Friday, July 31, 2015

Ministers in Berriedale and Public Penance - Article XI - Rambling Recollections of Berriedale, Badbea, & Neighbourhood – Part B

Article XI written by Alexander Gunn aka A Native of Badbea was printed in the Northern Ensign on 29 January 1880 – Part B

“Mr Cook was succeeded in Berriedale by Mr McLauchlan, who was the first to occupy the new manse and the new church. From him I heard the first sermon, of which I have not the least recollection, but I remember what I saw, if I forget what I heard. A young man and a young woman were that day doing penance publicly, by standing up in presence of the whole congregation and submitting to public rebuke from the minister.”

illus-131 repentance stool from Old Greyfriars Edinburgh
Source: Book of Curious Punishments of Bygone Days, by Alice Morse Earle. A repentance stool from old Grey Friars, Edinburgh

“That is a scene I could never forget. Such scenes are not to be seen in these times, but that is no proof that the sin for which this discipline was used has disappeared from amongst us. The matter is got over in a quieter and more private manner now a days."

"Mr McLauchlan was a very fine, affable, kindly person, and a tolerably good preacher, but he was not such an evangelical preacher as his predecessor. He was succeeded by Mr Campbell, who was well known to the present generation - a most amiable, kind, and simple-minded man - but not a great preacher. His other qualities, however, endeared him very much to the people under his charge.”

My Comments:
  • The new Berriedale church was completed in 1826. Alexander Gunn was born in 1820 so he was a very young boy when the Rev D. McLauchlan publicly rebuked the young couple and made such an impression on him.
  • Doing penance might seem a curious custom to us, but it was taken very seriously by the Church of Scotland. Adulterers, fornicators, drunkards, slanderers and Sabbath breakers could all be bought before the church. The penance usually involved the public humiliation before the whole congregation of the person or persons concerned, by admonition from the minister or elders. The offenders then had to make a public confession and to profess their repentance. Different parishes had slightly different practices for penance. For some the penance involved wearing a repentance gown of sackcloth or sitting in a special chair or stool under the pulpit, facing the congregation.

Sackcloth repentance garment
  • The ‘sins’ of unchastity or fornication were particularly punished, although the infant born would eventually be brought into the church family. The father’s name would be recorded but if the father was unknown to the minister, the mother would be put under a lot of pressure to name him. The record of the christening of the baby would often use words such as “natural”, “antenuptual”, “in fornication”, “begot out of wedlock”, which has followed the baby from that day to this. In contrast, regular christening records would often state the child was the lawful son/daughter of…


  • There was another layer of “governance” in the kirk – the “Kirk Session” which was composed of the minister and the elders and dealt with the moral behaviour of the parishioners and other matters eg poor relief or the provision of schooling in the parish. Minutes were kept of Session meetings - some of which are available to read in Scotland or on microfilms but are not yet distributed on the internet unfortunately.

The Ordination of Elders in a Scottish Kirk by Henry Lorimer 1891
This seems a solemn occasion, but to be brought before such a group of men to be disciplined would be very intimidating indeed I have no doubt.

29 1 1880 NE (Article XI) part A2 copy copy

1879, 17 July NE Original 1 copy B

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