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400th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of St John Ogilvie
Sunday 5th July 2015

On Saturday 4th July 2015 the Catholic Church in Scotland commemorated the 400th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of St John Ogilvie with a National Pilgrimage in small town of Keith in Banffshire, 50 miles north west of Aberdeen.

John Ogilvie, the son of a wealthy Laird, was born into a respected Calvinist family near the town of Keith. In 1592, aged 13, his father hoping that his son would one day become a prominent figure in Scottish affairs, arranged for him to travel to Europe to further his education and his experience of life. However, the path of life that John was to take was not the one that his family had planned.

He travelled widely and studied in France, Germany and Italy, listening to scholars, both Calvinist and Catholic, discussing religion. This proved a source of inspiration. He also attended a number of Catholic educational establishments, under the Benedictines at Regensburg in Germany and with the Jesuits at Olomouc and Brno in the present day Czech Republic.

In the midst of the religious controversies and turmoil that engulfed the Europe of that era, in 1596, aged 17, he was registered as a student at the Scots College of Douai, France, which had been moved at the time to Louvain in Belgium where he was received into the Catholic Church.

He joined the Society of Jesus in 1608 and was ordained a Priest in Paris in 1610. After ordination he made repeated entreaties to be sent back to Scotland to minister to the remaining Catholics. After the Scottish Reformation in 1560 it had become illegal to preach, proselytise for, or otherwise endorse Catholicism.

He returned to Scotland in November 1613, travelling under the assumed name of John Watson, disguised as a soldier returning from European wars looking to turn to horse dealing. Landing at Leith, the port of Edinburgh, he first headed for his native North-east, where the Catholic faith was still flickering under the protection of the powerful Gordon, Earl of Huntly.

He began to preach in secret, celebrating Mass clandestinely in private homes. This task took him south to Edinburgh and Glasgow. However, his ministry was to last less than a year. In 1614, he was betrayed and arrested in Glasgow and taken to jail in Paisley.

He suffered terrible tortures, including being kept awake for eight days and nine nights, in an attempt to make him divulge the identities of other Catholics. Ogilvie did not relent and after a biased trial, was convicted of high treason for refusing to accept the King's spiritual jurisdiction.

A last-minute reprieve of his life and the promise of a substantial sum of money was refused. He declared his loyalty to the King, and made it clear he was dying "for religion alone", adding: "For that, I am prepared to give even a hundred lives." On 10th March 1615, aged 36 years, John Ogilvie was paraded through the streets of Glasgow and hanged at Glasgow Cross.

In the years after his death, Father John Ogilvie was revered as a martyr throughout Europe, wherever his story was told. Following the Reformation, the Catholic Church in Scotland had almost died out. It stayed alive in corners of Scotland, not least in parts of the North-east and especially in John Ogilvie's homeland of Banffshire.

At Scalan, in Glenlivet, a seminary operated from 1716-99, producing priests who headed out to all parts of the country to minister in secret. These brave men were following in the footsteps of the likes of Ogilvie. Scalan had been attacked and burned by government troops, but the staff and students returned from hiding to rebuild and prepare to set out to keep our faith alive. In the latter half of the 1700s, the Penal Laws were relaxed and in 1793 they were largely abolished, allowing Catholics once again to practise their religion openly and free of fear.

The cause of martyrs such as John Ogilvie lay dormant for many years until revived at the close of the 19th Century and a process of investigating extensive historical evidence was opened by the Vatican, paving the way for the beatification of this man from Keith, by Pope Pius XI in 1929. As a martyr of the Counter-Reformation he is the only post-Reformation Saint from Scotland.

The 400th anniversary of the Martyrdom of St John Ogilvie was marked in Keith on Saturday with the National Pilgrimage for the Church in Scotland in Kynoch Park, the home ground of Highland Football League side Keith FC. The Mass was attended by Catholics and others from all parts of Scotland and beyond, including Fr Len Black and Fr Stanley Bennie and members of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham in Scotland ... and also from Darlington and London!

The day began in the rain with a Showcase of the Catholic Church in Scotland with stalls and entertainment for all ages, including a display about the Ordinariate. The Mass began with the hymn, "For all the Saints who from their labours rest", sung lustfully by all present, after which Bishop Hugh Gilbert OSB, Bishop of Aberdeen, welcomed everyone to this special commemoration.

The main celebrant at the Mass - in the sunshine - with the Bishops and Priests of Scotland, was Archbishop Leo Cushley, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and the preacher Bishop Hugh Gilbert OSB. The setting for the Mass was the 'Missa de Angelis' and the choir, the Aberdeen Diocesan Choir and the Monks of Pluscarden Abbey, was under direction of Dr Roger Williams. The organist was Robert Leith.

The Mass itself would had delighted all members of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, beautifully celebrated with a good choice of hymns - For all the Saints, We plough the fields and scatter (echoing the Gospel reading), Soul of my Saviour, Sweet Sacrament Divine, and a special St John Ogilvie hymn written by Mother W. Long RSCJ, sung to the tune Blaenwern.

Had their been a roof, it would have been lifted high as everyone sang with great gusto, celebrating the Life and Martyrdom of St John Ogilvie, Scotland's only post-Reformation Saint.


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