Sunday, September 12, 2010

Tartans, Scotland, the Pope, and a Universal Church

If you live in the English-speaking world and are Catholic, you probably know about the Pope's trip to the United Kingdom. I've got an additional reason for being a bit interested, since I'm half Irish.

Well, half Irish and a bit more from the north end of the British Isles. Some of my "Irish" roots are in Scotland: I'm descended from the clan Campbell, which I wouldn't be too eager to mention if I ever traveled in the highlands. That's another topic. I see I've mentioned this before, in another blog - along with being in line for the thaneship of Cawdor. Which is yet another topic.

Wrenching this post back on-topic, the Pope's expected to arrive in Scotland on the feast day of Saint Ninian, a missionary who arrived in Scotland at Galloway some 1,600 years ago.

Along with other items on his itinerary, the Pope will - if everything goes as expected - receive a tartan created particularly for his visit.

Tartans in Scotland go back at least a few centuries before St. Ninian arrived. They were associated with clans - sort of - by the time the 18th century came around: and were banned - to a certain extent - after a particularly lethal difference of opinion. The ban was lifted after 36 years: and that is definitely another topic. (see Scottish History Online)

Today the tartan - which does not mean the same thing as "plaid" - which is pronounced "plaide" (Margaret Frost) - is a potent symbol of Scotland.

Tartans, Animal Skins, Roman-Era Attire, and the Catholic Church

Catholic vestments have changed a bit over the last couple thousand years. Part of what we see during Mass started out as secular clothing in the Graeco-Roman world. I don't think it's such a stretch to think of them as the Roman-era equivalent of a business suit, with features added for symbolic and other purposes. (see The Catholic Encyclopedia)

The Pope's uniform is the most elaborate of the lot - and sometimes has add-ons. I've seen a Pope, in uniform, with an animal skin on his back. Leopard, I think. In the part of the world he was visiting, that was a symbol of high authority - and the Catholic Church is, literally, universal. We work with local cultures. I've mentioned this before. Often.

I don't know if Pope Benedict XVI will wear that tartan - but I'm glad he's getting a sort of memento like that on his visit to one of my ancestral homelands.

Here's an excerpt form the news article that got me started on this post:
"Custom Scottish plaid created to celebrate papal visit"
Catholic News Agency (September 9, 2010)

"A traditional plaid Scottish design, or tartan, has been created to commemorate the Pope's visit to Great Britain this month. The North Carolina creator of the design said the interlocking pattern of stripes tells the story of the Catholic Church in Scotland while interweaving elements of next week's trip.

"With just a week remaining before the Holy Father's arrival to the nation's two major cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow, the Scottish Church announced the novelty of the first ever papal visit tartan on Thursday. Matthew Newsome, director of the Scottish Tartans Museum in Franklin, North Carolina, drew it up especially for the Sept. 16 occasion...."

"...The tartan's 'white line on blue field draws upon Scotland's national colors while the green reflects the lichens growing on the stones of Whithorn in Galloway,' he [Matthew Newsome] said, explaining that it was there that the missionary St. Ninian arrived 1,600 years ago.

"St. Ninian's feast day will be observed in a very special way this year as it coincides with the arrival of the Pope in Scotland.

"Red lines also accompany the white lines, said Newsome, which is in remembrance of the colors of Cardinal John Henry Newman's crest, and thin yellow lines were also put alongside the white to reflect the colors of the Holy See.

"He added, '(i)n terms of the weaving, each white line on the green contains exactly eight threads, one for each Catholic diocese in Scotland. There are 452 threads in the design from pivot to pivot, representing the number of Catholic parishes.'..."
Members of the Scottish parliament - all 129 of them - received a tie or scarf with this design on Thursday. The Pope's getting a tartan in this pattern, too, according to the article, when he arrives in Scotland.

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I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.