Religion is an intensely personal thing and indeed traditionally it is passed down through the generations . I come from a long line of non conformist Presbyterians . My four times great grandfather John McPhorich Lamont was born about the time of the Jacobite Rising that was to end so tragically at Culloden . John was a Seceder - followers of the ministers who broke away from the Established Presbyterian Church of Scotland in 1732 . He lived in that beautiful part of Argyll called Cowal bounded by the waters of the Firth of Clyde to the south and the rolling hills and mountains of Argyll to the north . He and his brother Neil were herring curers and lived a nd worked on the shores of the aptly named Holy Loch to the east of Dunoon . The brothers and their families travelled on foot each Sunday to Toward Nuilt a round trip of some 14 miles . The driving force behind this small congregation was an eminent Scotsman called Dr John Jamieson . Jamieson was to gain fame in later years as a lexicographer who wrote Jamieson’s Scottish Dictionary in 1808 . The church is described in a Memoir to the Doctor as follows : “ Mr Jamieson passed over to Cowal ( he had been on Bute prior to this ) in the depths of a severe winter and was lodged in a wretched smoky hovel without even glass to the aperture through which light was received and in which he had to eat , sleep and study “ .John and Neil were evicted from their crofts on account of their beliefs and made their way with their families to Port Bannatyne on the Isle of Bute in the early part of the 19th century . Such was the extreme conditions experienced en route on the desolate moors above the Firth that Neil died of exposure . Whether or not one believes in the deep convictions of my ancestors, it is clear that something drove them on against adversity.
The arrival of the Reformation in Europe and indeed in Scotland in the 16th century was undoubtedly an inevitable occurrence. A Church that had stagnated for decades was out of touch with the people .and was administered by an uneducated clergy unable to communicate with their congregation in a dead language. This was a language which to this end, failed in its basic purpose. Indulgences were being sold to rescue individuals from purgatory and corruption was rife. This moribund set up laid itself wide open to radical intervention. This unsurprisingly came from within as many of the clergy realised all was not well with the establishment .The best known of the reformers was in fact an ordained Catholic priest – namely John Knox . The enthusiasm of Knox and his followers was blighted by the unnecessary destruction of churches, icons and indeed anything which could be attributed to the old faith . Despite being a card carrying member of the Presbyterian Kirk ,I distance myself from such behaviour . Ineptitude seems to have been replaced with a brand of intolerance I find unacceptable. In the 1970s I lived and worked in Iran when the Khomeini Revolution erupted. The violence and destruction personally witnessed draws a parallel with the Reformation centuries earlier. In nearby Perth the Dominican Friary ended its existence in a violent way. In St John's Kirk, John Knox's sermon against idolatry, preached on 11th May 1559 ignited the wrath of congregation. Some of them (Knox called them "the rascal multitude") took him at his word, stoned the priest, stripped the church of all its fittings and ornaments, then ran to the Greyfriars, Blackfriars and Charterhouse monasteries and stripped them down to bare walls. The ancient Abbey of Inchaffray at Madderty was targeted and we in the Strath lost forever a gem which was never to be replaced.
It is somewhat strange that despite the genetics of my past , I have always admired and enjoyed the beauties of ecclesiastical architecture . I worked many years ago in Northern France in a place called Dreux – refuge of the
“ pied noir “ – French colonialists of a strong right wing disposition who had been ejected from Algeria when it gained its independence . I had the good fortune to stay some kilometres south of the town in that most incredible of places , the town of Chartres . Chartres is a charming town built on a hill on the left bank of the Eure river . Its medieval cathedral escaped destruction in the Second World War for which we must be eternally grateful . Regarded by many as perhaps the finest Gothic cathedral in France, its beautiful stained glass windows or vitrages as the French call them . It was a wonderful experience to sit quietly in this so beautiful of buildings enjoying the atmosphere and presence . It is not age or size that really grabs me but the ability of these man made structures to allow you to escape however briefly from the hustle and bustle of the outside world .