Faith and Freedom: The Old College of Scalan.

(By Caitlin MacInnes  S3)

Third Year RERC pupils at Sgoil Lionacleit, Benbecula were busy recently with a research project. Their remit was to investigate the Catholic faith today; the barriers to practising it here and elsewhere and then to look back at our Scottish history regarding freedom to practise the faith.  The Learning Intentions were to make the young people aware that our faith has survived challenges in the past and in recent times and to value the freedom to practise it that we have here in the islands. Father Michael MacDonald judged the presentations and chose the one created by Caitlyn MacInnes who is from Eriskay. Well done to Caitlyn and also to the whole class for their good work!

Our Faith today

  • Where we live in the Western Isles it is very easy to practise our faith; there is a very widespread collection of churches.
  • Lack of motivation is the only thing that prevents people from going to church.
  • We can go to church without a feeling of judgement or prejudice here in the islands.

Christian Persecution in the modern world

  • In other parts of the world, the situation is very different. Pope Benedict XVI said that Christians are the most persecuted group in the contemporary world.
  • There are 10 particularly countries for Christian Persecution:

1- North Korea 2- Afghanistan 3-Somalia 4-Sudan 5-Libya 6-Eritrea 7-Iraq 8-Pakistan 9-Iran 10-Yemen

The Catholic Church in Scotland

  • Three quarters of a million Catholics live in Scotland today but in the 1700s there were fewer than 20,000 and they were mostly in the Highlands.
  • After the Protestant Reformation the Catholic Faithhad almost died out. The law contributed to this by making it almost impossible to be a Catholic.
  • Laws included: no Catholic should own or inherit land; no Catholic could be a teacher or be educated; priests and those who harboured them were to be banished and if they returned they could be punished by death. Priests were often forced into hiding, moving from safe house to safe house, sleeping in woods or caves or hillsides, and services were held after dark.

Law Document

A Fearless Faith: The Secret Seminary of Scalan – 

  • Even when the Catholic faith was outlawed, people still needed priests, so priests were trained in secret. One of the most famous seminaries set up to do this was at Scalan, – the one we’re talking about now.
  • This ‘secret seminary’ was founded in Scalan in the Braes of Glenlivet in 1716.
  • Codes were used to write letters so that their practise wouldn’t be found. Scalan was “the shop”, Rome was “old town” or “Hamburg”, a priest was a “labourer” and students were “prentices”.

A Fearless Faith: The Secret Seminary of Scalan – Slide 2

  • Masses in Scalan were commonly held in a barn and always at night.
  • During the time of Scalan, Alexander Geddes and George James Gordon studied in Scalan.
  • The College:

A Fearless Faith: The Secret Seminary of Scalan 

Floor Plan of the Scalan Seminary

A Fearless Faith: The Secret Seminary of Scalan 

  • Life in Scalan was cheerful, although the seminarians and their teachers were often crowded together, hidden away and forced to practise their faith in secret.
  • Now, we remember Scalan as an important link in our Catholic Faith.
  • The Annual Pilgrimage Mass takes place of the first Sunday of July at 4:00pm.


(All the pictures are copied from the public domain)