On this day

Each month we remember key figures from the past whose stories have contributed to the life of the church in Scotland and continue to provide encouragement and inspiration to us today.

This month we remember, among others, a Scots born professor, a famous musician and composer and a woman who became the only Scot believed to have perished in a Nazi concentration camp.

1 July: Serf

Serf seems chiefly to have been associated with the foothills of the Ochils, where churches and wells are dedicated to his memory, and where he is placed by the ancient chronicler Wyntoun. The Perthshire village of Dunning is another location which claims this fifth and sixth century saint, but Auchtermuchty's motto Dum sero srero (which is a pun on his name) and the name of Dysart, plus a number of other parishes, even as far away as Cardross, also show a historical link. The legend of his receiving, nurturing and educating Kentigern, who had drifted with his mother, Theneu or Enoch, in a boat from Lothian, is focused on Culross.

Also on this day:James S. Stewart who has been described as a most outstanding modern Scottish preacher (John O'Neill). His much-studied books of sermons grew out of ministry in parishes in Auchterarder, Aberdeen and Morningside in Edinburgh, and it was while still in the parish ministry that some of his most influential books about the New Testament and about preaching were written. Along with his still-studied and world-famous volumes, he also found time to provide for the day to day needs of ministers, as for example in what he published for bible classes. Born in 1896, he became professor of New Testament in the University of Edinburgh in 1947, and was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1963. He died on this day in 1990.

2 July: Helen Wilson

Helen Wilson was born in Aberdeen in 1891. Following a conversion experience at 21, she applied for training as a nurse but was discouraged because of a disfigurement caused by an early and serious accident. Having studied at the Bible Training Institute in Glasgow, she went as evangelist to China, but her vocation to care for the sick found her running the Women's Mission Hospital in Ichang. Returning to Scotland, she at last trained as a nurse, to return to a China now suffering the results of invasion. Interred, on release she remained in Hong Kong, but went back to Ichang where under communist rule she was arrested and tried. Near retiring age, she insisted on remaining in Hong Kong to work with refugees, tackling the problems of widespread malnutrition and tuberculosis, with only rudimentary resources at first but later expanded by means of a grant from the World Council of Churches. This remarkable lifetime of service was marked by a This is Your Life programme on television in 1961. At the age of 76 she married a missionary colleague and settled in the North East of Scotland. She died on this day in 1978.

3 July: Thomas the Apostle

Thomas the Apostle is widely commemorated in the world church on this day. He is mentioned in all four gospels as one of the Twelve and is mentioned in connection with three episodes: his offering to die with Christ (John 11:16), interrupting Christ with a question that gave rise to one of Christ's greatest sayings (John 14:5), and, as "doubting Thomas", reaching to touch the wounds of his master after the Resurrection (John 20:25). His name is particularly associated with the spread of the gospel to Syria and India, and there is a gospel which bears his name.

6 July: Jan Huss

Jan Huss was a Czech preacher, born about 1369, who became influenced by the writings of Wycliffe, who had applied scripture in a new way to the structures and habits of contemporary life. Also an academic, his preaching and teaching attracted controversy, both theological and political. His work was De Ecclesia, critical of the church of his day, and many of his beliefs were to be espoused by later Protestants. He was much involved in his nation's division over different papal claimants and his stance ultimately led to his being burned at the stake in 1415.

Also on this day: The Treaty of Edinburgh was signed in 1560. Religious reformations are rarely purely religious and what happened at the Scottish Reformation was typical in being a mix which included both doctrine and politics. The treaty was really between the English and the French, but in its freeing of Scotland from both French and English troops it provided the political background for the triumph of the Reformation. It also effectively ended the 'Auld Alliance' between Scotland and France and led to an end to the frequent and costly wars between Scotland and England.

7 July: Palladius

According to some Palladius is one of the better documented early missionaries, who seems to have worked first in Ireland (having come from Gaul) and then north of the Tay and in the Mearns. Names including 'Paldy' (including Aberfeldy) testify to his presence. Some associate him with Logie Airt near Stirling. Some suggest he was sent by the Pope himself (in the early decades of the fifth century) but others believe that there was another Celtic missioner and it is to him that these place names testify.

12 July: Erasmus

Erasmus was born in Rotterdam about 1466. A scholar, he has been regarded as perhaps the most influential figure of the flowering in Europe of literature and knowledge that we know as the Renaissance. Originally an Augustinian canon and priest, he travelled over much of Europe teaching in Paris, at Oxford and Cambridge and elsewhere. He had little time for the dry scholasticism and pedantry which was current in church circles, and greatly contributed to the new understanding of scripture and doctrine which lay behind the Reformation, giving rise to the observation that: "Erasmus laid the egg and Luther hatched it". His sources were the early church fathers and the Bible itself, where he went behind the Latin translations of the day to the original languages, publishing a Greek New Testament in 1516. A man of deep faith, he was not a controversialist, which meant that both sides could both claim and challenge him. He died in Basle on this day in 1536.

13 July: Silas

Silas, the apostle Paul's travelling companion on his visit to Macedonia and Corinth, is widely commemorated in the world church on this day. In Paul's letters to the Thessalonians, he is associated with Timothy. Silas may possibly be identified with Silvanus as Peter's amanuensis in first Peter.

16 July: Lady Glenorchy

Lady Glenorchy was born in 1741 in Galloway. After a serious illness she had a conversion experience and after her husband's death devoted her life to the spread of the evangelical cause, holding services for rich and poor and influencing many to enter the ministry. She was behind the setting up of chapels in both Scotland and England, the first in Edinburgh giving a pulpit to Presbyterian, Episcopal and Methodist clergy alike. In 1772 she founded another chapel, which became the Church of Scotland congregation known as Lady Glenorchy's, whose history is now incorporated both in Holy Trinity Church in Wester Hailes and in Greenside Church in central Edinburgh. This new chapel was to serve those who could not be incorporated within the existing buildings of the established church for reasons of space but it was to keep its independence. A school was also built. Horatius Bonar was brought up in the congregation (his brother was the session clerk). She died in 1786.

17 July: Adam Smith

Adam Smith was born in Kirkcaldy in 1723 and went on to become professor of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow. His times were known as the Scottish Enlightenment and huge contributions were made by Scots in both the world of ideas and in practical fields. Many of these thinkers found much encouragements and insight from their association with the Church, and Smith was no exception. His contribution was to give a new face to the science of economics, and one that has influenced political decision-making up to the present day. His great work The Wealth of Nations is still central and has resulted in his being given the title of father of economics. He died in 1790.

Also on this day:Jane Haining was the only Scot who perished in a Nazi concentration camp. Of a Dumfries-shire farming family, following secretarial work in Paisley she felt called to work with Jewish missions. She studied at the Glasgow Domestic College, trained as a teacher and as a missionary, and served from 1932 as matron of the girls home of the Scottish Jewish Mission in Budapest. As fascism spread, the Church of Scotland urged her to come home. Her response was: "If these children need me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in days of darkness." Despite the opportunity to escape, she remained in Hungary, and would be found weeping as she sewed the yellow star on the clothes of her Jewish charges. She went with her girls to Auschwitz, tattooed with the number 79467, where most probably on this day in 1944 she was gassed along with them.

18 July: Enoch or Theneu

Enoch or Theneu daughter of an early king of Lothian. Found pregnant, she was to die by being hurled down Traprain Law, a hill near Haddington in East Lothian, in a cart, but this failed. She was then cast off in an open boat, landing at Culross just as her baby, to become Saint Kentigern, was born. Baptised by Serf, she moved to Glasgow with her son and died there. She gives her name to a modern Scottish charity for the care of abused women.

20 July: Margaret of Antioch

Margaret of Antioch after whom Margaret of Scotland was named, is a kind of female counterpart to St George. Possibly the same person as St Pelagia or St Marina, various legendary events are attributed to this fourth century virgin martyr, who became popular in the eastern and later in the western church, hers was one of the 'voices' heard by Joan of Arc. There are numerous old parish dedications to her but only one in Scotland, that of Dalry, Ayrshire.

22 July: Richard Cameron

Richard Cameron was born in Falkland in Fife circa 1648 and studied at the University of St Andrews. A teacher, he became drawn more and more to the covenanters, who were uncompromising in opposing the state's imposition of episcopal government. Ordained in 1679 in Holland, he returned to lead an independent party known variously as the Society Men, the Hill-men or the Cameronians. They met in conventicles (field preachings) in the wilds of the South West of Scotland. A most able evangelical preacher, whose recorded sermons still retain a freshness, he was involved in the Sanquhar Declaration that virtually declared war on the King and his policies. He and his followers were hounded, Cameron with his brother and others to be killed in 1680 at the skirmish of Ayrsmoss, near Muirkirk in Ayrshire. The Cameronian regiment that helped secure the presbyterian establishment at the 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688 to 1689 was to bear his name (a name yet revered) and to have many of his supporters among its early ranks.

23 July: Susannah Wesley.

Susannah Wesley (1669 to 1742), wife of the Rev Samuel Wesley, rector of Epworth, Lincolnshire, to whom she bore 19 children (nine dying in infancy), was a woman of deep and tenacious faith. By her example and her careful instruction of her children, she typified the observation that: "The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world." One son, John, the founder of Methodism, was by his evangelical preaching to have the world as his parish, while Charles, his brother, was in many of his 9000 hymns to: "teach the world to sing" - and to sing about God's redemption in Christ. It has been said with much truth that Methodism really began in the Epworth Rectory and with a great Christian mother.

24 July: William Penn

William Penn who died on this day in 1718 was the distinguished politician who, having obtained grants of considerable territory in North America, gave his name to Pennsylvania, where he established religious toleration. The son of an English admiral who had captured Jamaica from the Dutch, he was rusticated from Oxford because of his non-conformity with the Anglicanism of the Restoration. After travel abroad and some legal studies, largely as a result of a sermon, he became in 1665 a convinced Quaker. He was to suffer for it, being imprisoned for a time in the Tower for his beliefs (where he wrote No Cross, No Crown). His connections, he remained friendly with James, later to be James VII and II, plus his ability, helped save him from overmuch persecution. Ever an advocate for toleration, he returned to itinerant preaching in the 1690s. When Pennsylvania was declared a crown colony he came back to England. He also wrote Primitive Christianity (to some extent identifying Quakerism with early Christianity) and many other works. No building in Philadelphia 'city of brotherly love' is allowed to be higher than his huge statue atop the City Hall Tower – a tribute to a big man in 'Quaker City'.

25 July: James the Great

James the Great the Apostle, is widely commemorated in the world church on this day. Brother of John, their joint zeal attracted the nickname of 'sons of thunder'. The first apostle to be martyred, he was beheaded by Herod Agrippa in 44AD. There is a tradition that his body was taken to Santiago da Compostela in Spain, a place of pilgrimage to this day. Image courtesy of The Confraternity of Saint James website at www.csj.org.uk.

27 July: Robert Bruce

Robert Bruce (circa 1554 to 1631) of Kinnaird was educated for the law and could have obtained a high position within it but he turned to the church to become the minister of St Giles, Edinburgh. He was a prominent preacher and was for some time a favourite of James VI. Earlier influenced by Andrew Melville, Bruce did much to create a reformed stability, not least with his notable sermons on the Lord's Supper which still stand as a felicitous alliance of doctrine and application. Held in very high regard, he was twice Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. However, unwilling to be subservient to the king, Bruce suffered banishment both to France and also, on return, within Scotland where he mostly had to live on his estate of Kinnaird near Airth.

28 July: Johann Sebastian Bach 

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 to 1750), a devout German Protestant, according to many remains one of the world's greatest musicians and composers, especially of religious and organ music. Belonging to a notable musical family, he was an accomplished violinist, harpsichordist and organist. Devoted to music from earliest days, he walked from Saxony to Lubeck to hear Dietrich Buxtehude play. Bach held many varied high appointments in a variety of places in Germany but is perhaps most associated with Weimar and Leipzig. Bach was regarded by some as a prolific composer of cantatas, of organ music, of the great passions, of concertos, and much else, Bach defined music as: "an agreeable harmony for the honour of God and the permissible delights of the soul." Bach, who influenced Mozart and many others, was described by Beethoven as: "the immortal god of harmony." 

29 July: Olaf of Norway

Olaf of Norway, also called Olave, was the warrior-king of Norway who, himself converted in England while fighting the Danes, largely at sword point converted his own nation. Harsh in his rule and arousing opposition he was killed, appropriately in battle, in 1030. Nonetheless his shrine at Nidaros (Trondheim), which became the centre of an archdiocese that included Orkney and Shetland (where there are several dedications to Olaf), became a centre of mediaeval pilgrimage.

Also on this day: William Wilberforce (1759 to 1833) who died on this day was another fighter, but on a different front. Many remember him for his political campaign against the slave trade and slavery (abolished 1807 and 1833 respectively). But in this as in other matters, eg the Roman Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829, this Anglican and Hull minister of parliament was activated by a strong evangelical faith that emerged from his study of the New Testament. A strict Christian, he strove for a reformation of manners, for Sunday observance, for missionary activity in India, as well as other causes, and was a founder of the Church Missionary Society and of the Bible Society.

30 July: Robert Baillie

Robert Baillie was one of those in the seventeenth century who opposed the imposition of episcopal governance on the Scottish Church. Minister at Kilwinning, he was a member of the 1638 Glasgow Assembly which re-established presbyterianism and became a chaplain to the covenanting forces. He was one of the Scots commissioners to the Westminster Assembly (his diaries record this event, along with providing information about other aspects of church and society of the time) and published several books of a topical kind. When a second attempt to make the Scottish Church episcopal was undertaken, he again opposed this vehemently. He was professor of divinity and principal of the University of Glasgow, a scholar who knew 13 languages. He died in 1662, deeply disappointed at the eclipse of presbyterian government.

31 July: Horatius Bonar

Horatius Bonar who died on this day in 1889 was of a family which produced many notable ministers. In his own day, Bonar was noted for his preaching, for his best-selling devotional works, for his editing of religious periodicals, for his extensive correspondence, and as a leader (later to be Moderator) in the Free Church. Today his fame rests with his hymns, which have a simplicity, a directness, and a warm appeal, like Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face, I heard the voice of Jesus say, Glory be to God the Father, and many more. He has been well described as the: "prince of Scottish hymnwriters."