Wigtownshire Pages, Articles, History

The Wigtownshire Pages

The Church in Scotland

by Crawford MacKeand
The forerunner of all Scottish Christianity was the monastic Celtic Church, identified in its early period with Ninian in Whithorn about 400 AD, and acknowledging only its own direct link with Rome. From about 1100 AD, as community with other Western churches came about, bishops played an increasing role in church government. But from the mid 1500s the Reformation in Scotland moved the Church away from its Roman connections. Now individual "heresies" were replaced by widespread informed dissent.

From 1560, Calvinist and presbyterian forms came to the fore. While bishoprics were restored in 1610 and again from 1662, after the Settlement of 1690 the Scottish Reformation was the most complete in Europe, though far from unanimous, except against Rome. Especially in our area, the South-West, throughout the 17th. century, Covenanters strove for more puritan ideals. As a principle, Presbyterianism was now entrenched, and it was 'guaranteed' in the Union of Scotland with England in 1707.

Nonetheless, internal disagreements continued. Some favored state support, and the Relief Church, opposing it, separated in 1761. Evangelicals, with once again a more puritan approach, disfavored patronage. This had been restored by the Westminster government in 1712, local magnates choosing ministers instead of congregations. The culmination was "The Disruption" of 1843, when 470 ministers, some two-thirds of the total, left the Established Church of Scotland with their elders and laity, and formed the Free Church of Scotland, the "Wee Frees". Although patronage was abolished in 1874, no major reconciliation was achieved until 1929. As a practical and genealogical matter, the Disruption resulted in gaps in many parish records -- often very difficult to bridge -- between 1843 and the start of Civil Registration in 1855.
Crawford MacKeand
Greenville, Delaware USA, Feb 2002