Stephen, John Rothney
Challenges posed by the geography of the Scottish Highlands to ecclesiastical endeavour over the centuries.
PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.
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The claim of this thesis is that the landscape of the Scottish Highlands has ever posed a challenge to ecclesiastical endeavour over the centuries and has determined the patterns of religiosity that remain largely extant. The landmass under review conforms to a notional Highland line running north-eastwards from Helensburgh in the west of Stonehaven in the east, but does not include the county of Caithness or the Orkney and Shetland Islands. The time-scale of the thesis focuses mainly upon the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
By the twelfth century, the Celtic Church had been fully absorbed into the Church of Rome. At the Calvinist Reformation within Scotland in 1560, Roman Catholicism was proscribed, but due to prevailing factors in the Highlands, mainly connected with the remoteness and inaccessibility of the landscape, the “Old Faith” was never completely eradicated. Of cardinal importance was the ownership of the land, the dearth of a Reformed ministry conversant in the Gaelic language and overlarge parishes that precluded regular contact between congregation and minister and his manse. A serious impediment to Highland Reformed mission was the lack of a translation in Scots-Gaelic vernacular, of the Authorised Bible until 1767 publication of the New Testament in that language.
Following the deposition of James VII in 1690, Prelacy was proscribed and Presbyterianism was declared to be the lawful structure of the Reformed Kirk within Scotland. Nevertheless the structure of the Episcopalian Church survived relatively intact and many of its clergy, retained their pulpits in the Highlands. The key to survival, yet again, had been the protective power of the Highland landowner. From the outset, secession and reunion have characterised the Established Church of Scotland, with the most damaging episode, that of the Disruption in 1843, on the platform of patronage. The emergent Free Church retained a legacy of evangelicalism within the Highlands long after the Free Church (Continuing) has declined south of the notional Highland line. It is stressed that in all its many facets, the Highlands displays no uniform pattern in time, place or will; the region is more profitably examined as a collection of localities, each with its own distinctive character. What can scarcely be denied is that the landscape of the Highlands determined the patterns of religiosity that we can still recognise within its boundaries today.
The thesis develops its several themes both synthetically – through a geographical reading of existing historical works on religion in the Highlands – and empirically – through a detailed archival inquiry into the story of one particular Highland parish, that of Glenmuick, Tullich and Glengairn, in Upper Deeside, Aberdeenshire.
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