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, a famous cartoonist whose characters included Charlie Brown; an Italian renaissance artist; a scottish actor, and the founding of two universities.

1 February: Ignatius of Antioch

Ignatius of Antioch of whose life we know nothing until his journey from Antioch to Rome where he was martyred - but the fact that Polycarp of Smyrna, Eusebius and many others recorded this event indicates his great influence in the early church. On the way to Rome, Ignatius wrote seven letters opposing Docetism (the Docetists believed the suffering of Jesus on earth to be virtual rather than physical), which provides valuable information on the early church. From such writings, and because he was reputed to be a disciple of St John, some say that he deservedly can be classified as an 'apostolic father'. He died circa 135.

Also on this day: Bride of Kildare was also known as St Mary of the Gael. As a young Irish woman she was made maidservant to a Druid whom she won over to Christianity. Resisting all attempts to marry her off, she entered monastic life and ultimately rose to the top, as abbess at Kildare. The story goes that a confused clergyman read the wrong service at her setting apart ceremony and made her a bishop by mistake - a title she was allowed to keep because of the great regard with which she was held. Many miracles were attributed to her and she was known for her care of the poor. Though she never came to Scotland herself, her name is found in many parts of the country. The Pictish king Nechtan dedicated a church to her at Abernethy in which he placed her relics. She lived from circa 452 to 524.

4 February: Modan

Modan was an Irish Celtic ascetic missionary 'saint' of the 6th century who began his work at Dryburgh. His first settlement was at Loch Etive (later the site of Ardchattan Priory). He also preached and did works around Falkirk and Stirling, eventually retiring to Rosneath.

8 February: Alexander Mackay

Alexander Mackay of Uganda was the son of the Free Church manse of Rhynie in Aberdeenshire. Stirred by the fervency of the Covenanting tradition, he was also influenced by the approach of David Livingstone who believed that missionaries should also make a material difference to those they worked among. He therefore studied engineering before joining the Church Missionary Society in their first visits to Uganda in 1876. His engineering skills were used in the construction of a new major road from the coast and his missionary skills resulted in the formation of a Christian group at the court of the King of Buganda.

He strongly denounced paganism but unfortunately this enthusiasm was also applied to Roman Catholic white fathers who established a mission there in 1879. As pagans, Protestants, Roman Catholics and Muslims jockeyed for political as well as religious supremacy, leading to the persecution of Christians, Mackay successfully persuaded the British to intervene. In Mackay, the Christian message was spread, and good done to the material infrastructure, but it has to be admitted that he had a contrary influence too, in that the civil unrest that has continued in that country had its roots in these earlier tensions. He died in 1890.

To find out more about Alexander Mackay visit Wholesome Words Christian Biography Resources website at www.wholesomewords.org/biography/biorpmackay.

10 February: Joseph Lister

Joseph Lister, who died in 1912, was an English-born surgeon with an influential Quaker background and education. Studying under James Syme at Edinburgh (whose daughter he married), he was appointed Regius professor of surgery at Glasgow (1856) and practised at Glasgow Royal Infirmary (1861) where his pioneering work on antisepsis was done. Later he held chairs at Edinburgh and London. A deeply religious man, he understood his work as being "divinely directed". Though there was at first resistance to his discovery, by the time of his retirement in 1893 antisepsis was universally accepted. He was the first medical man to be raised to the peerage and among the first to be admitted to the Order of Merit.

Also on this day: Bishop William Elphinstone founded Aberdeen University in 1494. It was distinguished by its early establishment of a chair of medicine, by the excellence of its teaching, and by the strong emphasis on Christian humanism learning led by its first principal Hector Boece. Elphinstone himself was as much politician and statesman (he was made Chancellor of Scotland in 1488 and keeper of the Privy Seal in 1492) as churchman. In the latter category, he was known not only for his reforming of the structures of the church but for is liturgical innovation. He was the forerunner of calendars of commemoration, such as this one, in his publication of the renowned Aberdeen Breviary which included lists of Scottish saints and notable feasts. He also was the first to introduce printing to Scotland.

11 February: Caedmon

Caedmon was, according to Bede, an illiterate herdsman who, proving himself poetic in singing of the creation, was welcomed by Hilda into her abbey at Whitby where he turned portions of recited scripture into verse. Only a fragment of his creation survives, sufficient however to credit him as the earliest English (i.e. Anglo-Saxon) poet. He died circa 680.

Also on this day: John Buchan was the son of a Scottish manse, educated at Glasgow and Oxford, who became in time a barrister, publisher, historian, member of parliament and a colonial administrator in Canada. He is specially remembered for his fast moving popular adventure stories of which The 39 Steps is the most famous. His writings often contain deeper and Calvinist themes though they also sometimes show a sense of white Anglo-Saxon superiority. A devout Christian he became Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly in 1933 and 1934 and was raised to the peerage as Lord Tweedsmuir. He died in 1940.

12 February: Immanuel Kant

Born in 1724, Immanuel Kant was of Scots ancestry though he never moved from his native Konigsberg, East Prussia. Though originally a divinity student, he was attracted to mathematics and physics, becoming an astronomer, political writer, and, according to some, one of the greatest and most influential philosophers of all time. At first a family tutor, he became a lecturer and professor at Konigsberg, attracting many students. A great enlightenment figure, his fame grew immense by his books e.g. Critique of Pure Reason. He outlined another approach to the traditional metaphysical trio of God, freedom and immortality, summarising his belief in these words: "I had to remove knowledge to make room for faith." He wrote famously of: "The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me as inspiring new and increasing wonder." He died in 1804.

Also on this day: Friedrich Schleiermacher. Friedrich Schleiermacher who died in 1834, was a German theologian noted for helping to unite Reformed and Lutheran churches in Prussia (1817); for his Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers; and for an influential life of Jesus. Schleiermacher's great emphasis on 'feeling' as a religious basis was something of a reaction to the rationalism of his day. He is often regarded as a founder of modern liberal Protestant theology.

Also on this day: Henry Duncan (1774 to 1846), minister at Ruthwell, Dumfriesshire, was something of a scholar, especially gifted in literature and science, who was to become the recognised founder of the Savings Bank Movement. The author of works such as Tales of the Scotch Peasantry, he founded and edited the Dumfries and Galloway Courier and was instrumental in restoring the 8th century Anglian Ruthwell Cross. He received a Doctorate in Divinity from St Andrews University where, as at Glasgow and Edinburgh, he had been educated, and was Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1839. He walked out of the Assembly at the Disruption of 1843 to become the Free Church minister in Ruthwell. To find out more about Henry Duncan visit the Savings Bank Museum at www.savingsbanksmuseum.co.uk/henry_duncan.

Also on this day: Alexander Duff died in 1878, the first Scots missionary to India, where he was noted as being a great and successful educator, combining scripture, western science and literature. Duff College became the prototype for missionary colleges. His address Missions the Chief End of the Christian Church was given at the Church of Scotland General Assembly (1839) and widely printed. An author and founder of The Calcutta Review, Duff, who became Free Church Moderator, remained passionate for missionary work and founded the Chair of Missions at New College in Edinburgh.

13 February: Charles Schulz

Charles Schulz who died in 2000 was a popular American strip-cartoonist best known for Peanuts with its portrayals of the problems and perplexities of life through the eyes of Charlie Brown and friends, a character based on its creator. Schultz was also a Sunday School teacher.

Also on this day: Priscilla, Dorcas and Phoebe. These women were three of the most notable presences in the early church. Priscilla, a tent maker like Paul, who was also wife of Aquila, is mentioned six times in the New Testament. Both were compelled to leave Rome by the decree of Emperor Claudius. Dorcas (or Tabitha) was well known for her charitable acts in Joppa (Acts 9:36). On her death Peter made a special journey to be at her funeral. She is the only woman disciple to be so called in the New Testament. Phoebe's name starts the roll call of prominent Christians in the last chapter of Romans (16) and is referred to as 'holding office' in the congregation.

14 February: Valentine

Valentine may have been a Roman Christian priest or bishop of Turni, both of whom were martyred in the late fourth century. Neither is in any way connected with romantic love, but, as their day falls on that associated with the supposed mating of birds (some say), Valentine's Day has been related to the love theme! Others suggest that with the Roman festival of Lupercalia coinciding with the day of commemoration, the customs of the festival became confused with the memory of the saints.

15 February: Shaftesbury

Shaftesbury (seventh Earl) Anthony Ashley Cooper was an English evangelical and a social reformer largely responsible for acts of parliament for limiting working hours, prohibiting underground working of women and children, providing lodging houses for the poor, improving the care of lunatics, etc. He was prominent in support of ragged schools and was a supporter of Florence Nightingale and missions. He died on this day in 1885.

16 February: James Renwick

James Renwick, born in Moniaive, Dumfriess-shire, and educated at Edinburgh and Groningen universities, was the last of the covenanting martyrs. Witnessing the execution of Donald Cargill and 'converted' to the covenanting cause, this kindly, sensitive man of indifferent health but resolute spirit ultimately came to lead the group often called the Cameronians, but officially the United Societies, but after many adventures was caught, declaring as he climbed to the Grassmarket scaffold in Edinburgh (1688) that: "Each step was a step nearer God." He was just 26, though with a wisdom and maturity beyond his years.

18 February: Martin Luther

Martin Luther died on this day in 1546 in Eisleben, the place where he was born on 10 November 1483. A German Augustinian monk and university teacher, his re-discovery of the doctrine of justification by faith, and his revulsion at the corruption in the church, led to his 95 theses (31 October 1517) at Wittenberg which was critical of the sale of indulgences (a system caricatured in the verse when a coin into the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs).

Luther's act, essentially calling for academic debate, precipitated the Protestant Reformation, with Luther going on to attack the doctrinal system of Rome. He has been described as a warm, down to earth, yet resolute man, declaring before an imperial council: "Here I stand, I can do no other." Under the protection of the Elector of Saxony he escaped the consequences of an imperial ban and went to translate the scriptures-influencing the German language. A powerful hymn writer, for example Ein' feste Burg ist unser Gott (a safe stronghold is our God), Luther was a very considerable scholar, writing many commentaries which are still consulted. His lively positive faith attracted many followers. To find out more about the life of Martin Luther www.susanlynnpeterson.com/luther/home.

Also on this day: Michelangelo (1475 to 1564)was a brilliant figure in Italian Renaissance art. Besides being a considerable architect and poet, he remains one of the world's greatest sculptors (for example his David, Moses and Pietas) and painters (for example The Sistine Chapel in Rome). Michelangelo had outstanding skill and imagination, prodigious energy and devotion in and to his various tasks, which were almost entirely commissioned by and for the church. An absolute genius in his field, his work is breath-taking and inspirational.

Also on this day: 'Pilgrim's Progress' by John Bunyan was published on this day in 1678.

19 February: Miles Coverdale

Miles Coverdale, who died in 1568, was an English Augustinian friar and then a secular priest embracing Protestantism. In exile for his zealous belief he somewhat freely translated the first English Bible from the Latin Vulgate. Though Tyndale, with whom he had co-operated, was much better and more influential in translation, Coverdale's work is evident in the King James Version and more so in his melodious Psalter that has enriched Anglican worship. A bishop of Exeter at the time of Edward VI, he was again an exile during the reign of Mary Tudor (Mary I, Queen of England). On his return under Elizabeth I his Puritanism, of which movement he became a leader, prevented the resumption of the post. He continued, however, to serve in a London parish being especially acclaimed for his sermons.

22 February: Westminster Assembly

The Westminster Assembly ended on this day in 1649, having given rise to the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Westminster Directory of Public Worship, and having contributed substantially to a new metrication of the Psalms. The first and the last are still part of Church of Scotland life today, while the Directory's influence is still in the background of its worship practices.

23 February: Boisil

Boisil (alternative date 7 July) was the seventh century abbot of Melrose. He was acclaimed for his learning, holiness, and prophetic abilities. He attracted and influenced Cuthbert. He gave his name to St Boswell's.

26 February: John 'Rabbi' Duncan

John 'Rabbi' Duncan was an Aberdeen shoemaker's son who became a restless divinity student. After an encounter in Geneva, he embraced Christianity more wholeheartedly, describing himself as "a philosophical sceptic who has taken refuge in theology." He established the Scottish Mission to Budapest Jews (1840) and helped invigorate the Hungarian Reformed Church. Later as Hebrew professor at New College (he was one of those who formed the Free Church at the Disruption) he was noted for his Talmudic style aphorisms, his encyclopaedic knowledge and thirst for it, his eloquence in the pulpit, his considerable wisdom, and for his absentmindedness and eccentricities. He died in 1870.

27 February: George Herbert

George Herbert (also commemorated on 1 March), who died in 1633, seemed by his connections, education, and ability to be set for a worldly career. However, he took holy orders, under Archbishop Laud, and exercised a very short but saintly ministry as rector of Bemerton, Wiltshire, dying, a consumptive, at 39. He is noted as a fine metaphysical poet who described his work as "a picture of the many spiritual conflicts passed between God and my soul before I could subject mine to the will of Jesus my master, in whose service I have now found perfect freedom." Many of his poems have become hymns, for example numbers 361, 364 and 693 in Church Hymnary: Third Edition.

Also on this day: John McLeod Campbell was deposed by the General Assembly in 1832 as minister of Row (modern Rhu), Dunbartonshire, for his universalism (Christ's death has secured pardon for all in this life) but continued to exercise a quiet independent ministry. A saintly man, he is specially noted for his influential The Nature of the Atonement (1856), where the atonement is unconnected to law but in God the Father's will to reclaim his erring children-repentance being the key to the new relationship. Campbell's scholarship was acknowledged in a doctorate from Glasgow and his insights are now part of the doctrinal mainstream. McLeod Campbell died in 1872.

Also on this day: Rikki Fulton was one of Scotland's most versatile recent actors. He was also a playwright and played the piano to concert standard. Although taking serious roles on stage and in film, it was as a comedy actor that many know him best, not least as the spoof Late Caller the Rev I. M. Jolly, in which he allowed and enabled the church and its ministry to laugh at its worst absurdities. Yet, as is so often the case, the comedian masks a person of deep seriousness. Fulton might be commemorated not just for his public achievements but as the 'patron saint' of the many who ask questions of church and faith or even hurl their anger at God with the vehemence of the Psalmist. It was not until the age of 67 that this questioning man was baptised. He died in 2004.

28 February: Wilfrid Grenfell

Wilfrid Grenfell, who died in 1940, was a physician and surgeon who also qualified as a ship's master. He is notable for pioneering medical missionary work begun in 1892 in Labrador. He established hospitals and orphanages among the Inuit, and also enabled ships of the fleets in the fishing grounds to become equipped to cope with medical problems. He was knighted in 1927.

Also on this day: Bishop Wardlaw founded the University of St Andrews in 1410 to 1411 in response to French universities becoming closed to Scottish scholars following the withdrawal of France's support for the anti-pope Benedict XIII.

Also on this day: The National Covenant was signed on this day in 1638. The document was triggered in part by the King's attempt to force 'Laud's Liturgy' on the Scottish people and was intended to appeal for wide support, an aim which was certainly met, although it was some 50 years before its primary demand was met, namely freedom for the Kirk from royal or state control. In spite of its sound legal foundation and respectful address to the King, Charles I condemned its contents as "impertinent and damnable demands." Initially signed in the kirkyard of Greyfriars' in Edinburgh, copies travelled the length and breadth of the country.

Also on this day: Martin Bucer began his adult life as a member of the Dominican order but was released from his vows after being persuaded by the views of Martin Luther. After the death of Zwingli, he became the leader of the Reformed churches in Switzerland and South Germany. He later became regius professor of Divinity at Cambridge and had much influence on the development of Anglican practice. He died in 1551.

29 February: Patrick Hamilton

Patrick Hamilton was the first Scottish Protestant martyr. A scholar and composer with royal connections, also holding the title abbot of Fearn, he was exposed to the teachings of Erasmus and Luther at the University of Paris where (1520) he was a 'magister' i.e. master. He returned to study and teach at St Andrews and possibly became a priest. Beginning to show banned Lutheran sympathies he went to Wittenberg and Marburg and returned to preach the new doctrines and write short theses, Patrick's Places, emphasising the doctrine of justification by faith. Trial before archbishop James Beaton led to his condemnation - an earlier enquiry had led to the conversion of Alexander Alane, his inquisitor (as Alesius to become an able academic in Europe). He was burnt at the stake in St Andrews in 1528. It was said by John Knox that "the reek of Maister Patrik Hammyltoun has infected as many as it blew upon." One of his compositions, which does not survive, was a Mass in nine voices.