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St. Patrick’s to celebrate Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans

St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church will celebrate the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans this Sunday, Nov. 29, during its regular Sunday service.

This service is a celebration of Scottish heritage and culture. All participants are encouraged to wear or bring their tartans to church to have them blessed during the service.

“Kirking,” from the Scottish Gaelic work “Kirk” means “church,” and in this application means “blessing.” Tartans, are the traditional plaid emblems of Scottish clans represented in unevenly spaced colored lines and rectangles on woven wool cloth.

The popular legend of the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans is as follows:

On July 25, 1745, the young Prince Charles Edward Stewart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” returned from exile in France and landed at Lochnanaugh in Scotland where he began to enlist the Highland clans for an unsuccessful attempt to dethrone George II of England and to restore the Scottish throne to the royal House of Stewart.

Following this defeat, the Act of Proscription, to subdue the vanquished Highlanders, banned the wearing of any sign of the tartan and outlawed Scottish music, dancing or the playing of pipes. Scots were even forbidden to speak in Gaelic. The Scottish highlanders subsequently hid pieces of the tartan under their clothing and brought them to church for a secret blessing, or kirkin’, at a particular point in the service by the minister.

During the next 36 years following the Disarming Act of 1746, the Hanovarian English government strictly enforced this ban. During the Sunday service highlanders would touch the hidden cloth when the minister gave the benediction, thus rededicating themselves to God and their Scottish heritage.

The irony of this legend is that many people in Scotland don’t know this history about the Kirkin’. A better documented version of the story is that this began as a Scottish American custom.

The Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans service was created or revived during World War II by Rev. Peter Marshall, who was originally from southwest Scotland and at one time was a pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. In 1943, he was the first chaplain of the U.S. Senate.

To encourage Scottish-Americans to sign up to fight on behalf of Great Britain, Marshall recreated the Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans ceremony to try to instill pride among Scottish-American in their Scottish homeland. The ceremony was once only held in Presbyterian churches of Scottish heritage across the United States. Now the ceremony is found in Episcopalian, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Orthodox and other denominations around the world. The modern day celebration, the highlander patriotism, faithfulness and strong independence are remembered by the displaying of tartans and a public parade of the clans to the sound of the bagpipe.

Typically, Kirkin’ o’ the Tartans is celebrated on Reformation Sunday, the last Sunday in October. Kirkin’s are also celebrated on St. Andrew’s Day, (the patron saint of Scotland), on Nov. 30, and Tartan Day on April 6.

St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church, located at 225 S. Pagosa Blvd., invites the community to celebrate this event Sunday Nov. 29, during the regular service at 10 am. (and you don’t have to be Scottish) — accompanied by prayer, scripture, preaching, blessing, bagpipe and of course, the singing of Amazing Grace.