On this day

Each month we remember key figures from the past whose stories have contributed to the life of the church in Scotland and continue to provide encouragement and inspiration to us today.


This month we remember, among others, the naming of Jesus, Holocaust Memorial Day and the man who founded the University of Glasgow.

7 January: William Turnbull

William Turnbull founded the University of Glasgow around 1450 to 1452 who was at the time Bishop of Glasgow. Turnbull was a much travelled scholar and churchman, studying abroad, attending european conferences, and representing church and king at Rome. Settling at home after 1439, he held political office as well as being vicar of St Giles in Edinburgh. As bishop he was known as a reformer and one who cared about his clergy and about the wellbeing of members of the religious orders who had settled in Scotland. His own wide training and experience gave him an understanding of the intellectual and cultural needs of the country, and his founding of the university, with its faculties of arts, divinity, medicine and law was in response to this. He died in 1454. 

9 January: Fillan

Fillan was the name given to as many as four saints believed to have worked in Scotland. The one about which we know most was the son of an Irish prince who came with members of his family to the district of Lochalsh. His principal association is with the area around Crianlarich where the former church bears his name. The case believed to be for the saint's crook survived the reformation (the keeper of a saint's staff was the dewar, providing a Scottish surname) and is said to have gone with the migrating Macdonnells to Canada in the eighteenth century where it was used in the consecration of the first Roman Catholic bishop in Upper Canada. The saint's bell still survives, while another relic (said to contain his hand and arm) played a part at the Battle of Bannockburn. The saint lived and worked in the eighth century. The Fillan whose name survives in St Fillans on Loch Earn was a different saint and is commemorated in June.

12 January: Ailred

Ailred or Aelred became Abbot of Rievaulx, one of the earliest Cistercian foundations in England, and one from which the community at Melrose in the Scottish Borders was founded. Ailred was a writer and theologian, according to some his writings being among the best in mediaeval times, and because of this was often called 'the Bernard of the North', after the great French writer St Bernard of Clairvaux. Reared at the court of King David I of Scotland (Margaret's son), he had great influence in the growth of monks and nuns in this country. His piety was focused on Christ and his style of life was strictly self disciplined. He died in 1167.

13 January: Robert Stirling 

Robert Stirling was born at Methven in 1790 and became minister at Kilmarnock and then Galston. At one point he was suspended, with others, by the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland for holding communion with the deposed ministers of Strathbogie (one of the incidents which led to the disruption). He received a doctor of divinity degree from the University of St Andrews. It was no surprise that the grandson of the inventor of the rotary threshing machine should become known for his hobby of mechanics and hammering was often heard at midnight from his smithy adjoining the manse. His major achievement was his invention and patenting of a hot air engine that emitted no exhaust. He also made experiments which anticipated the Siemens process in the manufacture of steel. The possibilities of the 'Stirling Engine' have very recently been returned to by a group in the University of Glasgow, which may come into its own as an answer to the problem of pollution. Stirling died in 1878.

Also on this day: Kentigern (or Mungo) is said to have been born at Culross in Fife after his pregnant mother Thenew or Enoch, a victim of rape, had been set adrift in a boot without oars by an angry father. He grew up with Serf as his teacher and guardian but was bullied so much that he ran away. Although he is most strongly associated with Glasgow, there is less historical evidence to link him with that area than with Annandale and with Cumbria. However, both the city and cathedral of Glasgow claim him, and the former's coat of arms contains depictions of the legends and miracles surrounding his name, including his pulling from the Clyde the salmon with, in its mouth, the queen's lost wedding ring. He died around 612.

To find out more about Kentigern/Mungo, please visit the Lochgilphead Catholic Church www.lochgilpheadcatholic.com.

Also on this day: Mary Slessor was born in Aberdeen and worked as a mill-weaver in Dundee but went as a teacher-missionary under the United Presbyterian Church to Calabar in 1876. Moving to Okoyong, experiencing at that time social upheaval, she was recognised as a 'chief' and laboured to bring reforms to the economic, cultural and religious life of the area. She was made a vice-consul and is thought to be have been first woman magistrate in the British empire. She was down to earth and rebarbative in style, adopting an African style of life. She adopted children rejected by African society and argued for the education of girls. A musical about her life was recently mounted by the Dundee Repertory Theatre. She died in 1915.

Also on this day: George Fox was the founder of the Society of Friends (the 'Quakers'). For several years he travelled, studying and seeking enlightenment, and ultimately gave up ties with the church to advocate reliance on the Inner Light of the living Christ. Frequently imprisoned, he attracted many followers, travelling the world to spread his insights. He was regarded as having an appealing personality and a person of great organising ability. He died in 1691.

20 January: John Howard

John Howard was a wealthy Englishman who, having been imprisoned in France during the Seven Years War, devoted his life to prison reform. Instrumental in getting acts passed (1774) ensuring the payment of gaolers and prison cleanliness, he spent many years visiting prisons in Britain and the continent seeking to improve conditions, eventually dying in Russia from fever while attending to a prisoner. The Howard League for Prison Reform is named after this Christian philanthropist. He died in 1790.

23 January: Charles Kingsley

Charles Kingsley was an english clergyman who was a co-founder of the Christian Socialist movement, and for a time a Cambridge history professor. He has been described as a prolific and influential author and novelist (Westward Ho!, The Water-Babies), and he was critical of sweated labour and among other things was a strong advocate of the co-operative movement, of better sanitation, and of improved adult education. He was passionately sympathetic to the poor and did much to influence the upper classes to their plight. A supporter of Darwin on evolution he sought to reconcile science and Christianity. He died in 1875.

24 January: William Barclay

William Barclay was a minister at Renfrew Trinity before his appointment in 1946 as lecturer, and later professor, of new testament language and literature. In his early years an editor of The Scottish Sunday School Teacher, he became prolific author of popular and accessible books, of prayer, about scripture, and about ethics, which still remain best-sellers all over the world.

He is remembered also for his use of television to communicate the truths of the christian faith through the exposition of scripture. His down-to-earth approach endeared him to both students, church members and the general public who watched his broadcasts. He died in 1978.

To find out more information on the life of William Barclay, visit the William Barclay Trust website at www.william-barclay.com/.

25 January: Conversion of Paul the Apostle 

On this day the Church commemorates Saul/Paul's conversion experience on the road to Damascus as it is described in the New Testament book of Acts, chapter 9.

26 January: Polycarp of Smyrna

Polycarp of Smyrna was bishop of Smyrna, said to have been taught by the apostles at Ephesus and was himself the teacher of Irenaeus. His Epistle to the Philippians is very relevant to the formation of a canon of scripture (the books now considered the best witnesses to the faith). His other writings were also influential and he could be said to be the crucial link between the apostles themselves and the growing church. He opposed Marcionism (Marcion rejected the Old Testament and the Law, giving credence only to Love). He also opposed centralisation in the church.

He was arrested for his beliefs, tried and martyred. Refusing to recant and curse Christ he said: "Eight and six years I have served Him, and He hath done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my king who saved me". He died in circa 155.

Also on this day: Gordon of Khartoum has been described by some as a brave even foolhardy soldier. He was a Victorian hero on account of his activity in the Crimean War and for his exploits in China. Chinese Gordon became more famous as a martyred warrior saint by his death at Khartoum. A somewhat eccentric but enthusiastic evangelical with a mystical bent, after investigation he believed he had identified Golgotha Gordon's Calvary.

27 January: Holocaust Memorial Day 

On this day we do not only recall the victims of the holocaust including Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, Russian Prisoners of War, the physically and mentally disabled, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses and members of other minority groups - but acknowledge genocide which has taken place since: in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur. It also enables us to renew our commitment to combat racism, antisemitism, xenophobia, sectarianism, and to work for an inclusive, caring and open society. The reason for the date is that it is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops.

More information about Holocaust Memorial Day is available from www.holocaustmemorialday.gov.uk .

Also on this day: Baron Friedrich von Hugel was born in Austria but became a naturalised British subject. He was a Roman Catholic philosopher, geologist and theologian with wide Christian sympathies and deep feeling. He was an advocate of a critical approach to the text of scripture. His The Mystical Element in Religion was influential among reformed theologians, as was his Gifford lectures at Edinburgh which, although he was unable to give them in person through ill health, were published as The Reality of God. His writings took themes from the relationship of history to Christianity, the place of human culture in the Christian life, the Christian concept of time, and eschatology. He died in 1926.

28 January: Devorgilla

Devorgilla was born of royal birth, and was the wife of John Balliol, king of Scots from 1292 to 1296. After his death she kept his heart embalmed in a silver casket. She founded Sweetheart Abbey in Dumfries-shire (circa 1273) and endowed Balliol College, Oxford, in memory of her husband. When she died, in 1290, she was buried with her husband's heart before the high altar of the church at Sweetheart Abbey.

Also on this day: Alexander Peden was a covenanting preacher who served as schoolmaster, session clerk and led the singing and prayers at Tarbolton before being ordained to New Luce in Galloway. He refused to conform to episcopacy and was rejected, earning the respected of preachers at conventicles. He was arrested and confined to the Bass Rock for four years and in Edinburgh's Tolbooth. He died in 1686.

30 January: John Chrysostom

John Chrysostom was initially a hermit-monk from Syrian Antioch (one of four early church centres) but grew in influence to become, according to some, one of the most famous preachers of all time (the second name by which he is known means the golden-tongued. Later he became Patriarch of Constantinople, although against his wish. An earnest reformer, he did not always endear himself to the rich and powerful nor to many colleagues and he was deposed. Forced into excessive travelling in poor health and poor conditions, he died in 407.

31 January: C.H. Spurgeon

Spurgeon was regarded by some as a great Victorian fundamentalist Baptist preacher who drew crowds in London of more than 10,000. His sermons were often characterised by considerable insight and also by humour. Many in modern times have been enriched by the published sermons as well as by his pithy sayings in, e.g. John Ploughman's Talk. He died in 1892.

Also this month

January 1 is New Year's Day and the Naming of Jesus. On this day the Church commemorates the baptism of Jesus by John as described in the New Testament gospel of Matthew chapter 3 verses 13 to 17.