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The attempts of the Stuarts to reclaim their throne which ended so tragically at Culloden resulted in the vigour of the penal laws being refuelled and the 18th century was a difficult time for both Catholics and Episcopalians.
By the end of the 18th century, however, relief acts first of all gave Episcopalians and then, in 1793, Catholics, freedom to worship, own property and transfer it without hindrance to their heirs. Full Catholic emancipation came in 1829.
Not since Archbishop James Beaton had there been a resident Catholic Bishop in Glasgow. Bishop Andrew Scott took up his residence in the city in 1827 having previously (since 1808) served a small but growing Catholic community with a chapel in the Calton.
Foreseeing the need of a permanent chapel for this congregation as immigration steadily increased the Catholic population, he obtained a virgin site, then on the edge of the City next to the Poorhouse and Infirmary, and had James Gillespie Graham build St Andrew’s Chapel between 1814 and 1816.
I recall an occasion in Aberdeen when the choir of St Machar’s Cathedral visited us at St Mary’s. When a younger member of it asked about our cathedral’s age, I replied 1860. She responded with surprise: “I thought Catholics would have had a Cathedral earlier than that!”.
This reply drew from an older member, with a slightly embarrassed smile, the sentence: “Yes – they did but we now have it!”.
In fact neither St Mary’s in Aberdeen, nor St Andrew’s were built as Cathedrals – though there may have been the hope that some day they might have that dignity. They were constructed as parish churches, or chapels as was the parlance in Scotland, parlance which may not have disappeared entirely. Do we not still call many of the homes of priests “chapel houses”?
Indeed the story goes around of the wee Glasgow wifie, telling my predecessor after a visit to St Peter’s Basilica in Rome that she had left her umbrella behind in the chapel!