12th of May

Saints Nereus and Achilleus, martyrs, 2nd century. St Flavia Domitilla, 2nd century. St Pancras, martyr, 304. St Pancras, after whom many churches are called, in Italy, France, and Spain, and whose name designates a parish in London, was a Roman youth of only fourteen at the time of his martyrdom under Diocletion.

Born. – John Bell, eminent anatomist, 1763, Edinburgh; General Sir George Cathcart, 1784.



The beautiful collegiate church, commonly called chapel, of Roslin, near Edinburgh, which Britton allows to combine the solidity of the Norman with the finest tracery and ornamentation of the Tudor period, a gem of architectural beauty, and so entire that it has lately been refitted as a place of worship for an episcopalian congregation, used to be shewn, in the earlier years of this century, by a venerable crone named Annie Wilson, of whom a counterfeit presentment is here given, borrowed from the sober pages of the Gentleman’s Magazine (September 1817). You obtained from Annie a sort of cottage version of the legends of the place: how the barons of Roslin were always buried in mail – how when any evil or death was about to befall one of them, ‘the chaipel aye appeared on fire the nicht afore’ – how Sir William Sinclair’s dog saved his master’s life by bringing down a stag ‘afore it crossed the March-burn,’ and all the puffy accounts of the former dignity of the Sinclairs of Roslin, which their relative, Father Hay, has put on record. Mrs Wilson also gave her numerous visitors an account, not quite in the manner of Pugin or Willis, of the details of the architecture – the site of the high altar – the ‘star in the east’ hanging from a drop in the groining over it – the seven acts of mercy and the seven deadly sins, carved on two lintels in the aisle – the legend on a stone, ‘Strong is wine, stronger is the king, stronger are women, but above all truth conquers’ – the mural tablet and epitaph of the Earl of Caithness, of the Latin of which she made sad havoc; all this in a monotonous voice, and without pauses, somewhat to the discomfiture of the hearers, who, however, never interrupted Annie with a question but they had reason to regret it, for she then recommenced her sing-song recital, and gave it all over again, it being impossible for her to resume the broken thread of her discourse. 


Mrs Wilson’s strong point was the Apprentice’s Pillar. ‘There ye see it, gentlemen, with the lace bands winding sae beautifully roond aboot it. The maister had gane awa to Rome to get a plan for it, and while he was awa his ‘prentice made a plan himself and finished it. And when the maister cam back and fand the pillar finished, he was sae enraged that he took a hammer and killed the ‘prentice. There you see the ‘prentice’s face – up there in ae corner, wi’ a red gash in the brow, and his mother greeting for him in the corner opposite. And there, in another corner, is the maister, as he lookit just before he was hanged; it’s him wi’ a kind o’ ruff roond his face,’ with a great deal more of the like twaddle, which Annie had told for fifty years without ever hearing a word of it doubted, and never once doubting it herself. 


The ‘Prentice’s Pillar of Roslin is really a most beautiful specimen of Gothic tracery – a thing standing out conspicuously where all is beautiful. Viewing its exquisite workmanship, we need not wonder that such a story as that of the incensed master and his murder of the apprentice should be told regarding it. We have to fear, however, that, notwithstanding the faces of the master, the apprentice, and the apprentice’s mother, exhibited on the walls, there is no real foundation for the tale. What chiefly gives cause for this apprehension is, that similar stories are told regarding particular pieces of work in other Gothic churches. In Lincoln cathedral, for example, there is a specially fine circular transept window, concerning which the verger tells you that an apprentice was the fabricator of it in the absence of his master, who, mortified at being so outdone, put an end to his own (not the apprentice’s) existence in consequence. So also, in the cathedral of Rouen, there are two rose windows in the respective transepts, both fine, but one decidedly finer than the other. The guide’s story is, that the master architect and his pupil strove which should plan the finest window. The pupil produced the north window, which proved ‘plus belle que celle du midi,’ and the humiliated master revenged himself by killing the pupil. We do not hear that in any of these cases there is any tangible memorial of the event, as at Roslin. How, it may be asked, should there be memorials of the event in that case, if the event be a fiction? We do not see that there is much force in this query. The faces, which are mere masks at the points in the architecture where such objects are commonly given, and not solitary objects (for there are two or three others without any story), may have been modified with a reference to the tale at a date subsequent to that of the building, or the apprentice’s pillar and the faces together might all have been formed at the first, in playful or satirical allusion to similar stories told of previous Gothic churches.*

*  More on the Apprentice’s Pillar in ‘Scotland Illustrated,’ Plate XXXIII.

On this Day in Other Sources.

In April 1561, one George Durie was chosen in Edinburgh as Robin Hood and Lord of Inobedience, and on Sunday the 12th of May, he and a great number of other persons came riotously into the city, with an ensign and arms in their hands, in disregard of both the act of parliament and an act of the town-council. Notwithstanding an effort of the magistrates to turn them back, they passed to the Castle-hill, and thence returned at their own pleasure. For this offence a cordiner’s servant, named James Gillon, was condemned to be hanged on the 21st of July. 

– Domestic Annals, pp.13-29.

That odious man, immediately, commenced an action of divorce against his wife; and, she, with equal alacrity, brought a suit, for her divorce, against her husband. These several actions of divorce, as there was no strong objections, were soon decided. The Queen was induced to give a written assent to the odious declaration of the peers, and prelates, before mentioned. The banns of marriage were now published, by John Craig, one of the Edinburgh ministers, though with some reluctance. On the 12th of May [1567], she was brought into the court of session; and made a declaration of her good mind towards Bothwell. She created him Duke of Orkney. 

– Life of Mary, pp.155-184.

Bothwell had been married to Lady Jane Gordon about a year before, and it was necessary that he should be divorced from her before he could marry the queen. In a civil court erected by royal authority sentence of divorce was pronounced against Bothwell at the instance of his wife on the 3d of May, and in a church court, two days later, the Archbishop of St. Andrews and several other clergy, whom the queen had commissioned for the purpose, gave decree of divorce on the ground that they were too nearly related. After this the marriage was hurried on. Bothwell was made Duke of Orkney on the 12th of May, [1567,] and on the 15th, three months after the murder of her late husband, he was married to the queen according to the Protestant form in the council chamber at Holyrood. 

– A History of Scotland, Chapter XIV. 

   The sums mortified for the purposes of education, and placed under the management of the magistrates and council, are large, amounting to nearly £34,000. Of these, the Mackintosh endowment is the most important. This institution was endowed conformably to the testament of Captain William Mackintosh, of the Hindostan East Indiaman, who died on the 12th of May, 1803. The object is for educating, in the Inverness academy, boys of the name of Mackintosh, and of the families of Farr. Holm, Dalmigavie, and Kyllachy. The amount of the original bequest was £10,000, but it is now nearly three times that amount.

– Gazetteer of Scotland, Inverness, pp.24-35.

Glasgow Evening Post, Saturday 12th May 1888, p.7.



   Last night two constables brought into the Central Police Office a street woman, named Barbara Keith, residing at 6 Candleriggs, and who had been creating a disturbance by shouting and howling in the Trongate. Three other women accompanied them to the station, and stated that Keith had swallowed a quantity of vitriol in the lodging-house of John McGeachie, at 8 King Street, shortly before the constables had arrested her. Dr. Dalziel, who was in the office, then examined the unfortunate woman, and found that she was suffering from sulphuric acid poisoning. He had her immediately removed to the Royal Infirmary, where she died about 11 p.m. 

Curious Deaths.

Leave a Reply