A Second Journey: Reformation Tour Through Edinburgh, Part 1

Note: This was meant to be posted last night, but I just got on my computer and realized that I fell asleep before I could hit the publish button, so here it is now.

Thursday afternoon, we took a bus into Edinburgh City Center and met Jimmy, our reformation tour guide, on the Royal Mile. The Royal Mile is a collection of streets and buildings in the very heart of Edinburgh, from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (which is where the queen stays when in Edinburgh).
We stopped first at the once home of John Knox. John Knox was a major figure in the Scottish reformation of the 1500s. He assisted in composing the Scottish Confession of Faith, and was part of the first general assembly that met in Edinburgh in December of 1560. He was also a champion of public education in Scotland. The corrupt Scottish branch of the Catholic church did not allow their congregations to read the Bible during this time; if the population knew what the Bible really said, they would be much less inclined to offer 50% of their income to priests and bishops who were deliberately distorting and defying God’s Word. Even if the church required each member to own a Bible though, it would have been of little use for those who could not read, or in some cases still, understand Latin. Education was essential, then, to enable the Scottish people to explore God’s written word on their own time. So John Knox, an important guy.
We passed through what would have been Edinburgh’s city gates. Two hundred years ago, these would have led into a completely separate area known as Canongate, with its own rules and tax system. We visited the tollbooth that existed to maintain these taxes and served as a courthouse and prison for the area. The 1591 building is imposing. Rough stone, with iron bars still across the windows. There was no escaping there, and it would certainly have encouraged one to pay one’s taxes on time.
From there we ventured into the church of England where Britain’s current queen still worships when in Edinburgh. From the comments of my friends, the interior was blue and red, and designed in such a way to draw the eye to the cross at the front. I thought that quite significant. It is a statement. No matter who or where we are, our eyes should always be on the cross. The queen’s seat was in one of the front pews, with a rope across it, preventing anyone from disturbing it. I did ignore the rope to touch the plush cushions placed at the queen’s seat, and the small statue of a crown that marked the back of the pew there.
Our next stop was one of my favorites both this and last year. It is a copy of Scotland’s National Covenant, a document drafted in the latter half of 1637, and originally signed by thousands in early 1638. Its aim was to reaffirm Scotland’s commitment to God, His Word, their confession of faith, and emphasized that while they were happy to accept the King as head of their country, and be loyal subjects to him, they refused to recognize him as head of the church, as only Christ could assume that role. Hundreds of copies of this document circulated throughout Scotland, and it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of people put their names to them. There is no real way to be sure, as the King later had most of them destroyed, but 7 or 8 still remain, and the copy we saw Thursday has over 3000 signatures if I remember correctly.
After seeing the document itself, we visited the place where it was composed, a building which now serves as Scotland’s highest court. We were quite honored to go in, as it is not normally available for entry to tourists. We did have to turn our personal belongings over to a guard for inspection, and pass through a metal detector before coming in. Thankfully, all went smoothly.
It is a grand building with high ceilings and a roof constructed purely of timber, no nails or screws involved. It hosts an extensive library (which most of my team were druling over, home schoolers and book worms that they are), and an echoey main hall, lined with 17th century wooden benches. It is tradition that lawyers pace the length of the hall discussing the cases they are working on with one another. We saw two of them doing that very thing as we listened to Jimmy recount the history. There was also a man, dressed in similar smart fashion, talking on a mobile phone and scribbling furiously all the while. Such a strange mixture of ancient and modern.
Well, I’m afraid you’ll be spending the night in the courthouse, as I’m decidedly sleepy. Tomorrow, we shall start with the parking lot outside of the courthouse.

One thought on “A Second Journey: Reformation Tour Through Edinburgh, Part 1

  1. Elizabeth Hobbs says:

    Shea: Your journey reminds me so much of my time in Scotland in 1963. I’m enjoying your journal so very much.
    Elizabeth Hobbs

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