Page 8, 19th February 1971

19th February 1971
Page 8
Page 8, 19th February 1971 — Roman rearguard in the north

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People: Peter F. Anson
Locations: Rome, Aberdeen


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Roman rearguard in the north

by Fr. S. G. A. LUFF

Underground Catholicism in Scotland 1622-1878 by Peter F. Anson (Standard Press 45s.) TT has always seemed to me that the history of penal Catholicism in Scotland was far more contained than that of the corresponding English period; it was even in ways a more limited event, even though the Presbyterian Kirk would hardly opt for a theory of continuity as Anglicans do.

This is at least in part due to the persistence of a native Catholicism in the north-east lowlands (north and north-east of Aberdeen as far as Inverness), with a persevering ministry and a quite remarkable piety. Among the aristocracy there were households with a quite remarkable standard of devotion and practical charity. A Jesuit describing Scottish eastentide in a report to Rome wrote: "The houses of the Catholic nobility resemble religious houses at these seasons."

Some of the western isles failed to receive any Protestant stamp but the history of their pastoral ministry is thin; Catholicism survived as little more than a folk memory, but, as Fr. Duggan wrote to St. Vincent de Paul, the people welcomed him in their hundreds "as an angel from heaven".

An interesting feature of eighteenth century history was the determination to establish a seminary in the Highlands, notably at Scalan in the Braes of Glenlivet, Banffshire, the buildings survive. There the boys studied, besides divinity, French and Gaelic, and Bishop Hay, when in residence, wore "a long coat of blue and red tartan, spun by the thrifty housekeeper." The colleges suffered after the '45. but the tradition was maintained down to the establishment of Blairs in 1829.

Like many of Mr. Anson's books, this one is generously illustrated with characteristic line drawings of eighteenth and nineteenth century milieux of worship, remote highland and island chapels and a few pleasantly classical buildings perhaps more native than the gothrickry following. Portraits of many intriguing personalities are sketched well enough in words, but one would like to know just how Bishop Gillis looked, with his mania for pornpes funebres, ladies' drawing rooms, relics, continental tours and watering places, his remarkable literary output, and his capacity for preaching in French (in France).

There are many more whose personal lineaments escape us -scholarly bishops, priests who could live rough and poor and travel miles, and even the lairds who managed to raise wholly Catholic regiments, like the Glengarry Fencibles (1794).

There is some evidence of haste at least in the production of this book. The Index appears to me plainly inadequate to a fault. To pictures of the churches at Keith and Wick the titles appear to be transposed. When Bishop Gillis, at his consecration, is described as occupying a 'temporary shrine', is it a misprint, or was Mr. Anson just carried away writing this vermilion patch?

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