A Second Journey: Reformation Tour Through Edinburgh, Part 2

Just outside of the courthouse is a parking lot, with a small plaque on one spot marking the grave of… can you believe it, John Knox. The burial place of one of Scotland’s most prominent character’s of its history, most notably church history, is now a parking space. There wasn’t even a plaque to mark the spot until quite recently! His original burial marker does survive in Saint Gile’s Cathedral, just around the corner. First established in the 12th century, Saint Giles was once a Catholic place of worship, but became a Presbyterian church during the Scottish reformation in the 1500s, and was under the pastoral care of John Knox.
Greyfriars Kirk Yard was our next destination. It is most famous for its ghost stories and Greyfriars Bobbie, a small dog who sat on his owners grave for years after his owner died and was buried there. It is highly significant for covenanter history. It was the location of the first signing of the National Covenant; we sat on the very grave where it was laid to be signed and took a picture together there. It was also the make-shift prison for 1200 protestant prisoners after the battle of Bothwell Bridge in 16 something. With no prison that could accommodate such a large number, the authorities placed the 1200 in a gated area within Greyfriars Kirk Yard. The prisoners stayed there, behind that gate, with no shelter and very little food for four months. By the time those months had passed, three quarters of them had died off due to exposure and starvation. The remaining quarter was sold to a merchant as slaves.
One of the more notable graves at Greyfriars Kirk is that of Alexander Henderson, who was another giant of the Scottish faith. Henderson was a protestant preacher who died of natural causes, before a king, who very much disliked him, was able to finish him off. Frustrated, said king ordered that soldiers go to his grave and destroy it as best they could. Evidently, the soldiers thought the task rather silly and gave only a half-hearted attempt at demolishing it, as it still stands, granted with quite a few scars from sword slashes and musket balls.
Lastly, we went to the Grass market, a center of trade in Edinburgh as well as the place of execution for many criminals, which included over a hundred covenanters. For some, their only crime was attending a church field meeting, or carrying a Bible. Their bodies are buried along with the other criminals of the time in a mass grave at Greyfriars.
It was heart wrenching and stunning to think of the trust these people had in God. The price of THEIR faith was something more than a few strange looks from coworkers or snide comments about one’s belief in traditional marriage. These covenanters were prepared to sacrifice their farms, family, physical comfort/well-being, and their very lives to glorify God by clinging to His promises. Merely possessing a Bible risked torture, imprisonment, and execution, and yet, they continued to carry and proclaim God’s word, considering it of much greater value even than the breath in their bodies. Now, their testimony stands firm and bright as a lighthouse, beaming through centuries and circumstance to shed light on Scotland’s spiritual situation today, and encourage saints all over the world to remain steadfast and stalwart in God’s word, no matter where or when.
I am certainly encouraged, and I hope you are too.

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.