“DR, DAVID PATRICK of Edinburgh has drawn our attention to the following passage in The Old Irish Life of St. Columba,1 which seems to indicate that the pagan practice of consecration by means of human sacrifice was in full force in the Columban church. It is said that, after landing in Iona, “Colum Cille then said to his people, ‘It is good for us that our roots should go under the ground here.’ And he said to them, ‘It is permitted to you, that some one of you may go under the clay of this island, to consecrate it.’ Odran rose up obediently, and what he said was, ‘If you would accept me,’ said he, ‘I am ready for that.’ ‘O Odran,’ said Colum Cille, ‘thou shalt have the reward therefore, viz., his prayer shall not be granted to any one at my grave, unless it is from thee he asks it first.’ Odran went then to heaven. He (Colum Cille) afterward founded the church of Hii.” In his Notes on Adamnan’s Life, Dr. Reeves refers2 to this as “the curious and not very creditable story of the first Christian performance in Hy,” and he adds: “It is a remarkable fact that the principal, and now only, cemetery in Hy is called the Reilig Orain [Cemetery of Odran], after him instead of the patron saint, and has been so for many centuries.”
As the earliest of the texts translated by Hennessey was only “transcribed about the year 1397,” the statements in it may be and probably are entirely traditional. Still, the particular passage quoted is of much interest, in view of the fact that many old buildings throughout Scotland are said to have had their foundation-stones bathed in the blood of a man slain for the occasion. What seems to be peculiar to the Columban instance is that the sacrifice is described as a voluntary one.”
1 Translated by W. Maunsell Hennessey, M.R.I.A. (the quotation being from Skene’s Celtic Scotland, vol. ii. pp. 491-2).
2 At p. 288 of vol. vi. of “The Historians of Scotland,” Edin. 1874.
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“WE can confirm Dr. Patrick’s inference by citing a note from the most recent edition of Adamnan – that by Dr. Fowler for the Clarendon Press, 1894, p. 136 – in which the same conclusion is drawn. Referring to the old Irish story quoted above the editor remarks: “It all but implies that Odhran offered himself to be buried alive – to which local tradition long after added the still more ghastly circumstance that once when the tomb was opened he was found alive and uttering such fearful words that the grave had to be closed immediately.”
The following strange modern instance is also quoted by Dr. Fowler from Carleton’s Traits, &c., 1860 ii. 95. “It is not I believe more than forty or perhaps fifty years since a priest committed his body to the flames for the purpose of saving his soul by an incrematory sacrifice.” This surely savours somewhat of homeopathy! There is, however, proverbial and Shakespearean authority for the proposition that one heat drives out another.”
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“THE fin de siècle pilgrim to Paisley seems to have an inveterate habit of inaccuracy. The Rev. John Charleson will have it that James Crawford, that generous burgess, did wrong in not dedicating to St. Mary the altar he founded in the restored portion of the south transept – and he does it for him. Then what vials of wrath are vented on the poor, harmless wall at the east end of the nave, and all because it is suspected of being post-Reformation. Had the pilgrim only known that it is a pre-Reformation wall – which is the fact – would it not have been described as possessing many of the elements of beauty, if not as reaching the same lofty platform as – what the pilgrim called – the “perfect mediaeval architecture” of the nave? The praise is as injudicious as the censure, for so far from being mediaevally perfect, the architecture of the nave, especially in the triforium and clearstory, is debased to a degree.”
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“THE pilgrim’s description of the new Baptist Church in Paisley was virtually an attack on the tenets of a well-known and respected Christian body. With fundamental points of doctrine, out of which sects have arisen, ecclesiology surely has nothing to do. And the Glasgow Ecclesiological Society, if it is to fulfil the broad purposes for which it was originated, ought officially to disclaim sympathy with utterances so far beyond the limits of its real province. Bigotry can scarcely go farther, or make itself more grotesque, than when it mistakes for universal principles canons of ecclesiastical arrangement expressive merely of its own circumscribed doctrine, and applies them to the criticism of arrangements due to radically different inspirations. Grave fault must also be found with the conception that Gothic architecture is synonymous with Roman Catholicism. Except to those who are given over wholly to sentimental inference, Gothic architecture is known as the outcome of a long process of evolution from classic art. The process was unconscious; race had a vast deal to do with it; doctrine and dogma nothing whatever.”
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“IT is to be feared that there still prevails a very general belief in witchcraft. The continued faith reposed with more or less seriousness in fortune-telling is not otherwise explainable. It is for the most part a mild and not very harmful faith, but it has unfortunately not lost its ancient possibilities of ferocity. The recent horrible Irish story shews that the survival of a superstition may, even in this boasted century, lead to murder. That at this time of day a woman should have been, with the slow torture of fire, put to death as a witch at the hands of active and in presence of a number of passive relatives is a terrible proof that much of our civilisation is only skin deep. The event is dreadful to think of; notwithstanding, the logic of human history makes it only too plain that ignorance and bigotry are bound to issue in brutality.”
[The incident referred to in the above Journal entry.]
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“THE barefooted children to be seen in swarms any summer day in the country schools of Scotland have always stirred, somewhat unnecessarily it must be said, the sympathy of English tourists unaccustomed to such things, and regarding them as convincing evidences of poverty. As matter fact, of course, they are no such thing. Scores of middle-class children to this day regard it as a hardship that they are not allowed to imitate their humbler fellow pupils in rural schools by doffing their socks and “skelpin’ barefit ower the green.” The spectacle of people going barefoot to save the shoes and stockings carried in a bundle over the shoulder, is doubtless becoming rarer, as shewn in a paper read at Dumfries lately and reported elsewhere, but it has long been regarded as a national characteristic. The custom goes back at least to the 12th century, if we may trust Carlyle’s hero, Abbot Samson, who, when journeying homeward from Rome in 1183, donned, according to his own account, the garb of a Scot. It was the time of the schism between Pope Alexander and Pope Octavian, and there was grave danger attending the passage of an Englishman through territory subject to the sway of the Octavian faction. Hence the Scottish disguise adopted by Samson, who himself is recorded by Jocelin of Brakelond (ed. Camden Society, p. 35) as describing how he carried his old shoes on his shoulders in the manner of the Scots – et etiam sotulares veteres quos super humeros portavi as consuetudinem Scottorum. Not every national habit can lay claim to countenance so ancient and so respectable.”