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Church of Scotland cathedrals?

24 June 2016


Your answers

A cathedral is the seat of a bishop. The Church of Scotland does not have bishops, but I have found when touring Scotland that even in some places where there are Episcopalian and Roman Catholic cathedrals, tourist bureaux direct enquirers to the Church of Scotland establish­ments. Why does that Church still refer to its major places of worship as “cathedrals”?


The questioner asks why, since the Church of Scotland is Presbyterian in constitution and belief, what he calls its “major” places of worship are called cathedrals, thus mis­directing those looking for Episcopalian or Roman Catholic cathedrals.

Bishops in the Church of Scot­land were effectively removed in and after 1560, and, though inter­mit­­tently reimposed by the Crown, they were finally rejected in 1690. Why thereafter popular usage retained the term “cathedral” is a mystery, but one very easily resolved if visit­ors in the tourist office will only put an adjective before the object of their search: “Episcopal­ian” (and, if that fails, “English”) or “Roman Catholic”. Asking for “the cathed­ral” tout court invites confu­sion.

What’s more, the questioner is looking through the wrong end of the telescope: no place of worship in the Church of Scotland is of its nature more “major” than any other. Some Scottish cathedrals are tiny. Parity of ministers implies parity of charges.

All that said, a “cathedral” without a cathedra is admittedly strange. On balance, then, in such matters of nomenclature, it might be better to be radical, to heed the advice of the nearly Bishop of Rochester and minister of the High Kirk of Edinburgh, John Knox: “pull down the crows’ nests, that the crows do not build in them again.”

But if these churches are to be in some way distinguished, perhaps “High Kirk” should replace “cathed­ral” (though, on second thoughts, perhaps not: that might puzzle visitors looking for a “high church”).

(Sir) William McKay

Huntly, Aberdeenshire


Your questions


I have been to non-eucharistic ser­vices recently — including morning prayer, organised by people in train­ing for ministry, and an Archdeacon’s Visitation — when we were asked to stand because one reading was from a Gospel. It was introduced and ended with the words used in the Common Worship Order One euchar­ist. Is this a new trend, a directive, or mistake? In the Prayer Book, the Alternative Service Book 1980, and CW, the New Testament reading has always been treated as any other reading, in my previous experience. M. C.


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