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30 November: St Andrew, Dr Johnson and the Scottish mission

Doctor Johnson, on his 18th Century tour of Scotland, got into a discussion about Catholics. There were thousands of Catholics in the Highlands and Islands, served by missionary priests largely trained overseas; a seminary in the Highlands was illegal and repeatedly destroyed. Johnson was misinformed about where the Catholics were, but it would not be long before many were driven out during the Clearances, though Johnson would not have seen that coming.

Roads were poor or non-existent; to cross this loch would have meant hiring a rowing boat or sailing vessel, there was no telephoning ahead to warn people a priest was coming, and he was a more or less tolerated outlaw. He was, however, a worthy son of Saint Andrew, patron of Scotland.


“There is in Scotland, as among ourselves, a restless suspicion of popish machinations, and a clamour of numerous converts to the Romish religion.  The report is, I believe, in both parts of the Island equally false.  The Romish religion is professed only in Egg and Canna, two small islands, into which the Reformation never made its way.  If any missionaries are busy in the Highlands, their zeal entitles them to respect, even from those who cannot think favourably of their doctrine.” (from “Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland” by Samuel Johnson)

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Filed under Christian Unity, Daily Reflections, Mission, PLaces