By tradition, the Pluscarden Community has an annual outing to some place or places of local interest. This year on the Feast of St. Luke, 18 October 2018, the outing took the form of a Pilgrimage to some local sites notable in the post-Reformation Catholic History of North East Scotland. With the community as an invited guest and guide came Mr. Bryan Miller. Bryan lives at nearby Kellas, and is a regular worshipper at the Abbey. He is extremely knowledgeable about the Catholic History of our area. Everyone knows that, following the Scottish Reformation of 1560, harsh legal penalties were enacted against Catholics. These penalties were enforced and renewed especially in the wake of two rebellions in favour of a Catholic monarch overseas. Nevertheless, in large part due to the protection of the powerful Gordon family, the Faith survived in the North East, especially in the area near Buckie known as the Enzie. Many of the Priests who served throughout Scotland in penal times came from this area. And as toleration gradually increased, especially in the wake of the French Revolution, so the Scottish Catholics started to build Churches, and to practise their faith ever more openly.
Leaving our guest Priests to offer Mass at the regular time at the Abbey, the Pluscarden brethren set off early: in the first place for St. Margaret’s Huntly. This fine octagonal Church was built in 1834, with funds provided by the Spanish branch of the Gordon family. By this time the toleration of Catholics had reached such a point that it was deemed possible for a Church to be erected in the heart of a town, adorned with a tower and even a bell. St. Margaret’s rejoices in some notable paintings, and a fine organ. It is currently served by two resident Nigerian Priests who welcomed the community, and provided for our celebration of Mass. By the end of that the unheated Church was becoming quite uncomfortably cool, so warm refreshments were appreciated by all, before Bryan delivered the first of his excellent historical and architectural Talks.
From Huntly the community proceeded to St. Peter’s Buckie. This grand 1857 Church was originally designed by Bishop Kyle to serve as the Cathedral of a new Catholic Diocese. For this reason its twin towers evoke the twin towers at the West Entrance of Elgin’s ruined mediaeval Cathedral. Fr. Tad Turski the Parish Priest was most helpful and welcoming. His Parish Hall also served as venue for a lunch time arrival of hot Fish and Chips.
The next stop after Buckie was St. Gregory’s Preshome. From here the Vicars Apostolic ran the whole Scottish Mission through penal times. Here in 1788 was built the first Church in Scotland designed to look like a Church, albeit discreetly well away from any main thoroughfare. The interior of this capacious Church is very beautiful. Sadly now it has no congregation at all, and so is rarely used. The neighbouring house in which the Vicars Apostolic and their assistants lived has recently been sold.
From Preshome, we drove on to St. Ninian’s Catholic Cemetery at Clochan. In 1687 a cruciform Catholic Church had been built on this site, taking advantage of the cautious policy of religious toleration attempted by King James VII and II. But with the Revolution of 1688 and subsequent troubles for Catholics, this was soon torn down. Still, many Catholic families of the Enzie continued to use this spot as consecrated burial ground. The first Vicars Apostolic were laid to rest there, and many Catholic Priests, through all the generations, up to the present day. Of particular interest, apart from the grave markers, are two mortuary Chapels at either end of the cemetery.
A short distance from Clochan is St. Ninian’s Chapel, Tynet. This has the longest history of continuous use of any Catholic Church in Scotland. It was built to look like a sheep barn in 1755, not long after the second Jacobite Rebellion, when times for Catholics were very hard. The Priest lived at one end of it, in primitive conditions. Tynet had its own dedicated parish Priest up to the 1960's, and until very recently Mass was said there each Sunday. But now, sadly, it seems to be going the way of Preshome. The faithful people of the immediate area have died, or gone away, and Mass is said there now only occasionally.
The last Church on our pilgrim itinerary was St. Mary’s Fochabers. Like Buckie, this Church was designed and built by Bishop Kyle, then later somewhat extended. Here we were delighted to see our good friend Mgr. Robert McDonald, who is living in retirement in the attached house. Here we sang Vespers, and here we had our last Talk by Bryan Miller. Bryan’s contribution was very much appreciated, and certainly helped make our day most memorable. He spoke not just with knowledge but also with passion. For him, it really matters that we know of our past, and of the struggles and achievements of our forefathers in the faith. They endured many trials and sufferings, but they remained faithful, and they kept alive the flame of Catholicism, hoping for better times to come, amidst persecution, and poverty, and every difficulty.
From the Catholic Church at Fochabers, dare it be said?, the Pluscarden brethren repaired to the Gordon Arms Hotel, Fochabers, where tea, toast and cakes were served, to the great satisfaction of all.