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

On Sunday, Nov. 27, at the 10 a.m. service, St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church will celebrate the Feast of St. Andrew, patron saint of Scotland, with its annual Kirkin’ of the Tartans.

“Kirk” is a Gaelic word meaning “church,” and in this case “kirking the tartans” is a blessing of the plaid tartans worn by individual Scottish clans.

This custom has interesting roots, the earliest speculation dating back to 1745, when “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” Prince Charles Edward Stewart, returned from exile in France to Scotland and attempted to rally the clans to overthrow King George II of England and restore the throne to the Royal House of Stewart. His unsuccessful attempt brought on the Act of Proscription to subdue the Highlanders. This act banned the wearing of any sign of the Tartan, forbade any speaking in Gaelic, outlawed Scottish music, dancing, and the playing of the pipes. The Scottish Highlanders subsequently hid pieces of 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.

This story, however, is unsubstantiated by Scots themselves. It is more likely that the custom actually originated in the United States when The Rev. Peter Marshall, the first chaplain to the U.S. Senate, a man born in Scotland and who bore a proud Scottish heritage, sought to rally Scottish-Americans to aid the British during World War II. To instill pride in them for their Scottish homeland, Marshall created the ceremony of “The Kirkin’ of the Tartans.” This ceremony originated in the Presbyterian church, but is widely celebrated in other denominations as well. It became a traditional service at the National Cathedral in 1954 in honor of St. Andrew’s Day and in thanksgiving for the work of Peter Marshall.

Episcopalians owe a special debt of gratitude to the Scots for helping to create The Episcopal Church in the United States. Following the Revolutionary War, the Episcopal Church was in danger of dying out in the colonies. Though many of the colonists still considered themselves worshipers in the traditions of the Church of England, the only way the Church of England would allow new priests to be ordained was by a bishop in England. Postulates for ordination were forced to return to England to study and be ordained, then travel back to the colonies to establish a parish. Additionally, priests ordained in England would be forced to swear loyalty to the King of England. With the separation from English rule, this became extremely problematic for the American colonists. The colonies needed their own bishop, but the constraints of the Church of England made it impossible. Ultimately, The Scottish Episcopal Church came to the rescue by consecrating Bishop Samuel Seabury to be the first Episcopal bishop in the United States, and thus allowing the Episcopal Church of the United States to be formed and its traditions to survive to this day.

St. Patrick’s celebrates the Kirkin’ of the Tartans in honor of St. Andrew’s Day with a procession played by Jim Dorian on the bagpipes and the singing of “Amazing Grace.” Those who wish to bring their family clan tartan may bring them to the altar during the service to be blessed. A reception featuring delicious Scottish food will follow the service in the parish hall.

St. Patrick’s is located at 225 S. Pagosa Blvd. All are welcome to attend this 10 a.m. service to honor our Scottish clans.

For more information call 731-5801, or visit the church website at

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