Until recently, it would have been rash to travel around staunchly Presbyterian Scotland handing out fliers about Our Lady. However, times have changed and what the eight of us, consisting of myself and seven American high school students from the TFP-staffed Saint Louis de Montfort Academy in Pennsylvania, proposed to do for three weeks in June 2005 was precisely that. We would start in Glasgow and work east to Edinburgh, and then north to Inverness.
Glasgow is Scotland’s largest city. It grew exponentially during the Industrial Revolution as waves of impoverished Irish immigrants sought work in the mines and factories. This made Glasgow the most Catholic city in Scotland and a good place to start.
As expected, the reception was excellent. We quickly saw how distributing our literature on the street allowed us to meet and talk with lapsed Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus, Jews and agnostics about Our Lady. Often the conversation turned to the Catholic Church and its teachings, and everyone seemed interested, curious, supportive, or, occasionally, antagonistic.
While in Edinburgh, we venerated Saint Andrew’s relics in Saint Mary’s Cathedral. In the Middle Ages the Scots asked the pope for a patron saint. He named Saint Andrew, whose bones were sent to Scotland and were received amid great enthusiasm and rejoicing. Saint Andrew’s, a cathedral city, with Scotland’s most important university, grew up around the relics. Sadly, during the so-called Reformation, mobs of enraged Presbyterians ransacked the shrine and scattered the relics. Fortunately, some fragments were saved and today are available for veneration in Edinburgh’s cathedral.
After Edinburgh, we traveled to Dundee to visit Arbroath Abbey, a once great monastery famous throughout Europe. It was poignant to see this great place reduced to total ruin. The only part still intact is the fourteenth-century sacristy, a beautiful Gothic room with very high ceilings. We sang the Little Office of Our Lady in the room, and the acoustics were awesome! The Historic Scotland staff in charge of the site confirmed this was the first time since the “Reformation” that the Office was prayed at Arbroath Abbey.
It was a strange feeling to see the wheel of history turning before our eyes. We left Dundee wondering when the magnificent Arbroath Abbey might be restored, or when even more magnificent places will be built in its stead. That day will come when the Scots return to the Church. Nobody can say for sure exactly when, but it is our hope that this modest effort to promote devotion to Our Lady in Scotland is a small step in that direction.