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, an Italian Dominican monk, a shepherd lad who became a missionary bishop and a Christian theologian.

March 1: David

David was said to be of a noble family, to have become a priest and to have founded no less than 12 monasteries. The abbey he founded at Mynyw modelled a life of extreme asceticism based on that of the Egyptian monks. He is the patron saint of Wales. He is said to have opposed Pelagianism, which denied that men and women were born sinful and that they were capable of contributing to their own salvation. His shrine at Ty-Dewi (St David’s) became a considerable place of mediaeval pilgrimage. He died circa 601.

Also on this day: George Wishart was a Scotsman born circa1513, who studied at Louvain. Subsequently as a schoolmaster in Montrose from 1543, he taught the New Testament in Greek. Later at Cambridge he was described as 'glad to teach, desirous to learn'. Becoming known as a preacher,he toured widely in Scotland, including in East Lothian where he was joined byJohn Knox. He was particularly remembered for his tenacity in preaching in Dundee during a time of plague. His advocacy of the principles which had led to the Reformation on the continent of Europe (he translated one of the key documents, the First Helvetic Confession), including the belief that the scriptures should be opened up to the people of the church and his espousal of the doctrines revealed in the new studies, led to his arrest and his martyrdom at St Andrews at the hands of cardinal Beaton.

He died at the stake, the spot marked by his initials on the pavement, in 1546. To find out more about the life  of George Wishart at from the George Wishart Society website at www.wishart.org.

March 2: John Wesley

John Wesley was born in 1703, one of many children of a Church of England rectory, scholarly (he was given a fellowship at Oxford) and devout. As an Anglican clergyman, he became a leader of the late eighteenth century Evangelical Revival. Tirelessly travelling around the country preaching (he was not allowed entry into churches) he became the, albeit reluctant, founder of Methodism - the name deriving from its emphasis on methodical study and devotion - which won many of the poorest to Christianity, and with its emphasis on personal conversion and social concern was an antidote to the excesses of the French Revolution. He made no less than 22 visits to Scotland, being given the freedom of Perth and of Arbroath, but in spite of a warm reception not many joined his 'societies'. Part of the reason may have been Wesley's preference for Arminianism (the belief that human beings were able to co-operate with God in their salvation) over the prevailing Calvinism, which preferred the idea that the gift and reception of God's grace in salvation was not strengthened or facilitated in any way by human response or human worth. He died in 1791.

Also on this day:  World day of Prayer is a worldwide movement of Christian women of many traditions in over 170 countries. Though symbolised by an annual day of celebration on the first Friday of March, to which all people are welcome, it is a movement which brings together women of various races, cultures and traditions in closer fellowship, understanding and action throughout the year. Through the World Day of Prayer, women affirm that prayer and action are inseparable and that both have immeasurable influence in the world. More information can be found at www.worlddayofprayer.net.

March 3: Ailred

Ailred was a remarkable all-rounder, known as both a scholar and a statesman, and ultimately a Cistercian monk. He was friendly with King David whose realm stretched across the border to Ailred's Hexham birthplace and subsequently held political office. His Life of St Ninian became the standard biography and his other religious writings were both learned and deeply spiritual. Overwork and painful illness brought about his death, then abbot of Rievaulx, in 1166.

Also on this day: George Adam Smith was born in Calcutta 1856, where his father was a journalist and editor.He came from the Free Church tradition and it was in Free and United Free Church colleges that he served as lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament. He became professor in Glasgow but then returned to his original teaching place, as principal of the University of Aberdeen. Earlier he had been minister in Queen's Cross Church in the same city. His historical geography of the Holy Land (which he had visited) was influential. He caused controversy with his belief that the best way to learn from scripture was to take a critical approach, carrying study to behind the text and not just the text itself; for this the United Free General Assembly of 1901 accused him of undermining the truthfulness of scripture, but they did not prevail. He was made Moderator of the United Free Church General Assembly in 1916. He died in 1942.

March 4: Adrian

Adrian was possibly an Irish missionary bishop who settled with others on the Island of May. He was killed in a Danish invasion in the ninth century. David I later founded a monastery on the island, with May becoming a place of pilgrimage. Adrian seems to have had several names, Magirdle being one and Muggins another. These crop up not in the vicinity of the Isle of May but where Fife meets Perthshire, like the Mugdrum cross at Abernethy or the group of stones beside the Tay at Flisk known as St Muggin's Seat.

March 6: Baldred

Baldred was born in East Lothian wholived for a good part of his life on the Bass Rock, although the appearance of his name up and down that coast suggests associations with other places. He is said to have been a follower of St Kentigern. His life may have lacked memorable incident, but it nevertheless became a powerfulsymbol of Christian devotion. He died in 756.

March 7: Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Aquinas was an Italian Dominican monk. Though ignorant of Hebrew and Greek, he had a spiritual insight as a biblical commentator and a scholar. His Summa Theologica was the first attempt at a complete theological system. A most devout man but with prodigious concentration and energy he was also a hymn writer. An advocate of transubstatiation, the belief that the bread and wine used in the Mass became the flesh and blood of Jesus, he was revered in his day as authoritative; his legacy of thought has been immense especially with Roman Catholics. He died at Fossa Nuova in 1274.

March 8: Duthac

Duthac was born in Tain, Easter Ross. He is said to have studied in Ireland and to have spent his later life there. Some time after his death there, his shirt was brought back to Tain to his shrine, which became an important place of mediaeval pilgrimage (James IV was one such pilgrim). The shirt was believed to protect the wearer from death; when the Earl of Ross was killed at the battle at Halidon Hill, the English king returned the shirt to the Scots. Duthac died in 1068.

March 9: Gregory of Nyssa

  Gregory of Nyssa was born around 330, brother of Basil the Great. He was a scholar and the author of many works, in which doctrines now standard in the church were given early definition. One of these was the doctrine of the Trinity, in which he argued the position taken up by the council of Nicea - against the supporters of Arianism - insisting on Christ's equality with God. Regarded as an important link in transmitting Origen’s thought to later ages and as an authoritative spiritual writer, Gregory travelled widely in the near East as a preacher. He was bishop of Nyssa, but spent part of his term of office in exile when the (now considered heretical) Arians were in ascendancy. He died circa 395.

March 10: Kessog

Kessog was said to be Irish but spent most of his missionary life in Scotland, particularly around Loch Lomond (he is patron of Luss). Tradition says he was martyred abroad and his body brought back wrapped in sweet herbs (Luss means 'herb'). Annual fairs in his memory were held in Callander and Cumbrae. He died in 520. Kessog is claimed to have  brought Christianity to the area around Luss in 510AD and 1500 years of  continuous Christian presence in the area will be celebrated in 2010.

Also on this day: John Ogilvie was born circa 1579. He was the only Roman Catholic judicially condemned and executed in Scotland for his religion. When studying abroad he converted to Catholicism and having been ordained as a priest he taught in continental universities before returning to Scotland. It was not long before he was arrested for spreading Catholic doctrines and was interrogated in Glasgow by Archbishop Spottiswoode, and then in Edinburgh before the lords of the council. His persecution is not likely so much to have been as a result of what he taught as such but because he was espousing publicly and promoting teachings which went against royal decree. He was condemned for treason and hanged on this day in 1615.

March 11: Alexander Fleming

Alexander Fleming was born in Darvel and worked as a shipping clerk before studying medicine in London and becoming a specialist surgeon. He was the first to use anti-typhoid vaccines on humans, to employ salvarsan against syphilis, and was the discoverer of the antiseptic powers of lysozyme, but he is most remembered as the brilliant bacteriologist who in 1928 recognised the antibiotic powers of a culture which in time led to penicillin, and which has cured and saved  millions of people. He was later knighted and awarded the Nobel Prize.

Also on this day: Constantine of Govan is reputed to have come to Scotland from Cornwall but other traditions suggest he may have been Constantine I of Strathclyde, the son of King Kenneth MacAlpin, who reigned from 862 to 877. Constantine converted to Christianity and established a monastery at Govan under the rule of St Columba. The story goes that he was set upon by thieves while on his way to Kilchouslan, and cut to pieces as a martyr. He was taken to the church at Govan and his body placed in a sarcophagus where his remains still lie to this day.

March 14: New English Bible (New Testament)

The New English Bible (New Testament) was published on this day in 1961. The full translation appeared in 1970. This version of the Bible raised eyebrows when the New Testament books were published. It was commissioned by the Church of Scotland after an overture was made to the General Assembly by Stirling and Dunblane Presbytery in 1946 asking the Assembly "to recognise the need for a new translation of the Bible in the language of the present day." It was the first British translation to be produced by an ecumenical group with representatives from the Baptist Union of Great Britain and Ireland, the Church of England, the Church of Scotland, the Congregational Church in England and Wales, the Council of Churches for Wales, the Irish Council of Churches, the London annual meeting of the Society of Friends, the Methodist Church of Great Britain, the Presbyterian Church of England, the British and Foreign Bible Society, the National Bible Society of Scotland and observers from the Roman Catholic Church in England. Three groups of biblical scholars translated the original texts into modern language and boldly used colloquial English phrases and idioms, their interpretation and style differing greatly from contemporary American translations of the time.

March 17: Patrick (Celtic/nickname Succat)

Patrick was born to a Christian family circa 389 at Banavem Taberniae (some have placed this as near Dumbarton but it is more likely that his birthplace was south of the current border with England, although still in Britain) and became the great Apostle of Ireland. Carried at 16 as a slave to Ireland, he escaped after six years to France, becoming a monk at Tours and then at Lerins. At 45 years old he went as a bishop to Ireland (succeeding Palladius?) and travelled extensively and preached widely making special approaches to the chiefs and taking advantage of clanship. After 20 years as a missionary when he was credited with baptising thousands and with establishing a considerable network of churches, he fixed his sights on Armagh (454). Various hymns and many legends are attributed to him. He died circa 461.

Also on this day: D. P. Thomson was born in Dundee in 1896. While a First World War officer, 'D. P.' as he came to be widely and popularly known began an unofficial ministry among the men under his charge. The loss of two brothers and five cousins and his own invaliding out gave him a purpose. He was ordained to the parish ministry, serving in Dunfermline and Cambuslang. He was essentially an evangelist and was ultimately appointed as such by the Church. Vigorous, energetic, and inspiring, he promoted  seaside mission, the Tell Scotland Movement, and particularly lay training. This latter led to the founding of St Ninian’s, Crieff, of which he became warden. Glasgow University recognised the worth of his special ministry, characterised by much preaching and writing. He died on this day in 1974.

March 18: Fra Angelico

Fra Angelico, born Guido di Pietro circa 1400, was a Dominican friar who became celebrated as the precursor of the Florentine artistic renaissance. His most famous works were painted at St Marco in Florence. As well as important public commissions, he and his assistants painted about 50 frescos in the friary in which they lived seen as the expression of and a guide to the spiritual life of the community, many of them in the friars' cells, intended as aids to devotion. His work is marked by vivid colour, life-like portraiture, and realistic background. But despite his virtuosic brilliance, his talent was dedicated to inculcate unearthly beauty and to arouse devotional feeling. To Ruskin he was "not an artist properly so-called but an inspired saint." He died on this day in 1455.

March 19: Thomas Ken

Thomas Ken was born in 1637 in England, and became a royal chaplain and was later bishopof Bath and Wells. With other bishops he was imprisoned for refusing to read the Declaration of Indulgence (in favour of Roman Catholics). He was also deprived of his office for refusing the Oath of Allegiance to William of Orange. He was a notable hymn writer, whose hymns are still sung (e.g. Awake, my soul, and with the sun, All praise to Thee, my God, this night, Praise God from whom all blessings flow.) He died in 1711.

Also on this day: Joseph of Nazareth is remembered as the husband of Mary, mother of Jesus. A pious Jew descended from King David, he worked as a carpenter. With few references in the New Testament, stories grew up round him in later centuries, celebrating him as a man of holiness. He became known also as the patron of a good death.

Also on this day: Cuthbert of Lindisfarne was a shepherd lad in the Scottish Borders who became a missionary bishop. He is associated with Old Melrose, Hexham and especially with the monastery of Lindisfarne (Holy Isle) and as hermit on the Farne Islands. As a missionary in Northumbria and with a reputation for holiness, and he is one of the most highly regarded English 'saints'. A concern for birds places him among early conservationists. Regarded as a great miracle worker, his remains were later removed to Durham where the Cathedral was built as a pilgrimage church over his shrine. He died on this day in 687.

March 21: Benedict of Nursia

Benedict of Nursia was born circa 480 and educated at Rome. He is regarded as the father of western monasticism by virtue of his establishing many small but very disciplined monastic communities. His rule for life within a monastery (circa 515) became authoritative and widely accepted. His fame is also due to his establishing Monte Cassino, near Naples, regarded as one of the richest and most famous of all monasteries (and the scene of great conflict in World War II). He was never ordained. He died circa 550.

Also on this day: Robert Wodrow was born to a covenanting family in 1679 and became the faithful parish minister of Eastwood, which he served all his days. He was regarded as distinguished not only as an antiquary but as a reliable and candid Scottish church historian. His greatest accomplishment was The History of the Sufferings of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Revolution. He also left a considerable amount of manuscript material. Though his works have been criticised, he recognised that "facts are ill-natured things" and that the truth, particularly of covenanting times, would be unwelcome to many. A society in his name was set up in 1841 for the publication of the works of the fathers and early writers of the Reformed Church of Scotland. He died in 1734.

March 22: Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards was born in 1703. He was an American Puritan preacher and theologian. His associations with Scotland were lifelong and he influenced many Scots theologians and preachers. He is associated with The Great Awakening, a revivalist movement which emerged in his Massachusetts church 1734 to 1735, which was thought to have influenced a Scottish revival movement around 1740, experienced particularly in Easter Ross and in Cambuslang. A strict Calvinist he served briefly before his death as president of the College of New Jersey (Princeton). His chief work was The Careful and Strict Enquiry into the Modern Prevailing Notions of the Freedom of the Will. He died in 1758.

Also on this day: Richard Cadbury and his brother George, a prosperous Quaker chocolate and cocoa manufacturer, became considerable social reformers at Bournville, providing enlightened social security programmes and improving working conditions far in advance of their time. He died in the Holy Land in 1899.

March 24: Irenaeus

Irenaeus was the first great Christian theologian, born at the time when the core Christian beliefs were still settling. His contribution to the debates of the time was to challenge the Gnostics who had developed an alternative understanding of Christianity as 'secret knowledge' and that all Christians were placed on a hierarchy of achievement or insight. Christ came to bring that insight, but he himself was not fully human but disguised as such. This, what was seen as a heresy, had a very powerful following and Irenaeus was one of those who finally enabled orthodox belief to prevail. He himself became bishop of Lyons. He did not know the apostles but "knew a man who did", hearing in his youth the preaching of Polycarp of Smyrna. He died circa 200.

Also on this day: Oscar Romero was born in 1917 and was known as a pious and fairly conservative Roman Catholic bishop who as archbishop of San Salvadorx was virtually converted (partly because of a friend’s assassination) into becoming an opponent of the  unjust oligarchy of his country and a strong advocate for the poor and oppressed. The 'conscience' of his nation, he was opposed by his fellow bishopsand was distrusted by Rome, and, anticipating assassination, declared, "As a Christian, I do not believe in death but in resurrection. If they kill me, I shall rise again in the Salvadoran people." Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize he was killed at the altar by a single rifle shot on 24 March  1980.

March 25: Murray McCheyne

Murray McCheyne was born in 1813, was a brilliant student at Edinburgh University who was to exercise a saintly, evangelical, and fruitful ministry in the new working class parish of St Peter’s Dundee. He was a very powerful and gifted preacher but his influence went far beyond his own parish. Church extension was one of his interests, and he accepted many invitations as an evangelist to visit many parts of Scotland. A visit to the Holy Land, and what he published as a result, kindled an enthusiasm in the church for Jewish mission and led to work among Jews in Europe, especially Hungary. His health was not good and he died in 1843 at the age of only 30.

Also on this day: The Annunciation. Also known as Lady Day, this commemorates the announcement of the Incarnation to Mary by the angel Gabriel and the conception of Christ. It did not become a festival until around the fifth century.

March 29: Samuel Rutherford

Samuel Rutherford was born in 1600 and by the age of 23 had become a professor of humanity in Edinburgh. Dismissed for having 'fallen in fornication' he went on to become the godly minister of Anworth and eventually held positions of great influence in the church. He was a commissioner and contributor to the Westminster Assembly, a professor at St Andrews and later rector, with an international reputation. A great advocate of Presbyterian policy, he fell foul of the Episcopalian structures prevailing at the time. According to some he is one of Scotland’s greatest theologians, asserting the authority of the church as over against the state, and her reliance on scripture as authoritative. In his Lex Rex, he argues that there are limits to royal power. Summoned at the restoration of Charles II for treason (he died in 1661 before he could be executed) he replied from his deathbed: "I have got summons already before a superior judge and judicatory, and I behove to answer to my first summons, and here your day come, I will be where few kings and great folks come."

Also on this day: Charles Wesley was the eighteenth child of an English rectory and, born in 1707, younger brother of John Wesley. A college tutor at Oxford, he became ordained and was a preacher for Methodism though much attached to the Church of England. He has been described as one of the world’s greatest and prolific hymn writers. Among his 6500 hymns are Love divine, all loves excelling, Hark, the herald angels sing, Jesus, lover of my soul, Christ the Lord is risen today, which, along with many others, continue to educate, stimulate, and inspire millions across all denominations. He died in 1788. To find out more about Charles Wesley visit Wholesome Words Christian Biography Resources website at www.wholesomewords.org.

Also on this day:John Keble was an Anglican clergyman and founder of the influential Oxford Movement (at its beginnings known as the Tractarian Movement) which, related to the romantic revival, promoted the Christian year, ritualism, and a high church polity in the Church of England. It also emphasized the importance of the early church fathers. All of these recoveries had later effect on the Church of Scotland. Keble, who was also professor of poetry at Oxford, is also remembered for his hymns eg.New every morning is the love, Blest are the pure in heart, Sun of my soul, thou Saviour dear, many of which appeared in his The Christian Year of 1827. He lived from 1792 until 1866.

March 31: John Donne

John Donne, who lived from 1571 until 1631, was a great English metaphysical poet whose works are characterised by passion and piety, doubt and faith. In them, however, he often used scientific imagery, like the references in Teach me, my God and King to the invention of the telescope and the contemporary search for the philosopher's stonewhich would turn all base metals to gold. Originally a Roman Catholic he converted to Protestantism and in time became dean of St Paul’s where his sermons drew large numbers.

Also on this day: William Robertson Smith was a precocious child (he was born in 1846 in Aberdeenshire) and all round student who entered the Free Church ministry, becoming at 23 years of age a professor of Hebrew at the Aberdeen College. Influenced by German scholarship (Ritschl, Wellhausen etc) his article on The Bible in the Encyclopaedia Britannia (1875) popularised a more critical approach to scripture with which his name became synonymous in the English speaking world. Charged but acquitted of heresy he was deprived of his chair. He was considered for a variety of chairs, including mathematics, logic etc but moved to Cambridge where he held a succession of important posts, finally the chair of Arabic. His career came to an end at the age of 47 in 1894.