Stirling was strategically important as a key bridging point on the River Forth, overlooked by a steep-sided, defendable rock, which today supports an impossible castle. The rock has been occupied from earliest times although the earliest archaeological evidence of fortifications date from the 11th Century, around the time that Margaret was Queen of Scotland.
The first Catholics in Stirling may have arrived soon after the Roman Legions which crossed the River Forth at Kildean in the first century (maybe 75 AD) marching North. Their crossing place lies across the road from where Saint Margaret’s stands today. Later Roman incursions would certainly have included Christians over the next three hundred years and the faith would have been brought to the local Celtic peoples by travelling missionaries. It was written that Pope Victor sent missionaries to Scotland in 203 but there is no period evidence of this.
In 402, Saint Ninian is recorded as building the first stone church in Scotland (at Whithorn) as a base for missionary journeys in Scotland and Ireland. He was a Romano/Briton who came from a Christian family in Galloway and then travelled to Rome in the late 300's where he was ordained a bishop. His Mission to the ‘Picts’ is visible in the place-names of Scotland. Near Stirling there are many names derived from Ninian’s mission from the Saint Ninian’s Roundabout to places named after the earliest church sites (ecclesia), shown by ‘eccles/eagles’ names such as Gleneagles. Soon after, in around 452, Saint Ternan founded the abbey of Culross on the River Forth east of Stirling.
From around 503 the kingdom of Dalriada emerged, linking Western Scotland with Northern Ireland. As part of the Dulriadan connection, Saint Columba arrived from Ireland in 563 AD, founding the community in Iona and preaching the Gospel in the West and North of Scotland.
In around 750, another Christian from Dalriada, Saint Modan, was preaching the Gospel around Stirling and Falkirk. He is the patron saint of our secondary school.
The original Celtic inhabitants (the Picts) with his own Scots and elevated Dunkeld as the prime See (in 908 AD Saint Andrew’s took over, with Bishop Cellach as the Primate of Scotland)
Queen Margaret sponsored the development of a protected pilgrims route from the South to Saint Andrew’s using a ferry across the river at Queensferry (where the Forth Bridge stands today)
The Church of the Holy Rude was built on an earlier church site in 1124, being later rebuilt in 1460, following the great fire which destroyed most of Stirling (Churches named after the Holy Cross were often dedicated by returning crusaders). The church was used by the townsfolk and contained beautifully decorated individual chapels supported by different craft guilds to honour their patron saints.
The interiors of the church were destroyed as part of the reformation but even today the great ancient bell on display in the Holy Rude bears the Catholic prayer known as ‘Hail Mary’ so we can see evidence of the beliefs of the people in mediaeval times
Ave Maria gratia plena Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu.
Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with you.
Saint Margaret’s son (King David I) established the Augustinian Abbey at Cambuskenneth in 1147, the ruins of this building are a couple of miles across the River Forth from our modern Saint Margaret’s. In its time this was a thriving centre of the community but was destroyed after the reformation. There were two other monastic communities in the Twelve Hundreds. The Greyfriars (Franciscans) were on the site now occupied by the Highland Hotel and the Blackfriars (Dominicans) were on the site of today’s Railway Station - they were linked by Friars Street, their church was to the north of Station Road.
An Act of King David II protected the property of pilgrims when they visited Jerusalem, Rome or Santiago de Compostella, the Shrine of Saint James. A church in Stirling was dedicated to Saint James by returning pilgrims and scallop shell badges (the sign of a returning pilgrim) have been recovered nearby Perth and on the Isle of May.
In 1300 Pope Boniface III supervised a peace treaty between Scotland and England, before this Pope Clement III had clarified the separate authority of the Scottish bishops to organise the church in Scotland. Following the famous Scots victory at Bannockburn in 1314 the Scottish nobles sent The Declaration of Arbroath ‘for freedom’ to Pope John XXII who recognised Robert the Bruce as king of an independent Scotland.
The Stirling-born composer Robert Carver wrote the beautiful Mass setting ‘Dum sacrum mysterium’ for the coronation of the infant James V in the Chapel Royal at Stirling Castle in 1513.
The reformation saw John Knox hectoring the Catholic Mary Queen of Scots in Holy Rude in 1567 when her young son was crowned James VI. The leaders of society ensured that the, still Catholic, Chapel Royal was not used for this event.
The role of the Scottish Bishops in maintaining a separate national identity over centuries is often ignored; they did not want to be ordained by the Archbishop of York and held out for many centuries. The reformation deposed these Bishops and Scotland was united with England within fifty years.
In 1686 King James (II of England, VII of Scotland) was driven from the throne. With the last Catholic ruler of the Stuart dynasty gone, anti-Catholic legislation became severe. Worship became increasingly difficult, pilgrimages were made illegal, Catholic families lost their property.
Stirling had few locally-born adherents to the old faith by 1713 when the Jacobite supporters of King James passed by following the nearby Battle of Sherriffmuir. The highlanders came again in 1745 (Catholocism had continued in the Highlands and parts of the Western Isles) but again failed to overthrow the government.
In 1829, as part of the re-emancipation of Catholics, most anti-Catholic measures were removed from law and Catholic churches were again built in Scotland.
A new Catholic church was built in Stirling in 1838 and was again consecrated to the Blessed Virgin. This church (Saint Mary’s) was the centre of a growing Catholic community, its ‘founding father’ was Father Paul Maclachlan who had earlier served the whole of Stirlingshire moving between houses and rented halls.
The Holy See restored the Diocese of Saint Andrew’s and Edinburgh in 1878, appointing Bishop Strain to lead the diocese.
The local regiment (The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders) has been based in Stirling Castle for well over a century. Catholics have comprised around a third of the regiment over that period and also its heroes. Interestingly, the only VC winner commemorated with a brass plaque in the Holy Rude Church is Aiden Liddell (‘A Fine Catholic Gentleman’) who saved his co-pilot but died of wounds on Saint Aiden’s day (31st August) 1915.
After the Second World War, the town spread outwards and a new community was established in the area known as the Raploch. This community was to be served by a new church dedicated to Saint Margaret of Scotland which was established in 1951.
Saint Margaret of Scotland
& Holy Spirit
Roman Catholic Parishes in Stirling, Scotland
The old town seal that depicts
the Battle of Stirling Bridge.