his cheerful and invaluable aid to the general cause of Missions in India.
Few men have ever come out to this country who appeared to be so eminently fitted for public usefulness, by extraordinary endowments of nature and personal acquirements, as the subject of this notice. He was a well read classic, and an able mathematician, and there were few branches of natural science in which he was not at home, and in which he did not succeed in keeping himself up to the level of modern discoveries. He was especially attached to the science of chemistry, which he had cultivated with success under the most eminent professors in London. Soon after his arrival in India, he gave a series of chemical lectures in Calcutta, the first ever delivered in the city; and at a later period, prepared an elementary treatise on this science, and translated it into the Bengalee language for the use of native. pupils. It was, however, the originality of his mind, and the solidity of his judgment, by which he was so remarkably distinguished. The depth of his observations on all subjects to which his attention was turned, whether religion or science, or the political, social, and moral condition and movements of society, gave them a peculiar value. He seemed to seize instinctively upon the exact bearings of the most complicated question, and to unravel all its difficulties by the simplest process, and to place it at once in the clearest point of view.
But the energies of his mind, and the strength of his affections, were above all things consecrated to the study of the Sacred Scriptures, and of the system of divine truth revealed in them; and it was in the clear exposition and the forcible inculcation of those truths that he rendered himself so eminently useful. On all subjects, he was a ready and persuasive speaker, and left a strong impression on the mind; but it was in his pulpit ministrations that he attracted the largest share of public attention. There was a uniform elevation of thought in his discourses, which, combined with a lofty train of reasoning and the fervor of pious zeal, not only convinced the judgment but captivated the heart; so that his hearers seemed to be carried irresistibly along with him as he unfolded the doctrines of the gospel, and enforced them on the conscience with all the power of language.
His attachment to the missionary cause was the leading principle of action throughout his Indian career. There was no exertion and sacrifice, which he was not prepared to make for its advancement. To have been associated with the founders of the Protestant Mission in Bengal, with Carey, Marshman, and Ward; to have assisted in their labors and participated in their joys and sorrows, he considered the glory of his life. He had relinquished all idea of returning to his native land, and had resolved to devote himself to the end of his days to the promotion of this cause. In the more immediate sphere of his labors, he gave all the leisure which he could obtain to the superintendence of the native church, and of the missionary efforts connected with it; and his intimate knowledge of the native language and character, and that rare union of firmness, discretion, and kindness, which he possessed, rendered his services invaluable. At the same time, he watched over the general cause of Indian Missions in all parts of the country with parental solicitude, and omitted no opportunity of promoting its interests; and he had just laid down a scheme of more extended usefulness in which he had hoped to take an active share, when he was suddenly removed from his labors.
As a public writer, Mr. Mack had few equals in India. His compositions bore the exact impress of his mind, and were remarkable for their purity, clearness and vigor. He cultivated his style with no little assiduity, and was remarkably happy in clothing his thoughts in the strongest and most appropriate expressions. When the Friend of India,” a weekly journal published at Serampore, was commenced in 1835, he took an active share in its editorial management, and as long as he could command leisure enriched it with his contributions. He had the most perfect contempt for money, except as it could be made subservient to the benefit of others. What he gave, he gave cheerfully and unostentatiously; his liberality was scarcely limited by his means; and it was probable that if he had possessed the most ample fortune, his generosity would still have risen above the level of it. But he had the far more rare and difficult virtue of generosity of feeling.
It only remains for us now to speak of Mr. Mack’s end. On the day previous to his death, he had not been quite well; but nothing serious was anticipated. On the morning of the day on which he died, he was out as usual on horseback, and returned in the hope of being able to conduct the duties of his school. A little after 10 A.M. it became very apparent that he had fallen a victim to that dreadful scourge the spasmodic cholera, from which he suffered extremely till about 7 o’clock P M. and at about half an hour after 10 P.M. he fell asleep. During his illness he spoke but little. Indeed those who were about him were too intimately connected with him to admit of their conversing with him in his last moments, without giving way to their feelings, and this would have distressed him, but they needed no evidence of the sincerity of his faith and repentance. ‘The gospel was his joy and song, E’en to his latest breath; The truth he had proclaimed so long, Was his support in death.’
He died on the 30th April, 1845.
Donald Meek published three articles in the Chapel Record in the first five months of 1992, entitled ‘Charlotte Chapel and the Indian Connection’. Excerpts from the second article, ‘The first Chapel missionaries’ are reproduced here for ease of reference. Much of the material has already been given, above, but there are some new items.
The missionary roll of Charlotte Chapel begins with the following missionaries, all of whom served in India: John Mack (1821-45), Thomas Swan (1825-27), Helen Mack (1828-30) and John Leechman (1832-37). Their presence on the roll means that they were supported financially by the Chapel for the periods of service shown in brackets.
John Mack, the very first foreign missionary to be supported by Charlotte Chapel, was born in Edinburgh on 12th March 1797. His father was a solicitor who worked at the Sheriff’s Office. Educated at the High School and later at Edinburgh University, Mack showed signs of considerable ability. His interests lay in the natural sciences, and he had a particular enthusiasm for chemistry.
Mack originally intended to enter the ministry of the Church of Scotland. However, it seems that he needed to have his Edinburgh accent polished up before be could be accepted into the pastoral office of the national church! In fact, it looks as if he was being groomed to be a well mannered ‘Moderate’, with all the ‘right’ airs and graces, but no personal knowledge of God’s grace. He was therefore sent to a school in Gloucestershire, where he served as an usher. We do not know what happened to Mack’s accent, but soon a ‘new song’ was put in his mouth. While in the south, he came into contact with William Winterbotham, a Baptist minister at Shortwood. As a result, he came to a personal faith in Jesus Christ and changed his views on baptism. His mother and his friends in Edinburgh were horrified at these events, but Mack was clear that the Lord had laid His hand on his life, and he proceeded to Bristol Baptist College in 1818 to train for the Baptist ministry.
Mack’s conversion and later enrolment in Bristol Baptist College thus owed nothing to Christopher Anderson or Charlotte Chapel. His call to India similarly owed nothing to Scotland, but came through the direct intervention of William Ward, one of the original Serampore Trio, who was in Britain in 1821. Ward was seeking someone who would go back with him to work at Serampore College, which had been established three years previously. Ward therefore visited Bristol Baptist College, and addressed the students. His appeal found a place in Mack’s heart, and, with the commendation of Dr John Ryland, Principal of the College, he was chosen to return with Ward to Serampore.
At Ward’s request, and at the expense of the Serampore missionaries, Mack undertook further study in Edinburgh. In a letter to his great friend, Christopher Anderson, William Ward (writing from London on May 20th 1821) was able to say, ‘I am pleased with Mack: his progress in science pleases me’. It is quite likely that it was during this period of further study that Mack formed his link with Charlotte Chapel and Christopher Anderson. He was, however, set apart for missionary service at the church in Shortwood where he had been baptised.
In May 1821 Mack embarked for India, and as soon as he arrived he threw himself into the work of the College, where he was a Professor in Chemistry. He wrote textbooks in Bengali, and compiled the first Bengali map. His gifts as a writer were widely acknowledged, and were further used when the paper, ‘Friend of India’, was launched at Serampore in 1835. Mack contributed to its editorial management.
Mack arrived in India at a time of tension and difficulty in the mission. The unhappiness that caused the breach with the BMS in 1827 was already in evidence. When he wrote to Anderson in 1821, Ward was hoping that ‘the Society’s last resolution, to cease all strife with Serampore, will heal these wounds, so long kept open.’ Although the tension continued, the Serampore brethren found that Mack was a great source of strength, and that his arrival was indeed timely. In 1823 William Ward died of cholera, and Mack was able to fill something of the gap caused by his mentor’s sudden departure. He was also able to give pastoral help. In June 1832 he was ordained co-pastor of the Baptist church at Serampore, alongside Drs Carey and Marshman, and he succeeded Carey as Principal of Serampore College. It is indeed gratifying to record that, when Mack arrived in England in 1837 to recover from a fever, he was able to sign the Act of Reunion of the Serampore Mission with the BMS. His great qualities of ‘understanding, loyalty and patience’ (thus described by Dr Ernest A. Payne) had helped the mission to survive.
Returning to India in 1838, Mack took charge of Dr Marshman’s seminary, and, according to one biographer, ‘raised its reputation to the highest degree and made it the first private educational establishment in India’. He continued his pastoral charge at Serampore church, and preached to both Europeans and Indians.
Mack’s death came with tragic suddenness during an epidemic of cholera, and is chronicled as follows in the Baptist Reporter for 1845: ‘…Our dear pastor, Mr Mack, a native of Edinburgh …was attacked at ten o’ clock in the morning, and entered into his rest at quarter past ten in the evening, having suffered for only twelve hours. It was one of the worst cases of spasmodic cholera. He has left a widow but no children. … In him is broken the last connecting link of the male portion of the Serampore mission commenced by the late Dr Carey. Helen drank tea with him on the 24th, when their whole conversation was of home. She was a particular favourite of his, and she was equally attached to him. Since the funeral of Dr Carey, in 1834.a larger assemblage has not been seen in Serampore.’
BMS archives contain two documents (1) a communication dated 18th September 1833, to a BMS missionary regarding ‘Slavery in the British Colonies’ and (2) a legal document regarding his estate.
Helen Mack (in India from 1828–30) was apparently the sister of John Mack. Although her period of service in India is noted on the Chapel roll as 1828–30, if she was John’s sister, she was still alive and still in India at John’s death in 1845 (see below) It is sometimes said that Helen was the first woman from Scotland to have served on the mission field, or at least the first Scottish woman to have served at Serampore. No further information is available. An obituary in the Baptist Reporter for March 1845 recorded that:
Our dear pastor, Mr Mack, a native of Edinburgh…was attacked at ten o’clock in the morning, and entered into his rest at quarter past ten in the evening, having suffered for only twelve hours. It was one of the worst cases of spasmodic cholera. He has left a widow but no children…Helen drank tea with him on the 24th, when their whole conversation was of home.
Donald Meek published three articles in the Chapel Record in the first five months of 1992, entitled ‘Charlotte Chapel and the Indian Connection’. Excerpts from the second article, ‘The first Chapel missionaries’ are reproduced here for ease of reference. Some of the material has already been given, above, but there are some new items. The missionary roll of Charlotte Chapel begins with the following missionaries, all of whom served in India: John Mack (1821-45), Thomas Swan (1825-27), Helen Mack (1828-30) and John Leechman (1832-37). Their presence on the roll means that they were supported financially by the Chapel for the periods of service shown in brackets.
Message received: ‘Helen Mack was apparently the sister of John Mack. Although her period of service in India is noted on the Chapel roll as 1828-30, she was in India shortly before John’s death in 1845 (see paragraph above). William Whyte’s Chapel history, Revival in Rose Street, is thus inaccurate in its claim that Miss Mack died in India after two years’ service (and, as we shall see, a similar mistake is made with Thomas Swan). It would seem, that Helen Mack may have been the first woman from Scotland to have served on the mission field. She was certainly the first Scottish woman to serve at Serampore, just as her brother was the first Scotsman to join the famous Trio. I have no information as to how Miss Mack came to faith or by what means she offered herself for missionary service. Was it through her brother’s witness and example?’
King James VII (and II of England) arranged for the parish church of Canongate adjacent to the Palace of Holyroodhouse to become the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle, and ordered that money left at the disposal of the Crown by a merchant, Thomas Moodie, should be used to build a new building. The new building, which was started in 1688, was quite unlike anything else built in Scotland at that time. The Royal Arms on the front were to have been those of King James but, by the time the building was completed in 1690, the escutcheon of Nassau was placed in the centre to make them the arms of William of Orange. Below are the arms and initials of Thomas Moodie. The stag’s antlers and cross were first placed on the apex of the roof in 1824 and were replaced by those from a stag shot by King George VI in 1949. Every year a Christmas tree has been presented to the Kirk from Balmoral
The interior of the building was completely reorganised in 1817 and some years later a wall was built, totally obscuring the apse. A fire in 1863 did considerable damage and, in 1882, another extensive alteration was carried out which involved alterations to the galleries. The galleries were completely removed in 1950 allowing more light into the building.
It was in 1938, the 250th anniversary of the foundation of the present building that Dr Ronald Selby Wright announced his plans for a revolutionary renovation. However, work was inevitably postponed because of the War and it was not until 1943 that an Appeal for money was sent out. Enough had been raised for a start to be made in December 1945. By 1950 the dummy wall had been removed and with it the old organ in front of it. Perhaps the boldest stroke was the colour scheme – the pews painted light blue, the pulpit a darker blue, and the walls white – contrasting favourably with the old dull building, heavy and dark with galleries and brown paint. The ‘new’ kirk was visited by The Queen on 25 June 1952, on the first day of her visit to Edinburgh as Sovereign, and the first reigning Sovereign to enter the Kirk of Holyroodhouse in its present building
Canongate Kirk is one of the simplest buildings in Edinburgh. When they come in people are sometimes disappointed as a first reaction because there is nothing very grand or elaborate about the place. It is, however, a building which repays a little quiet study; it is a marvellous place for sitting and meditating. Its peace, harmony and unity are promoted by its architecture, with wonderfully balancing circles and semi-circles, arches and pillars. The clear windows let us see out and the world see in, so that there is no obstruction between the church and the community outside – the one flows into the other. So people coming in and quietly sitting down find a peace stealing over them which is remarkably refreshing and re-creating. But when they move about inside, to see what there is to be seen, they discover there is quite a lot, and all of it, in some way, a measure of the history of the building and the community, the congregation and the church itself.
I think the first and most obvious thing people notice are the Colours which hang above the nave, standing out from the pillars and adding a splash of colour to the ceiling. We have the Colours of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the ‘Dandy Ninth’, the Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment); in the King David Aisle to the right hand the standards of former Governors of Edinburgh Castle and on the other aisle that of the previous Minister, the Very Reverend Dr Ronald Selby Wright, and his Coat of Arms as Minister of Canongate. Straight ahead of that, over the boiler room door, is a banner which was woven by the Dovecot Tapestry of Corstorphine to commemorate the Coronation; it is that of the Very Reverend Dr Charles Warr who, at the time, was Minister of St Giles, Dean of the Chapel Royal and Dean of the Thistle. It hung above the pulpit in St Giles when the Queen came to Scotland and was acclaimed in 1953. This Banner is, therefore, an important historical ‘document’. It is flanked by the Standards of the Royal British Legion Scotland. These standards add a touch of romance and history and one can almost hear the sound of military music from long ago beating down from the Castle into the Kirk. For this is a military church, the Church of Edinburgh Castle, and it is fitting that they should be here.
Perhaps the next thing that catches the visitor’s eye is the apse with its wonderful embroidered cushions which clothe the seats where the elders sit during the communion service. The embroidery itself is a series of cushions designed as a memorial to the Normandy Veterans Association, of which I am Chaplain. It has an interesting history: two of the veterans came to see me one day, a very serious deputation, asking me if it would be possible for them to have, somewhere in the church, a bronze plaque commemorating what they did during the war and in 1944 in particular. The idea of a plaque did not commend itself much to me and we moved through other possibilities until at the end I suggested an embroidery or something that would ‘clothe’ the apse and be a permanent memorial to them and, at the same time, an asset to the building. They were completely won by the idea and, there and then, decided that they would raise the necessary money. We had already been thinking how we could achieve some colour in the apse and there were one or two tapestry schemes afoot, none of them very good. This input from the Normandy Veterans and their enthusiasm set off a chain of events which finally ended up with a band of about twenty eight women who had been gathered together, keen to help in the project. Each of them undertook to work a cushion. The whole work was designed by Hannah Frew Paterson and is called ‘Christ, the Light of the World’. It is a double spectrum of light, flowing inwards from right and left, sweeping inwards in a wonderfully varied ray of colours and radiance to the central cross in the middle – an uplift to everybody’s spirits as they come in.
People may be confused by the interior arrangement of Canongate: they walk in the door and see a pulpit; then they see in the apse two ‘boxes’, which some call pulpits too, and then they see again another pulpit – and wonder how the service is conducted. Actually, it is quite simple:the ‘boxes’ are in fact prayer stalls and prayers are conducted from one or other. The pulpit in the nave against the pillar is where the Bible is read and the other pulpit is used for preaching.Immediately in front is a new communion table which is the congregation’s gift to the Kirk to mark the millennium, the second millennium of our Lord’s birth. It was dedicated and used for the first time on Christmas Day 2000, and used also the following Sunday, the last day of the year and of the millennium. It has been used at every Communion Services since. It was designed by a young man, Bruce Hamilton, and it wonderfully resonates with the window behind it. Carved on its frontal is the double arch of the window with the gothic heart in the middle and on each side the stag’s antlers with the cross between them. The stretchers form a Saint Andrew’s Cross, topped by a roundel upon which is carved the coat of arms of the Kirk, beautifully painted in heraldic colours, matching the heraldry on the prayer stalls.
One prayer desk was given by four dukes of Scotland in 1950: the Duke of Hamilton, the Duke of Buccleuch, the Duke of Queensberry and the Duke of Argyll. These Dukes represent families which, in the history of Scotland, were very important and were often enemies of each other. This particular stall is surmounted by a canopy which has on it the text in Latin ‘Behold how good a thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity’. So the four warring families have come together in unity in Canongate Kirk. Opposite is a stall presented in the same year by the Duke of Roxburgh because the Roxburghs were the ‘superiors’ of the Canongate from the Reformation until 1636. (The ‘superiors’ means that the Crown gave them the entitlement to all the feu duties). The Duke of Buccleuch also gave a mediaeval wooded painted panel from his chapel at Bowhill which forms the back of the Beadle’s seat and also, opposite, a three seater bench with carved cherubs – a splendid piece of carving, lively, interesting and uplifting. These seats are named: one for the Dean of the Chapel Royal, one for the Minister Emeritus, who was Dr Ronald Selby Wright, and one for the Moderator (of the Kirk Session, the Presbytery, or of the General Assembly). In front of this bench are two carved prayer desks given by the St Margaret Chapel Guild, and nearby is a small statue of St Margaret, Queen Margaret, seated with her gospel book in her hands. It was made by Frances Rich, a sculptor in Palm Desert, California. She made two: one for St Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Palm Desert, where in the crypt they have an exact replica of the chapel in Edinburgh Castle, which they asked me, as Minister of the Castle, to dedicate in 1990, and this one.
Before we leave the apse and return to the pulpits, on the floor are flagstones bearing the names of Ministers of Canongate Kirk in succession since the Reformation in 1560 to 1978 when I succeeded Dr Selby Wright. At the focal point of the apse, in front of the central mullion of window looking out to the Royal High School and Calton Hill, stands a cross, specially carved for the church. It has an interesting history: one night we suffered a severe break-in; much of the church furnishing was ruined, and this cross was smashed into two pieces. It has been put together so that we still have the cross as intended, but it is a fractured cross, broken almost as though it has broken its heard because of what happened. That rupture is, in a way, reflected in the only modern addition we made in the major renovation in 1990 – the glass doors at the entrance. There, on the etching which represents the Holy Trinity, is a cross, deliberately made as though it was refracted.
Returning to the pulpits, that on the left in the nave is the scripture pulpit, really a lectern reminding us of the Old Testament experience of Ezra in the days of Nehemiah when a Book was discovered in the ruins of the Temple. It was brought out, dusted down, and identified as the Book of the Law. The people made a pulpit of wood for Ezra, the scribe, to go up and read it to them. The pulpit was amidst the people and that, I think, is what the pulpit in the nave signifies. It takes us right back to our roots in Old Testament times and locates us firmly in Hebrew history, theology and experience. The other pulpit is the one in front on the right, topped by a sounding board and from where sermons are preached. It has a fascinating history: it was formerly the pulpit in the Chalmers Memorial Church in the West Port in Edinburgh, built specially for the great Dr Chalmers after the Disruption. Previously, he had been the Minister in St John’s Kirk in Glasgow and a national figure, both in Scotland and England, and one of his notions was to encourage the building of new churches in the growing city housing areas. He went around the country, preaching the gospel, telling people about his vision and plans, engaging their interest and, if he could, capturing their offerings. He wrote several times to the Kirk Session of Canongate, seeking the privilege of coming to preach and receiving the offering for his work of what we would now call ‘church extension in housing schemes’. On each occasion he was refused. A century later, in the 1960s, his church was being knocked down for development in the West Port. Dr Ronnie Selby Wright heard of this, sped down in a taxi and was just in time to stop the pulpit from being demolished by a great ball on the end of a crane. He got a joiner carefully to dismantle the pulpit which he brought in bits to Canongate. It was rebuilt where it now stands, so that my a curious quirk of history, the man who was refused permission to preach in Canongate has, in a way, bequeathed us his pulpit from which every sermon is preached.
On the west side of the pulpit are two features of interest. One is the baptismal basin holder. Baptism has been conducted in the Christian Church in three ways, depending on locality: in Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, in a font near the entrance to the building; in some churches in front of the congregation in a font as near as possible to the Communion table and lectern; and the old Scots custom was to have it done in the face of the people from the pulpit. The Minister would remain in the pulpit to which was attached an iron bracket holding a basin, usually pewter but sometimes silver, and he would lean over at the appropriate time to baptise the child who was held up by the father. Canongate must, I think, be one of the few churches which has a bracket set into the base of the pulpit and we are fortunate enough to possess the baptismal silver which was in the old Kirk down at Holyrood, given to the Kirk in 1644 – a wonderful silver bowl and ewer to which, in my time, has been added a baptismal spoon which is a replica of that made in Canongate in the 1560s. So we use that when the bairns and, indeed, adults are baptised in the old reformed Scottish custom.
Above the bracket is the Royal Coat of Arms, placed there in 1991 and unveiled by Her Majesty The Queen when the whole renovation of the Kirk was completed. That was an exciting occasion and we are grateful that the royal connection is commemorated for all to see. Below those Arms is a second plaque commemorating the fact that the Royal Scots (The Royal Regiment) formally adopted Canongate Kirk as their Regimental Kirk, and we are very proud of that connection too.
On the east side there is a Communion Table, backed by a reredos, both given by the High Constables and Guard of Honour of Holyroodhouse in the 1960s. The needlework for the frontal and reredos were done by two ladies of the congregation under the direction of Lady Margaret Grant. The former depicts the story of King David and the stag with the cross between the antlers and the founding of the abbey. The reredos shows the black rood of Scotland, backed by a lovely circle containing animals, which children enjoy counting and identifying. Until 2000 that table was used every Christmas Day for Communion and, formerly, for the monthly communion which took place in Dr Selby Wright’s day after the main 11.15 service. That service now takes place on the last Sunday of the month at the main service and so the St David’s aisle is not used so often.
Nearby is a picture by Stanley Cursiter, the Queen’s Limner for Scotland. He was a young artist in the 1920s from Orkney, well known and much respected. When he and his friends were just making their way in Edinburgh, they conceived the idea that it would be a good thing if in all the primary schools there was an original work of art so that the children would be introduced not just to prints but to something that an artist whom they had met had actually painted and which told them something of the history of their own school and interesting about their locality. So we have this painting, based on a Pisanello painting which you can see in the National Gallery in London; it is almost an exact copy. It shows the King’s Park and Arthur’s Seat with the wild flowers and animals to be found there. As in the table frontal, mentioned above, you see King David kneeling before the white stag with the cross between its antlers. The whole painting is surrounded by mottoes in the old Scots language which take a bit of deciphering. There is an interesting tale attached to the picture: it was presented to the school in Cranston Street or New Street (depending on which entrance you used) and, after it was hung, there was correspondence in ‘The Scotsman’.
Somebody had noticed that the cross in the painting was a crucifix and had written to the newspaper complaining that in a State, Protestant and Presbyterian school a crucifix had been infiltrated. There was a most terrific row, the picture was withdrawn and not allowed to remain on the walls. The young artists thought this was an act of censorship, they withdrew their support and this was the only picture to survive from a very imaginative scheme. It eventually came to light in the 1960s in the Royal Mile Primary School, then called Milton House School. They did not want to hang it anywhere public and asked Dr Selby Wright what they could do with it. He immediately suggested that it should be hung in the church where it now hangs between two windows, preserved from the light but visible for all, recording the founding of the Abbey at Holyrood.
Also in this aisle is a rather special window which hangs against the wall and is back-lit. It could be described as part of the ‘peace dividend’, resulting from the end of the Cold War in Europe. It came from the garrison church at Werl, Germany, where Scottish Regiments were often stationed. It is a Royal Scots window and, when the garrison was vacated, the Regiment did not want their window to be left and asked if it could be moved her, which is their regimental kirk. It could not be put in one of the existing window frames because throughout the building the glass is, and must remain, clear, and so it was fixed in its present location. It shows a private soldier of the Royal Scots marching towards a piper and has at the top the cipher of The Queen and an extract from the Regimental Collect below: ‘The first to follow, the last to forsake thee’
The King David Aisle is matched by the War Memorial Chapel on the west side of the church. On the back of the simple screen are inscribed the names of the men from Canongate who died in the 2nd World War, surmounted by a small figure of St Michael, the great archangel. There is also a memorial to the Dunkirk Veterans, containing sand from the beaches at Dunkirk and La Panne. It is flanked by a Roll of Honour of 603 City of Edinburgh Squadron RAF, which was unveiled by Her Majesty The Queen. Behind the Communion Table is a marvellous sculpture by Josephina de Vasconcellos called “Christus Victor”. It is a crucifix with a young man on a cross, surmounted by wings, and at the foot of the cross is a coiled serpent which he has evidently slain. The dynamic movement of this figure on the cross is of a thrusting upwards, vital young man reaching his destiny and the salvation of the world. Between the two windows is a Pieta by John Stenhouse which shows Christ being carried down from the cross. It is a moving, difficult painting which should, perhaps, be more a centre of devotion than it is. Also in this chapel is a small chamber organ, made about 1843. It is now powered by electricity although the original hand pump is still in place and working. It produces a delicate sweet sound, splendid for little recitals when all that is required is a dulcet, musical atmosphere. The Communion Table is a memorial to Dr. Warr.
The two front pews in the church are special: that on the east is the Royal Pew, bearing the coats of arms of The Queen, The Prince Philip and The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay. When I came to Canongate the latter was represented by the arms of the Prince of Wales, but I had proper arms made, appropriate to his Scottish title. This pew is surmounted by a model of the Honours of Scotland – exact representations of the crown, sceptre and sword which are displayed in the Crown Room in the Castle. The other pew, the Castle Pew, has on its front representations of some of the great officers of the Royal Household: the Hereditary High Constable of Scotland, the Hereditary Master of the Household, the Hereditary Keeper of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Hereditary Standard Bears of Scotland, the Lord Lyon King of Arms, the Captain-General of the Queen’s Bodyguard, and the Governor of the Castle. Any of these can come and use this pew but in practice it is the Governor of the Castle who comes most frequently because he actually resides within the parish. There is also a seat reserved for the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and the reason for this is that Canongate was originally a burgh church and the gift of the living lay within the baillies and magistrates of Canongate. When in 1856 Canongate and Edinburgh were joined together, the status of the church was retained.
The gallery over the entrance, which is some places would be termed the ‘West Door’ but which, in fact, is facing south, is striking for three reasons: first there are the badges of some of the Guilds which survived in Canongate for many years – the cordiners, the wrights, hammermen, tailors, baxters (or bakers) and weavers. There were other guilds in the past and they all had the right, as members, to come and sit in their parish church, as indeed did the baillies and magistrates.
In the centre is a clock which, it is reputed, came from Holyrood. It is a simple movement, a barrel and chain, and the face is surrounded by the motto of the Order of the Garter with supporters on each side – the lion and the unicorn – lying on a ground of thistles and roses. The whole was restored by Clunie Phipps in 1990.
Immediately behind and between the windows is our Frobenius organ, built by the Copenhagen firm in 1998 in memory of Dr Selby Wright. What is interesting is that General Gow and I spoke to Dr Wright not long before he died, suggesting this organ to commemorate his long and distinguished ministry and that this seemed fitting as his father had been a well known organist in Glasgow and his grandfather similarly noted in the west of Scotland. He was delighted and steps were set in train at once to collect funds from his many friends, including members of the Royal Family, who would care to contribute. The result is a magnificent 20 stop instrument, beautifully voiced and specially designed to stand happily between the windows. For its looks and sound it is becoming recognised as one of the supreme instruments, not only in Edinburgh but throughout Scotland and, indeed, the United Kingdom. It is a monument to the worker’s art.
We have a considerable collection of pictures which include photographs recording visits by members of the Royal House to their Kirk. These can be seen mainly in the vestibule where there are also war memorials. The picture collection includes a remarkable map of the Old Tow, architectural drawings of the building at various stages in its history, and prints of the church itself. Also in the vestibule is one of the most important historical documents in Edinburgh. It is in the form of a Mortification Board – a very large wooden panel of twelve sections, each recording gifts made to the Kirk of the Canongate from 1643 until about 1670. Its importance lies not only in its inherent significance but some of the gifts which are recorded are still with us, such as, for example, our old communion and baptismal silver. This board came to us from the old kirk at Holyrood when our new church was built here and the old one taken over as a chapel for the Knights of the Order of the Thistle and the private chapel of the King.
As you leave the church, look round the kirk yard which, it must be remembered, is not, curiously, maintained by the church but by the Local Authority. You will see many interesting graves, details of which can be obtained from a leaflet in the church.
This short description of this famous church was dictated by the Reverend Charles Robertson, Chaplain to Her Majesty The Queen in Scotland, and Minister at Canongate between 1978 and 2006. The tape was transcribed by Jenifer Davidson, and edited by General Sir Michael Gow. The illustrations were provided by Stuart Francis – all Elders. We all hope that you will find it of interest, providing details of a place which is a beautiful centre of Worship and also of musical excellence. With permission from Canongate Kirk, December 2018.
Today it would seem that many people believe that science and Christianity are incompatible and that the Christian faith should be kept away from science, otherwise we will be brought back to the ‘Dark Ages’ of ignorance and superstition. Nothing could be further from the truth. Modern science was actually born out of great Christian movements of the past. Peter Harrison, Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University, has written:
‘Strange as it may seem, the Bible played a positive role in the development of science…. Had it not been for the rise of the literal interpretation of the Bible and subsequent appropriation of biblical narratives by early modern scientists, modern science may not have arisen at all. In sum, the Bible and its literal interpretation have played a vital role in the development of western science.’ (‘The Bible and the rise of science’, Australasian Science 23(3):14 – 15, 2002)
Many scholars who have studied the link between science and the Christian faith have acknowledged that the Reformation in the 16th century was foundational to the rise of modern science, and that it was this movement that prepared the West for its huge scientific advances in the 19th century. Europe had been ruled by the religious dogma of the Papal system, and by the ‘scientific’ dogma of Aristotle, Ptolemy, Galen, and other pagan philosophers. When the reformers began to challenge the Papal system by a thorough investigation of the Bible, they developed critical thinking. Aristotle and other philosophers were so bound up with the church of the time, that to investigate and critique the science of the time was thought by many to challenge the Papacy itself. As the reformers examined the Papacy they found glaring errors, which they sought to rectify and bring the church back to a more biblical footing; when they evaluated the ancient philosophers they also realised that people had taken on board their ‘science’ without actually testing it empirically. It was said about the reformers that there were two popes they wished to dethrone: the religious Pope in Rome and the scientific Pope, Aristotle.
Edinburgh, faith and science
In Edinburgh it was the reformers who founded Edinburgh University and encouraged the study of science. A quaint custom is played out every year in the McEwan Hall at the university graduation ceremony: Not only do the successful students receive their degree certificates, but they are also tapped on the head with a board carrying a black hat taken from the trousers of John Knox, the leader of the Reformation. This custom is displayed on the outside of the McEwan Hall, etched in stone.
The empirical method, born out of the Reformation, and developed by Sir Francis Bacon, paved the way for many inventions in the centuries to come. In the 19th century at least seven of the Presidents of the Royal Society here in Edinburgh were dedicated Christians. Many leading scientists connected with Edinburgh would eventually come out of this foundational movement with strong Christian convictions, such as John Napier, and later, Thomas Young, David Brewster, James Clerk Maxwell, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), James Young Simpson, and Joseph Lister. A few of the key Christians who developed science and medicine during the Scottish Reformation are shown below.
John Napier (1550-1617)
John Napier was an extraordinary genius. The Encyclopaedia says about him: ‘There is no British author [scientist] of the time except Napier whose name can be placed in the same rank as those of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, or Stevinus.’ Even David Hume, Edinburgh’s famous atheist, said he was one of the greatest men that Scotland had ever produced. And yet he is largely forgotten today.
Napier was a mathematician and astronomer who was born in Merchiston, Edinburgh, and who invented the logarithm in 1614. He also created what he called ‘Napier’s Bones’ which were rods of ivory with integers on them that were laid down side by side. From these rods mathematicians could calculate sums, quotients, products and square and cube roots. Both the logarithm and Napier’s Bones were the forerunners of our calculator and were essential for astronomers like Kepler to calculate with huge numbers. Edinburgh Napier University has been named after him.
Napier was a dedicated Christian who wrote one of the first biblical commentaries in Scotland called ‘A Plaine Discourse on the Whole Revelation of St John’. His remains are buried in St Cuthbert’s Church just below Edinburgh Castle.
Healthcare and Edinburgh
Outside Edinburgh, just off the A 68 near Fala, is Soutra Aisle. Although there is only a tiny part left today, there used to be a hospital called ‘The House of the Holy Trinity’, measuring about 700 square metres, which was the largest hospital in Scotland in the Middle Ages. This was run by the Augustinian monks and nobody was turned away who needed treatment. It was also used as an almshouse for the poor and needy and as a place of hospitality for the weary traveller. Originally founded during the reign of Malcolm IV in 1164, it continued until the 1460s, when the work was transferred to Edinburgh to a spot just below Calton Hill, overlooking the Royal Mile. It became known as Trinity College Hospital. The church pioneered medical care in Scotland and although this hospital no longer exists today, Edinburgh eventually became a world-famous centre for medicine.
The Reformation, Medicine and the Royal College of Surgeons
King James IV was a great patron of the arts, science and medicine in Edinburgh and in 1505 the Royal College of Surgeons was founded here as the Incorporation of Surgeon Barbers of Edinburgh, which made it the oldest medical fellowship in the world.
During the Reformation John Knox and other leaders in the church met together in Magdalen Chapel on the Cowgate, just off the Royal Mile. It was here that they developed a blueprint for a new Scotland, built on biblical Christian values. They championed such ideas as a democratic church government, which would have an impact on parliamentary democracy, and education and healthcare for everyone, not just for the wealthy and privileged. The impact that Christians had on medicine is shown by a prayer for surgeons ascribed to John Knox and contained later within the first minutes of the Barber Surgeons in 1581:
‘O eternal God, our loving and merciful Father – Jesus Christ – seeing we are convened to treat of those things which concern our calling, we beseech thee, O Lord, to be merciful to us, and give us grace to proceed therein without malice, grudge, or partiality: so that the things we do may tend to the Glory of God, and weal of our vocation, and the comfort of every member of it, through Jesus Christ our only Lord and Saviour. Amen.’ (From the Surgeons’ Hall Museum)
Gilbert Primrose (c.1535-1616)
Gilbert Primrose, a devout Christian who was a key person in the Scottish Reformation, became the Royal Surgeon for King James VI (the king behind the ‘King James Bible’). In 1583 he raised surgery to the prime position amongst the guilds in Edinburgh, thereby giving it a prominent place in society. Peter Lowe, another keen Christian (a friend and later a Covenanter), went to Glasgow from this city and founded the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons in Glasgow in 1599.
(This short article has been based on Famous Lives in Edinburgh: Christians who Changed Scotland and the World, which is a booklet available for sale in the Christian Heritage Edinburgh webshop)
It is not often that a queen washes the feet of the poor in her castle. Nor is it usual for such a person to impact a nation through her godliness, practical kindness and love, so that Scotland produced its golden age of kings for about two hundred years, because of her example.
When Turgot, bishop of St Andrews, was requested by Matilda, the wife of King Henry I, to write a biography of her saintly mother, Queen Margaret, he compiled Life of St Margaret, Queen of Scotland, 7-14 years after she had died in 1093. As Queen Margaret’s private confessor he knew her better than anyone. He tells us “God is my Witness and my Judge – that I add nothing to the truth.” Having a deep dislike of embellishing a biography for sensational purposes, his account is deliberately downplayed for fear that he might be charged with “decking out the crow in the plumage of a swan”.
Margaret, whose grandfather was Edmund Ironside, the King of England, would have preferred to have lived the life of a nun. She was destined, however, to affect the course of Scotland. When King Harold fell in the fields of Senlac at the hands of William the Conqueror, Edgar Aetheling, was chosen as the next king, but despite the resistance by the bishops, William was crowned King of England. Fearing for their lives, Edgar fled England to King Malcolm in Scotland, with his mother Agatha, and sisters Margaret and Christina. Malcolm fell in love with Margaret at first sight, but she deterred him, preferring the life of a celibate Christian. With much persuasion from her family, she finally married Malcolm. Thus begins an extraordinary account.
Turgot writes, “When she went out of doors… crowds of poor people, orphans and widows, flocked to her, as they would have done to a most loving mother.” Often she would greet them at a rock near Dunfermline where she would be available for counsel, prayer and practical help. Every morning she fed nine orphans with her own silver spoon. Regularly 300 of the poor would dine with her and King Malcolm, and she would wait on 24 poor people every day, serving them food and drink. Besides this she sent spies throughout Scotland to report where the English were enslaved by cruel owners, so that they could be ransomed and set free. Often she would visit hermits and monks to find out where the poorest people were, so that they could be helped.
Margaret’s motivation was a deep love for Christ. She repeatedly asked Turgot to rebuke her if he found any sin or worldliness in her; her desire was to be humble and virtuous, hating flattery and greed. “In church… she was there simply to pray, and in praying to pour forth her tears,” said Turgot.Her passion for God was demonstrated too, in the building of Dunfermline Abbey, and other churches, financial assistance of the monasteries and the church, and her pioneering work of establishing a free ferry to enable the pilgrims to cross the Forth estuary on their way to St Andrews. Today both South Queensferry and North Queensferry are named after her.
One of her endearing feats was to restore the abbey at Iona, which had been sacked by the Vikings. These cruel and fierce Scandinavian pirates began ravaging the coasts of Scotland from about AD 794, murdering, looting and raping the locals. The Orkneys and the Shetlands became their northern stronghold, after they had driven out the Picts. From this base they sallied forth to plunder the islands and coastline. The monasteries, being wealthy and unprotected, were easy targets for them. In AD 802 the monastery at Iona was raided again, but this time the Vikings burnt it; this was followed by the slaughter of 68 monks four years later. By AD 825 the monks had abandoned Iona after a second massacre and settling at Kells in Ireland, they named their Gospels after this place. At a similar time monks on St Ninian’s Isle in the Shetlands had hurriedly buried 28 items of silver under a slab of stone to avoid Viking pillaging. The fact that the silver hoard lay buried until its discovery by a boy in 1958 is a silent witness to the fact that the monks never returned – presumably they had become Viking victims. Queen Margaret, appreciating the spiritual significance of Iona, restored the abbey with her husband King Malcolm in 1072. By this time the Vikings had been largely Christianised.
Queen Margaret is often depicted with her gem-studied Bible, produced by her doting husband. She was scholarly, whereas he was illiterate; she promoted peace and healing, but he was a warlord. Often she would help herself to his gold coins for the poor, whilst he smiled with affection.
Her great passion for the Bible meant that when she discovered parts of the Church were out of tune with the Scriptures, “with apostolic faith she laboured to root up all weeds which had lawlessly sprung up…” At times she summoned a church council to solve issues, taking a full part in the discussions herself, freely referring them to the Scriptures and the Church Fathers, so that “no-one on the opposite side could say one word against them.” Her promotion of education is shown today by the founding of a university in Edinburgh named after her – Queen Margaret’s University.
Her Christ-like example had such an impact on the nation that the nobles and knights began to emulate her, so that “When she saw wicked men she admonished them to be good, the good to become better, and the better to strive to be best.” Her virtues were also accompanied by a sharp brain and a shrewd business sense, for she administered laws on behalf of her husband and encouraged merchants to travel by land and sea to increase trade, thereby introducing unknown wares to the Scots. With this came fashion, elegance and the arts. Her Christian faith was not drab and miserable, but full of life and colour, and “her chamber was… a workshop of sacred art.” She believed that her role as helpmate to her husband meant that their castle should be adorned with dignity, beauty and the wealth necessary to reflect the king’s position, yet this had no hold on her.
On November 16, 1093, she lay on her deathbed in Edinburgh Castle. One of her sons came to her chamber, distraught with bad news. Her husband and eldest son had been killed in battle in Northumbria. The broken-hearted queen, not letting bitterness rule her heart, called for the Black Rood – a golden crucifix with a splinter of Christ’s cross inside – and prayed. Her last request to Turgot concerned her children, that he should “lavish [his] affection upon them” and “teach them before all things to love and fear God.” She was made a saint in 1250.
One of Margaret’s greatest legacies was the enduring faith of her sons and their descendants. William of Malmesbury could say: “Never have we been told among the events of history, of three kings – and at the same time brothers – who were of holiness so great, and savoured so much of the nectar of their mother’s godliness…” Of the three brothers: Edgar, Alexander and David, it was David whose own reputation most reflected that of his mother’s faith.
King David I
David I came to power in 1124 and reigned for 29 years. He seems to have been an extraordinary king. He poured out his support for the church, showing both a deep spirituality and pragmatism. For the Cistercian monks he gave the land for Newbattle Abbey, as well as land in Haddington and North Berwick for their nuns; the Templars who supported the Crusades were allotted Temple in Midlothian; the Hospitallers received the preceptor at Torpichen; the Carmelites were granted friaries at Luffness and South Queensferry; the Tironesians received Kelso Abbey near his southern commercial centre at Roxburgh; and the Trinitarians got a priory at Dunbar. With all of these monastic groups, and others, he gave copious amounts of finance to help them construct their buildings.
The Augustinians received a special land-holding a mile down from Edinburgh Castle, which became known as Holyrood Abbey. It was probably King David I who built a chapel at the castle in honour of his mother: today this is known as St Margaret’s Chapel, and it is the oldest remaining building in Edinburgh. Wanting to do more in his mother’s name, he chose a place for her Black Rood, so when the abbey was built in 1128 it was called Holyrood Abbey (Holycross Abbey).
There is, however, an additional legend connected with this church. David loved to hunt deer below Arthur’s Seat. One day a white stag was spotted, so he was determined to hunt and kill it. Unfortunately for him, this stag, when cornered, went for his horse and the king was flung to the ground where he expected to be gored to death. Instead he saw a cross shining between the antlers of the stag and he left the scene unharmed. That night, it was said, St Andrew spoke to him in a dream, telling him to build a church there at that spot to house the Black Rood. Years later, in 1829, the Jewish Christian composer, Felix Mendelssohn, said that he was inspired in the ruins of that same chapel, for the beginning of his famous Scottish Symphony. It is to David we also owe our gratitude for the building of St Giles’ Cathedral in 1125, which would become well-known in 1560 for John Knox and the Reformation.
King David first introduced the parish system in Scotland, which began in the Lowlands first, and eventually spread all over the nation. Before then churches and shrines had been scattered in a random sort of fashion. He initiated the building of stone churches in every parish, to be maintained by each parish congregation, and for a parish priest to be appointed for each congregation. Most of the churches would have been basic and plain, but today we can still see the evidence of some of the more grand buildings, such as those at St Cuthbert’s, Dalmeny, and St Baldred’s at Tyninghame.
About 23 miles east of Edinburgh, near Haddington, stands Traprain Law, a hill raised by volcanic activity a long time ago. It is poised like a sentinel surveying the surrounding Lothians in a commanding position. Over 3,000 years ago this hill fort was the stronghold of the British tribe known as the Gododdin, or Votadini, as the Romans called them. Later they moved to Dyn Eiddyn, or Edinburgh.
In 1919 archaeologists excavated at Traprain Law and found something that exceeded all expectations: a buried stash of silver, weighing 22 pounds. The plates had been cut into pieces, whilst spoons, flasks, and other items had been left in one piece. It seems that the silver had been stolen from wealthy people and had been hidden by the thieves, but they perhaps never lived to unearth and use their buried treasure. There it lay undisturbed for fifteen hundred years. Now it is displayed for the public to see in Edinburgh’s National Museum. Some of the artwork on the silverware depicts pagan gods, like Venus rising out of the sea, or Hercules, but other work shows biblical scenes, such as paradise and the adoration of the Magi.
One of the recurring symbols that appear is the Christian chi-rho, which became the sign of Constantine the Great, who ruled the Roman Empire in the fourth century. This symbol is depicted as a saltire cross with the vertical letter P running through the centre of the cross. The two letters are the abbreviation for Christ from Greek, written as χρ. From the time of Constantine this symbol appeared on his coins, and on those of his successors, on the soldiers’ shields, and everywhere throughout the Roman Empire, including Britain. We know that the Roman soldiers left Scotland in AD 410 when the Goths sacked Rome, leaving their Gododdin allies exposed to the fierce hatred of the Picts and Scots. Scholars reckon that the Traprain silver hoard dates to this period. If Christians were living near Traprain Law, a day’s walk from Edinburgh, then it is likely that Christians were also living in this city too, by then.
Although early records of Scottish history have been lost, most historians reckon that Christians arrived in Scotland in the third century. They most likely would have brought the gospel with them as British merchants and as Roman soldiers and traders. Tertullian, the Roman scholar from North Africa, wrote in about AD 200 of “the places of the Britons not reached by the Romans but subject to Christ (Against the Jews, 7). It is clear that this would have meant areas north of the Antonine Wall, which was started in AD 142. This ties in well with the well-worn tradition of the first Christians being in Scotland when King Donald I, his wife, and courtiers were converted to Christ in AD 203. Scholars, such as Calderwood, McCrie, Spottiswoode, and others, rely on the earlier writings of Boece (1465-1536) and Fordun (d. 1384) for this, for they had access to documents long since lost.
Calderwood suggests a second century date for the first Christians in Scotland: “It is likelie, therefore that there were manie Christians among the Scots [he means Britons, as the Scots only started coming over in the fifth century] before the conversion of King Donald, as there were among the Britons, before the conversion of King Lucius.” 1
John Spotiswoode, Archbishop of St Andrews, wrote in 1639:
“In the year of our Lord 203 (which was the fourth of Donald the First his Reign), the Faith of Christ was in the kingdom first publickly embraced; King Donald with his Queen and divers of his Nobles being then solemnly baptized…Cratilinth coming unto the Crown in the year 277 made it one of his first works to purge the Kingdom of heathenish superstition, and expulse the Druids…But that which furthered not a little the propagation of the Gospel in those parts [southern Britain] was the persecution raised by Diocletian [AD 303], which at that time was hot in the South parts of Britain. This brought many Christians, both preachers and Professors [believers],into this Kingdom, who were all kindly received by Cratilinth …” 2
If Christians were quite widespread in southern Scotland by AD 303, then it is likely that there was a Christian community in Edinburgh by the fourth century, as it was a key city in this period. Certainly when Ninian began his apostolic mission among the Britons and Southern Picts at Whithorn in AD 397, “a great multitude” of Christians greeted him, as Aelrud relates in his Life of Ninian.
Roman Cramond and Inveresk (AD 142-410)
It is clear from archaeological and historical evidence that the Romans viewed Edinburgh as a strategic city. On the west side of Edinburgh they established Cramond as a place for their military barracks, and on the east side Inveresk, near Musselburgh. Although archaeologists have only found evidence of the Roman pagan gods at these sites, so far, it is very likely that Christians would have been among the soldiers, certainly by the time Emperor Constantine was stamping his Christian symbol on his coins from AD 327 onwards. Perhaps, in time, archaeologists may discover the chi-rho or other Christian symbols from the fourth century in Edinburgh and the surrounding areas. As the Romans and the Gododdin had a firm alliance against the Picts and Scots, it would also make sense that Christianity had been readily accepted among the locals by this time.
Palladius, Serf, Kentigern and Cuthbert
Bede tells us that in AD 423 the Roman bishop Celestine “sent Palladius to the Scots, who believed in Christ to be their first bishop.” 3This would mean the Irish who had come over and settled on the west coast of Scotland. Palladius appointed Serf as leader at Culross, on the other side of the estuary to Edinburgh. Serf himself trained Kentigern, whose mother Theneu, had come from the Gododdin hill fort at Traprain Law. Kentigern, or Mungo, became an apostle to the southern Picts at Glasgow. It makes sense that mission was going on in this geographical area in the fifth century, including Edinburgh.
In AD 605 Archbishop Laurence wrote a joint letter with his bishops about the Easter debate “To our dear brothers the lord bishops and abbots throughout Scottish lands…” 4 This extract from Bede demonstrates that by this time Christianity was established in an advanced form all over Scotland, with its own bishops and abbots. King Edwin of the Angles defeated the Gododdin and took Edinburgh from them. He was baptised as a Christian in AD 627 in York, along with his nobility and many of his subjects, and became an evangelist amongst the Angles, his faith having “been spoken of throughout the world” 5. Edwin was defeated in battle in AD 633 by the British King Cadwalla, who then took his lands and caused great devastation in Northumbria, slaughtering many Christians. However, King Oswald retook Edinburgh from the Britons in AD 638. He had been converted to Christ as a boy in exile through the Columban community at Iona.
Having re-established his kingdom, King Oswald was keen to evangelise his lands throughout Northumbria, with Edinburgh being his most northerly part. In AD 635 Aidan had been sent from Iona to establish his mission base at Lindisfarne. An extraordinary relationship began between Aidan as evangelist and King Oswald acting as his interpreter, because Aidan only spoke Irish, and not English.
In the AD 650s Trumwine was bishop of the Angles at Abercorn, just west of Edinburgh, where he stayed until he was driven out by the Picts in AD 685. It is reckoned that Cuthbert, who was Trumwine’s friend, was involved in mission to the Angles in the Edinburgh area. Having been brought up in Scotland, Cuthbert had trained as a monk in Old Melrose Abbey. Cuthbert, against his own wishes, was appointed bishop of Lindisfarne by King Egfrid in AD 685. According to a strong tradition, Cuthbert consecrated the first known church building6 in Edinburgh at about this time. Symeon of Durham does mention a church in Edinburgh as part of the diocese of Lindisfarne, in his Historia Regnum Anglorum, written in AD 854, but scholars are uncertain whether he meant the church of St Giles, or St Cuthbert’s church. In St Cuthbert’s graveyard there is a sign saying, “It is believed that St Cuthbert himself founded a church that was built by a stream, which became the Nor Loch below the Castle Rock of Edinburgh.”
1.Calderwood, David, The History of the Kirk of Scotland, Volume 1, p. 37, edited from the original manuscripts preserved in the museum, Edinburgh, printed for the Wodrow Society, 1843.
2. Spotiswoode, John, The History of the Church of Scotland: Beginning the Year of our Lord 203, and Continued to the end of the Reign of King James VI of Ever Blessed Memory, Book 1, p. 3-4, 3rd edition, London (original edition 1639).
3. Bede, A History of the English Church and People, 1:13, p. 53, Penguin Classics, 1983.
4. Bede, ibid, 2:4, p.106.
5. Bede, ibid, 2:17, p.133.
6. The earliest churches would have been very simple and were made of wattle. It is unlikely that archaeologists will find any of the remains of earlier churches in Edinburgh.
Deep in the mists of time fire formed Edinburgh. Out of the volcanic tumult arose seven hills that would peer down as silent sentinels over a famous future city. Ice and water carved out a landscape, cracking and biting the rocks, lifting them and surging on in pitiless indifference.
As grass carpeted the landscape, its wildlife thrived. The wolves’ eerie call echoed around Arthur’s Seat, the bears shuffled in the abundant forests. Above, the golden eagles soared and cried, and below the herds of deer roamed free. And then humans came. They left their first trace at Cramond on the outskirts of the city by the sea, just simple meals of nuts, carbon-dated at about 8500 BC. Their first temples emerged as stone circles of rugged rocks, projected skywards in pursuit of the spiritual. We have names for the eras in which they lived: Neolithic, Stone, Bronze and Iron, but they were as human as we are, facing fears and uncertainty, celebrating life and seeking for meaning.
Who were the first people of Edinburgh? No written records from them emerge from the shroud of darkness; no mystical code on rock or parchment. It was as if time covered them like a blanket of snow. And yet the stones remain. Perhaps a hundred scattered across the landscape testify to their existence. The prehistoric Caiy Stane stands in Fairmilehead on the outskirts of Edinburgh at over nine feet tall and five feet across; not far from it can be found the Cat Stanes, once a pair of cairns near an ancient burial place. If the Gaelic for battle is Cath, then the Cat Stones were probably erected as a memorial to a battle between the Romans and Picts. Skeletons with bronze and iron weapons have been found there.Scarcely half a mile away at Mortonhall another monolith stands proudly, with two others stranded on the ground, evidence perhaps of a cromlech or prehistoric tomb.
Between 1988 and 1991 there was much excitement at Edinburgh Castle. Archaeologists had dug four metres deep in the area around Mills Mount and had discovered evidence of people living on Castle Hill since about 900 BC, thus making this the oldest continually inhabited site in Scotland. We do not know who enjoyed roasting nuts at Cramond, but the later people at Castle Hill were called Votadini by the Romans, although they knew themselves by the old Welsh name of Gododdin. This tribe dominated Edinburgh, with other hill forts on Arthur’s Seat, Blackford Hill and Craiglockhart. Apparently they had abandoned their ancient seat at Traprain Law near Haddington for Edinburgh, leaving behind their main powerbase, which they had inhabited since about 1500 BC.
Just twelve miles south of the city lies Cairnpapple Hill. It is a bleak place, open to the elements, especially the Scottish wind that works its way through every layer of clothing with expert icy fingers, and yet the site has glorious views to both seas. Excavation work undertaken by Professor Stuart Piggott and his team from Edinburgh in 1947-8 revealed evidence of people using this sacred site back to about 3000 BC. Among the artefacts were an axe head from the Neolithic quarry at Penmaenmawr, near the Druid Circle, close to Anglesey, and another one from Great Langdale in Cumbria, based on the petrographic analysis of the materials. This demonstrates the trading networks between the Gododdin at Cairnpapple Hill and other British tribes at an early period.
Workers unearthed a stone circle and votive offerings, showing that it was a religious meeting place of great importance. It is an eerie experience to descend into the womb of the earth and stand inside the dome-shaped room with more stone circles and graves from the Bronze Age. Such an experience causes the inquisitive visitor to ask questions. Why did the Gododdin build this? What sort of religious rituals happened here so long ago? What did they believe about spirituality and the afterlife?
Descending into the basement of the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is very revealing. On display are the ritual offerings of bronze weapons dedicated to a god, found in Duddingston Loch, below Arthur’s Seat. These artefacts have been dated at between 950 and 750 BC, during the period of the Gododdin. It was a well-known custom of the Celtic peoples to sacrifice something of value to a god in the water, in exchange for something beneficial for humans. For example, a hoard of 150 objects from about 300 BC, such as weapons, shields, tools, cauldrons and chariot-fittings, were found in the lake called Llyn Cerrig Bach on Anglesey in 1942.
But it was not just weapons that were found in Duddingston Loch. In 1778, workers looking for marl, or lime-rich mud, dredged the bottom of the loch, and to their surprise they hauled up elk horns and human bones alongside the hoard of 53 Bronze Age weapons. Had someone accidently drowned at this exact spot in the loch, or was this evidence of something more sinister? It was common practice for people to sacrifice animals to the gods in the ancient world, but what about humans?
A grisly tale of Scotland is told in the museum basement. In the Sculptor’s Cave, at Covesea, near Lossiemouth the bone parts of about 28 humans have been found, along with jewellery and other items, dating from about 1100 to 900 BC. Among them are the skulls of some children and also the severed skulls of six adult victims. This cave is only accessible at low tide and it seems to have been used as a sacred burial site. Archaeologists, trying to reconstruct the story of this chilling place, reckon that long ago the people used to leave their dead to decompose there. The children’s skulls would have been reverentially put on poles at the cave entrance, marking the boundary of the water and earth, where the spirit world meets the human world. But what of the six decapitated victims? It was most likely that this was a ritualistic human sacrifice. Sculptor’s Cave has been named after the artwork near the entrance showing a leaping salmon, a Z-rod and a crescent – all evidence of the later Picts from about the sixth to eighth centuries AD, but nobody understands what these enigmatic symbols mean.
Other examples of human sacrifice and an earlier obsession with skulls exist around Scotland. A human skull, alongside those of animals, was found in a sacred British well near Trimontium, the Roman fort, not far from Melrose. The Selgovae tribe’s hill fort, built in about 1000 BC, was on Eildon Hill North, overlooking Trimontium near their neighbours, the Gododdin. At Forse near Caithness, archaeologists have found the top part of a human skull with three bore-holes in it, which had been used for hanging inside the house there. Other human bones were discovered at the site, including a leg bone that had been deliberately chiselled away to make it into a tool. This was from a later period, from about 200 BC. At about the same time at Hornish Point, West Scotland, the locals had decided to quarter the body of a boy aged about twelve, evidenced by cut marks on his bones, and place the parts in four pits, along with butchered animal pieces. Apparently this had been to bless the house that stood there. The sign at the museum reads: “The human head had ritual importance. These heads were placed on open display in a prominent place – the boundary ditch, enclosing a fortified settlement.”
The Romans had already told us about the Gaulish practice of slinging human skulls on their horses’ necks and nailing them to their houses. Strabo tells us that Poseidonius“saw this spectacle in many places, and that, although he first loathed it, afterwards through his familiarity with it, he could bear it calmly”. It seems that the British tribes and Picts had the same fascination for skulls.
The Romans also tell us about the druids, those mysterious men of the sacred groves who were the spiritual leaders of the Gauls, Britons, Picts and Scots. Unfortunately the druids deliberately passed on their beliefs and practices by word of mouth, without committing anything to writing, so we have to glean what we know of them from the records of the Roman historians. In about 55 BC, Julius Caesar wrote his Gallic Wars about his experiences among the Gauls of France. He noticed that the druids were highly organised amongst the tribe of the Carnutes, who thrived near modern day Chârtres and Orléans. They were led by an archdruid, and they held national festivals. This religion, he said, “is supposed to have been devised in Britain, and to have been brought over from it into Gaul”. Those wishing to study the art of druidry in depth travelled to Britain, and probably to the seat of the druids on the island of Ynys Môn – modern-day Anglesey, in Gwynedd, North Wales. This island is strewn with more prehistoric sites per square mile than virtually anywhere else in Britain.
At first the Romans were fascinated by the druids, the wise men of the sacred groves, for they were listed among the Magi, Chaldeans and other philosophers by Diogenes Laertius in his Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers in the third century AD. It was believed by the Roman pagans and later Christians that the mysterious druids, with their dark sayings and riddles, had supernatural powers over nature, and that they had ancient remedies for healing. The druids especially held mistletoe in awe, which grew on the oak tree, where they harvested it for magical purposes with golden sickles. They worshipped many gods, were accompanied by their musical bards, and believed in a form of reincarnation and an eternal universe, according to Strabo in his Geography, written in about AD 197. However, the exotic nature of the druids became tarnished by a darker side to their religious practice – that of human sacrifice.
Julius Caesar wrote that the Druids “have figures of vast size, the limbs of which formed of osiers [wicker baskets] they fill with living men, which being set on fire, the men perish enveloped in the flames.”
Diodorus Siculus tells us of their victims who were pierced through near the diaphragm “and when the stricken victim has fallen they read the future from the manner of his fall and from the twitching of his limbs, as well as from the gushing of the blood.”
Fascination for the druids was turning to horror for the Romans, who despite their gory gladiatorial shows and crucifixions, were outraged at this kind of human sacrifice. In the time of the Emperor Augustus, who died in AD 14, Roman citizens were forbidden to observe the religion of the druids, according to Suetonius in his The Twelve Caesars, but between AD 41 and 54 Emperor Claudius began to actively suppress it. It is difficult to know exactly what the Roman invaders came to hate most about the druids: their human sacrifices, or the fact that they had great influence with the British kings. Dion Chrysostom tells us in his Orations“… without their advice even kings dared not resolve upon nor execute any plan, so that in truth it was they who ruled, while the kings, who sat on golden thrones… became mere ministers of the Druids’ will.”
In AD 60 the Romans decided to put a stop to the influence of the druids and struck their power base on Anglesey. Tacitus tells us that for a while the Roman soldiers were petrified by the sight they saw there, for “between the ranks dashed women in black attire like the Furies, with hair dishevelled, waving brands. All around, the Druids, lifting up their hands to heaven and pouring forth such dreadful imprecations…” But despite their great magic the druids perished. The backbone of druidism was broken. Pliny could write fifty years later that although “Britannia is still fascinated by magic…we cannot too highly appreciate our debt to the Romans for having put an end to this monstrous cult, whereby to murder a man was an act of the greatest devoutness, and to eat his flesh most beneficial.”
So what happened to the druids after this crushing blow? It seems that they just melted away from their place of prominence, as the Romans conquered the British tribes. Doubtless they still operated under the cloak of secrecy in their sacred groves, but it was a religion stripped of its power and largely driven underground. Now that the dreaded spiritual power of the druids had been smashed, the Romans were happy to practice their Pax Romana (Roman Peace)with the local religions. Although the Romans brought their gods with them – Jupiter, Mercury, Apollo, Minerva and Mars, they just became other names for the local deities such as Lleu, Belenos, Britannia and Belatucadnos.
The Gododdin in and around Edinburgh saw that the Romans were good for business and they were happy to act as a buffer state in return for Roman military backing against the rampages of the Pictish tribes who lived on the other side of the estuary in Fife opposite Edinburgh. And so the Roman Second Legion, after finishing Emperor Hadrian’s wall in AD 128, marched north along Dere Street, through the Lothians, to build a second wall – this time on the orders of Emperor Antoninus Pius – the Antonine Wall of AD 142, which ran from Bo’ness near Edinburgh, to Old Kilpatrick about 40 miles west. Two Roman barracks were set up on the outskirts of our modern city: one at Cramond, where Latin inscriptions to mother goddesses and Mercury and Jupiter have been found; and the other at Inveresk, where archaeologists recently unearthed an extraordinary altar to the god Mithras, a favourite with Roman soldiers.
On the other side of the Antonine Wall were ferocious tribes whom the Romans lumped together as Caledonians or Picti (Picts) because of their habit of daubing themselves with blue paint and tattooing their bodies. They too had their stone circles, hill forts, and cromlechs (tombs), but as the Romans never fully conquered them, we have no records of what they believed. Only later Christian historians, such as Adomnan in his Life of St Columba throw any light on the subject. The Picts, like the Gododdin, had many gods and their druids had great influence with the Pictish kings. Presumably if the Romans had conquered the Picts, they would have crushed the power of their druids, as they had done with the British at Anglesey. Later Pictish artwork on stones is beautiful, with its famous spirals, animals and mythical beasts, such as the dragon and centaur. However, the Celtic crosses on most of these standing stones show that the artwork is from the Christian era. Sometimes we see the crescents and z-rods, which some scholars say were pagan symbols, but as nobody knows what they mean, it is difficult to assess whether this shows a syncretistic mix of Christianity and paganism, or not.
Earlier geometric or ‘cup’ symbols exist alone on some rock slabs in the Lothians at both Wester Yardhouses and Lamancha and have been dated at an early period of 2300-1800 BC, as well as a cauldron bearing the same symbols, which had been offered to a water god at Kincardine Moss sometime between 600 and 400 BC. The same symbol appears sometimes on standing stones that bear the Celtic cross. It is possible that the symbol represents fertility or even a goddess, but all suggestions are speculative.
The Second Legion, along with the Sixth and Twentieth, had completed the Antonine Wall by about AD 154. At Bridgeness there is a stone memorial put there by the Second Legion, which gives honour to Emperor Antoninus Pius. On the left side of the text the stonemason shows a triumphant Roman cavalry man defeating some cowering locals who are naked, with one having his head decapitated; on the right there is an altar with some sheep being led for sacrifice, whilst some Romans look on. Between the images and the text we can see the Pictish crescent on either side, with what appears to be an eagle eating each end part of the crescents. As the intention of the stonemason was to show off the victorious Roman Empire, it is likely that the eagles represent the Roman armies, symbolised by their standards, for they had defeated the Picts in some battles, symbolised by the Pictish crescent. Having said this, the Romans never did conquer the Pictish tribes, as they did with the Britons.
Shortly after this Roman memorial had been put up, the legions were summoned south because the tribe of the Brigantes was on the rampage. With the Romans diverted down south the Picts attacked the Gododdin and damaged some of the forts on the Antonine Wall, but with a successful victory behind them the Romans reoccupied the Antonine Wall in AD 158. Four years later, they left again, to be redeployed at Hadrian’s Wall. On the insistence of the Gododdin for Roman aid against the Picts, Emperor Septimius Severus sent troops up yet again in AD 208 to rebuild part of the wall and stabilise the area. But within a short time the Roman troops were finally called off, the senate in Rome realising that this enterprise was costing too much. And so, once again the Gododdin had to act as a buffer state against the Picts.
An unexpected disaster became the main news in AD 410. The impossible had happened: the Goths and Huns had sacked Rome. This news sent shock waves throughout the Roman Empire. The Roman legions were hurriedly recalled home and forsook Britain altogether, leaving the Gododdin, who were allies with Rome, at the mercy of the defiant tribes of the Picts. Other different peoples swooped in like vultures to feed on Roman Britain in the power vacuum left by the legions, and these newcomers would also have their part in shaping Scotland. From north eastern Ireland came the Scots to settle on the west coast, founding Dalriada, an area now known as Argyll, with their seat at the hill fort of Dunadd, near Lochgilphead. Although many had been Christianised by Patrick’s preaching in Ulster in the fifth century, doubtless some of them would have come over with Irish pagan beliefs. Patrick’s supernatural encounters with the druids of Ireland were similar to those of Columba amongst the Picts of north Scotland later.
We have already noted the axe head from Penmaenmawr near Anglesey found at Cairnpapple, just south of Edinburgh, linking the two as trade partners. A few thousand years later, in about AD 450, Cunedda led an army from Manaw Gododdin near Din Eidyn, the old Welsh name for Edinburgh, to Gwynedd and Anglesey. After the Romans had left Britain in AD 410, the Scots from Ireland, as well as the Picts from northern Scotland, decided it was time to invade the weakened Britons down south. Vortigern, a recognised leader of the Britons, tried to galvanise the British tribes against their enemies.
According to Bede in A History of the English Church and People, the problem was so bad in AD 449 that Vortigern decided to seek mercenary help from the Angles or Saxons. They were successful in driving back the Picts, but later showed that their real intention of helping the Britons was a ruse for spying out the land to prepare for an invasion. In time many more of these Germanic warriors came and forged an alliance with the Picts in order to conquer the British tribes. Vortigern found himself assailed on all sides, and for a time retired to Gwynedd. It seems most likely that he called for Cunedda of the Gododdin to help him defeat the Irish Scots who had settled there. In time Cunedda and his descendants defeated the Irish Scots who had taken the land from his relatives. From this lineage came the kings of Gwynedd and Wales.
Down south the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes from North Germany and Denmark came in their droves in the fifth century to dominate what became known eventually as England. But their passion for expansion drove them to Bryneich in south east Scotland, where we find Berwickshire today. This area belonged to the Gododdin who were based at Edinburgh, but they were being hemmed in from the north and west by the Picts and Scots, and now also to the south east by the Angles, who eventually conquered Bryneich in AD 547, and renamed it Bernicia.
The Angles spiced up the local religious scene with their Germanic gods: Thor, Odin, Tyr and Freyja. Even today our week is named after some of the Germanic deities, along with the Roman ones, showing the fusion of paganism:
Monday: Monandaeg,the day of the moon (Germanic goddess).
Tuesday: Tiwsdaeg, the day of Tiw (Germanic god).
Wednesday: Wodnesdaeg, the day of Woden/Odin (Germanic god).
Thursday: Thursdaeg, the day of Thor (Germanic god).
Friday: Frigedaeg, the day of Freyja/Frigg (Germanic goddess).
Saturday: Saeterdaeg, the day of Saturn (Roman god).
Sunday: Sunnendaeg, the day of the Sun (Germanic for sun and the Roman god Sol).
The common factors that bound all the pagan religions together were their pantheism, animism, and polytheism, which is why the Romans, or any other dominating pagan culture, tended to merge the deities in a harmonious way. Only when religious leaders promoted unsavoury practices such as human sacrifice, or challenged the power of Rome, was there any religious intolerance. Another faith would come to Edinburgh and Scotland however, that would not only challenge the Roman Empire, but all the ancient religions. It would be this faith that would eventually fuse together the Britons, Picts, Scots and Anglo-Saxons, and form the collective soul of Scotland for centuries to come.
The inspired Word of God begins with the doctrine of creation; that is the foundation of the whole book of redemption. A straight-forward reading of the Holy Bible clearly teaches that God created all things in the space of six days, and all ‘very good’.
The prologue to John’s Gospel teaches that our Lord Jesus Christ was the very agent of creation (cf. John 1:3). Revelation 4:11 shows the saints and angels in heaven praising Christ for his work of creation: ‘Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created. Revelation 5:9 goes on to praise this same glorious Christ for having redeemed with His own blood the fallen creation.
It does strike me as strange that the praises of heaven are so full of the honors Christ deserves as agent of creation, while much of the modern evangelical church seems hesitant to make any serious reference to his divine creation. If heaven so glorifies Christ for the wonders of creation, why do so many Christian scholars today seem embarrassed by it?
In Evolution and the Authority of the Bible, Dr. Nigel Cameron commented on this strange situation:
“In other areas, evangelical Christians have taken their stand on the teaching of the Bible and refused to allow consensus opinions of the secular and liberal Christian world to determine their own. Yet here [when challenged by evolutionists] there has been a remarkable readiness to fall in line, irrespective of the teaching of Scripture.”
It has made me sad to see otherwise fine Christian scholars, some in the Evangelical and Reformed camp, refuse to hold to a plain reading of Scripture, in order to join in with the evolutionary ‘consensus.’ I may be misreading them, but it seems to me that it is a way to avoid unpleasant conflict with the modern culture, whose most basic premise is evolutionary theory. While I do not doubt the good intentions of these people, I must raise the serious question: do we really want to follow them down the pro-evolutionary path?
Dr. Michael Denton, though not a professing Christian, has written a massive critique of evolution from an empirical scientific basis: Evolution: A Theory in Crisis. He shows how crucial evolution is to secular humanism:
“The entire scientific ethos and philosophy of modern western man is based to a large extent upon the central claim of Darwinian theory that humanity was not born by the creative intentions of a deity, but by a completely mindless trial and error selection of random molecular patterns. The cultural importance of evolution theory is therefore immeasurable, forming as it does the centerpiece, the crowning achievement, of the naturalistic view of the world, the final triumphant of the secular thesis which since the end of the middle ages has displaced the old naïve cosmology of Genesis from the western mind.”
We probably need not be overly worried about aggressive atheistic evolutionists, such as Richard Dawkins of Oxford, but one is rather more concerned to see Christian scholars, who claim allegiance to the Scriptures, make peace with a doctrine so opposed to the very foundations of Christianity (and Judaism before it). It would appear that some of them feel that evolution is such a universally proven fact, that to accept Biblical creational teaching would render the Gospel itself incredible in the view of most educated people today. It would ‘paint believers into a corner’, and keep needy souls from receiving the good news at their hands.
Let us look at two good reasons why this is simply not the case: (1) empirical science does not prove evolution, nor finally require it, for its progress to continue, and (2) one cannot split the foundational Scriptural teaching on creation from Gospel redemption, without the danger of losing them both!
(1) Empirical (or operational) science has never actually proven evolution. Let us take only a few examples.
Studies in the first and second laws of thermodynamics have indicated that these most basic of physical laws actually run counter to the necessary assumptions of evolution. That is, the first law (conservation of energy: ‘nothing is now being created or destroyed’) surely suggests that there was a time when creative forces were in operation that have long since ceased. The second law (entropy: there is a tendency in all closed systems for a certain amount of energy to pass into non-reversible heat energy, thereby causing the system – whether a tree, a star or a human body – to break down) suggests that the original creation was not at a time infinitely distant, because if it had been, everything would already have passed into a non-reversible heat death.
In the realm of biology, a supplement for high school biology textbooks, Of Pandas and People: the Central Question of Biological Origins states that: “The only known means of introducing genuinely new genetic material into the gene pool is by mutation, a change in the DNA structure…The fruit fly has been the subject of many experiments because its short life-span allows scientists to observe many generations. In addition, the flies have been bombarded with radiation to increase the rate of mutations… Mutations do not create new structures. They merely alter existing ones… they have not transformed the fruit fly into a new kind of insect. Experiments have simply produced variations within the fruit fly species.”
Operational (as contrasted with evolutionary dogmatic or theoretical) science has in no sense confirmed the assumptions of evolution as to the ability of random mutation to produce (or evolve) new species. The French zoologist, P. P. Grasse, has studied mutations in generations of bacteria, which reproduce much more rapidly than fruit flies. One bacterial generation lasts approximately thirty minutes. Hence, they multiply 400,000 times faster than human generations. Researchers, therefore, can trace mutational change in bacteria equivalent to 3,500,000 years of change within the human species. But Grasse has found that these bacteria have not essentially changed during all these generations (Traite de Zoologie, vol. VIII, Masson, 1976). If that be true, on what empirical basis can one assert that humans must have changed during an equivalent time frame? Is it not a matter of evolutionary assumption, rather than hard science?
The fossil record is far from having proven evolutionary development. That is, ‘missing links’ are still missing, so that the gaps between ‘kinds’ or ‘species’ are still as wide as ever. David B. Kitts of the School of Geology and Geophysics of University of Oklahoma, commented: “Despite the bright promise that paleontology provides a means of ‘seeing’ evolution, it has provided some nasty difficulties for evolutionists, the most notorious of which is the presence of ‘gaps’ in the fossil record. Evolution requires intermediate forms between species and paleontology does not provide them” (“Paleontology and Evolutionary Theory”, Evolution vol. 28, 1974, 467). It is the dogma, or unproven theory of evolution, not actual science, that runs contrary to the clear teachings of Genesis.
(2) One cannot split the foundational teaching on creation from the Good News of Redemption, without the danger of losing them both.
Scottish theologian, James Denney, made this point in the late 1890s: “The separation of the religious and the scientific means in the end the separation of the religious and the true; and this means that religion dies among true men.” But if we base our understanding of life and nature on the Word of God with its foundational teaching of divine creation, we show people that God and His written Word deal with the real world; with their world! One of John Calvin’s close friends in Strasbourg, Wolfgang Capito, rightly stated that an understanding of creation by God is “the head of divine philosophy” (Hexameron, Sive Opus Sex Dierum).
For instance, how can we possibly understand why we are like we are (including being prey to old age and death), without grasping the primal truth that all human kind was involved somehow in the original sin of Adam, and that ‘the wages of sin is death’? There was no death and decay in the original perfect creation, until man sinned. The theory of evolution runs contrary to this consistent Biblical teaching, for it requires struggle, decay and death to make possible its mythical scenario of one species clawing its way to a higher form of life. And moreover, if we make the first Adam a sort of myth, then do we not at the same time lose the saving significance of Christ, the Last Adam (cf. Romans 5 and I Cor. 15)?
Does not compromise with evolution run the danger of causing the Church to lose too much – not least the Gospel of forgiveness of sins, resurrection and eternal life? Why risk paying such a price with a theory that is against Scripture, and that violates much of operational science? Is temporary peace with our secular culture really worth it?
Douglas F. Kelly, Ph.D., is one of the leading Presbyterian scholars today. He is professor of Systematic Theology, Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA. He has spent many years of research in Edinburgh.
This article has been reproduced with the permission of Douglas Kelly.
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