Early Christianity in Scotland

Nothing was now too gross, too whimsical, or absurd, for the folly, ignorance or superstition of the age; but streaks of light  were beginning  to glimmer athwart this fearful condensity of circumvolving darkness.
Select Memoirs, Thomas Smith (1828)

Presbyterians were not the first Protestant church in
Scotland although they eventually became the authorised
Church. Before them there were the
in Kyle, Ayrshire, in the fourteenth, fifteenth,  and
early sixteenth centuries who were followers of the
English preacher and translator of the bible John Wyckcliffe.  Before them the Culdees were influential
in the sixth and seventh century through to the 
thirteenth century. Their influence seems to have expired ca 1292
when they lost a claim to the right of electing the Bishop of St Andrews.
The remains of a Culdee Chapel was discovered  in 1865 when a new
church was raised at Boarhills , St Andrews. There are suggestions of direct
connections with the travels of the Apostle Paul. Sad to
say that St Andrew, who was an Apostle and brother of
Simon Peter, did not get as far as Scotland.

It is
more likely that Christian ways first came to Scotland
following the persecution in Rome by Domitian ca 96 AD when disciples of the Apostle John are said to have fled to the British
Isles. The earliest christenings are said to be that of
King Donald I , his Queen and some courtiers who were
baptised ca AD 203. There followed the persecution during the rule of  the Emperor Severus  in which, for about seventy years the rites and idolatry of the Druids held sway.  They were expelled by King Cratilinth ca AD 277 from when Christianity began a steady growth in Scotland with a church and refuge for those driven out of England  at Sodor in Icolumbkil, in the Western Isles. During the reign of Cratilinth and his successor Fincormac, the Culdees gained a foothold and prospered although they suffered again in the late fourth century.

St Columba is sometimes
give the credit for bringing Christianity to Scotland but  St Ninian
began his work ca 397
AD .The Venerable Bede writing in the
8th century tells of a holy man called Nynia born among
the British people. The traditional story is that Ninian
was the son of a Christian tribal chief somewhere in the
Solway region, possibly Whithorn. Ninian was

by Pope Siricius as a missionary to the Picts and roamed
widely in Scotland where there are many places named after
him up as far as the islands of Orkney and Shetland. A
partly restored `St Ninians
chapel` from ca 1300 stands today on a promontory beside
the entrance to the Isle of Whithorn Harbour, in Galloway.
Alongside is a memorial cairn made up of stones left by modern day
pilgrims, over 1500 years after St Ninian.

came to Iona on the west coast of Scotland with twelve
companions in AD 563 and established a monastery which
was his base for evangelism among the Scots and Picts. He
preached to people who had been brought up with Druidism
and managed many conversions, including King Brude of the
Picts. There were many churches founded and Scotland
gained a religious, political and social life from this
time. A feature was simplicity in form and service which was reinforced by
a meeting held
at Scone in AD 956 at which King Constantine attended

The meeting is one of the
few records of the Age  which
clear the constitution of the Scottish Church at the opening of the tenth
century. One of these points is her complete Independence. No. “Letters
Apostolic” summoned the convocation and no papal legate presided over the
meeting assembled on the Mote Hill. No ecclesiastical functionary of
whatever grade from outside Scotland took part in the debate, or offered
advice, The Scottish Church met of
her own volition, for the transaction of her own business, and recognised
no church authority outside her own territory. At the opening of the tenth
century she is seen to be Free. Significantly it resolved to maintain

first principles. The goal at which they wished to arrive, as distinctly
defined in the words of the original record, is the “faith,” the “church,”
and the “gospel”,  not Rome but Iona.

Augustine`s influence started ca 597 AD and was followed
by the works of Wilfrid, Bishop of Northumbria , the
resurgence of Celtic monks the Culdees, and Regulus or St Rule and his
vision to go to Mount Royal, or Kilrymont in Fife. The
church known as St Rule`s was built about 1070 AD with a
square tower, 30 meters high, that pilgrims could see from
afar. The town of St Andrews became one of the prime
centres for pilgrimage in Europe such that King David I of
Scotland passed laws to protect pilgrims. The importance
given pilgrims even led to the population of the city
being capped at 5,000 inhabitants so that they were able
to house and feed the visitors. This focus on pilgrimage
may explain the lay out of the town in the rough form of a
scallop shell, the symbol of the pilgrim, with the main
roads radiating from (and leading to) the religious

In short,
it was under Augustine in the mid seventh century that
Romanism began to spread its influence. The Synod of
Whitby in AD 664 confirmed the use of the Roman method of calculating
Easter in Scotland from which flowed Romanisation of British
Christianity. Having accepted Rome`s views the embrace of Catholicism soon
grew. Although the primitive Scottish Church and its clerics maintained a
sturdy independence  for a while, they eventually succumbed to the
organisation of Roman Christianity and its educated priests. It was in
many ways a successful migration that was inevitable in the circumstances.
Further formal organisation came with Malcolm Canmore and Queen Margaret,
and their sons between 1070-1153  with the introduction of monastic
orders and diocesan episcopacy into Scotland. The monasteries have been
called the pioneers  who prepared the way for the bishops in the
early church; both existed side by side until the Reformation swept them

Pivotal events
that contributed to the Reformation began with the adverse  influence
of Edward I in 1296 when the War of Independence with England broke out.
For two hundred years  since Malcolm Canmore  there had been
close and friendly association with the English church; Edward`s invasion
led to isolation of the Scottish Church and the degeneration that
followed. In the Great Schism of the papacy (1303-1377) Scotland supported
the wrong Pope while moral degradation reached a peak during the time of
Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503). In Scotland there were many abuses,
including the matter of pluralism – a person holding more than one
benefice, and the  abuses from buying and selling dispensations; 
diversion of tithes, mort dues, and the like. Clerical chastity was
significant in its absence.

By the time any serious effort was made (1549)
to deal with abuses  the spirit of the Renaissance had reached the
Scottish universities, and there was a thirst for knowledge that
undermined Roman theology. The greatest motivator in change was the
circulation of the English Bible among the people. As in England, the
advent of printing generated more books and religious tracts that
disseminated new ideas and beliefs.  Although in a strange dialect to
the average Scot, the English Bible was a revelation that appealed to them
and, moreover, it did away with the endless demands and abuses by the
clergy that impacted daily life from the cradle to the grave. The
Bassandyne Bible of 1576 was the first complete vernacular Bible printed
in Scotland.

The simplicity of the
Scriptures, and the conviction that  it was the true path, vitiated
the Reformation in Europe . In
England John Wyckcliffe and the Lollards were pursued to the death, but
the seed was sown. In
Scotland It fell to John Knox to keep the momentum for change going, and
to drive
through the establishment of Presbyterianism in 1560.

Monasteries and the

The Beggars Warning.