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Reminiscences of Old Scots Folk
The Grey Mother


SHE STANDS TO-DAY, FULL OF MYSTICAL beauties within and crowned with a perfect grace with-out, looking down on the crowds that throng the best-known causey in Scotland. The storms of centuries, over-sweeping her plain Scots face, have invested it with a douce grey dignity that is now her rarest charm, and to us in whose veins flows the blood of the Covenant, she will for ever be our own Grey Mother—this Kirk of St. Giles in the Royal Town of Edinburgh.

In these hinmost days of ecclesiastical strife, when blue banners have been laid aside for blue books, and the weapons of our warfare are no longer whingers and broadswords but speeches and Committee Reports, it may very well be that the scrupulous ecclesiastic is blind to what the wayfaring man can plainly see in this old Grey House of God. Like the King's daughter, she is all glorious within, with long, resounding aisles, plaintive soughs of music that rise and fall like "Martyrs" of the minor key, sunlight streaming through the painted windows and laying the floors in crimson and gold, while the high vaulted roofs look down on many a tattered regimental banner hanging in motionless glory round the great stone pillars.

The Grey Mother has a forgiving heart. For, here are the tombs of brave Scots men who fought dourly on different sides, for conscience' sake, throughout their little day of life. They now sleep calm and peaceful, side by side, like sturdy bairns who have bickered at their play and then lain down in the twilight full of weariness, in the same bed, with the tears all dried on their faces. Can any man with the sentiment of the Kirk in his soul walk round St. Giles without thanking God for that Good Knight Gospeller, who made it the pride of his life to transform this ancient sanctuary into a shrine for the visible union of every Scots Christian's faith?

See how we have resolved the doubts and differences of many generations here, in that spirit of leal affection which bids us hope that even now the bairns who have been so long estranged are weary of their bickers and are hankering after the Grey Mother's knee!

There, within a few feet of John Knox's grave, sleeps James Graham, Marquis of Montrose, that doughtiest of all Scots soldiers, who signed the Covenant in Grey-friars with the rest of them, and afterwards, for Royal scruples, fought against the Solemn League. The sworn enemy of Argyle, he lost his head one May-day morn in 1650, near the Market Cross outby, and ten years later his poor remains were carried in here to find a resting-place. And over yonder, just across the Kirk, sleeps that same Archibald Campbell, Marquis of Argyle. Years before, he had watched from a balcony his foeman Montrose being trundled up the Canongate to the scaffold. Then, he himself, on another May-day morn of 1661, suffered execution on the very same spot, and had his head transfixed on the very same spike which had been for so long adorned with the head of Montrose! Now—most strange and significant sights—we have raised their monuments without prejudice, the one fornent the other, in this old dim Kirk, where a later race of Presbyters can sing their psalms and give God thanks for them both.

But there are stranger signs of forgiving and forgetting in the heart of the Grey Mother than that. Yon little niche, high up in the dark, was once the doorway of a narrow room, where Sir John Gordon of Haddo was confined until his execution, just three years after Argyle was slain, and in this same Haddo's Hole the Covenanting prisoners from Rullion Green were penned like sheep awaiting the slaughter. One or two steps farther west, and you come upon a great and worthy statue of John Knox, standing in a corner, with open book, not far from the spot where the Tolbooth Kirk in St. Giles was located. Here, Mary Queen of Scots, with those glamorous eyes that so often shone with love and glittered with tears, opened her first parliament, and here John Knox, who could thole neither her loves nor her tears, thundered his last great sermon down the nave. Mary and Knox, Argyle and Montrose, how far we have travelled towards a union of our siccar Scots faith when we sing a psalm here in the presence of such memorials!

And as we sit and listen, the sound of the Grey Mother's voice comes to us down these aisles in many differing accents.

We hear the solemn intoning of Dean Hanna, as he fumbles nervously with the pages of his prayer-book. Then a woman's shrill voice protests over yonder near the side chapel, and the little folding-stool of Jenny Geddes flies straight for the Dean's head, to fall with an ugly clatter on the flags. After that—riot, revolution, and the bishops are deposed.

Listen again, and you will hear the tramp, tramp of soldiers and the clinking of spurred heels on the stone passages. It is Cromwell's troops marching out by the Holy Table yonder. For, with his strong, determined sense, the Great Protector was not over-fashious about quartering his men in the East Kirk of St. Giles.

Listen again! and you will hear the voices of many great men preaching from the pulpit in many different ways. Their memorial brasses are all about us on the pillars. Alexander Henderson,—strong, clear-thinking, resolute, the most statesmanlike of all the ministers of the Kirk, who, with Johnston of Warriston, drew up the National Covenant, and presided at the great Glasgow Assembly in St. Mungo's Kirk by the limpid molendinar burn. Robert Leighton— presbyter first and archbishop afterwards, mystical and misunderstood in his vain desire to make a union out of both Kirks, and so reconcile the black Geneva gown with the bishop's white lawn. William Carstares —incomparable in his subtlety as a suffering minister of God, and a polished courtier of the King. One after the other, we hear them preaching in this grand old Kirk—the Presbyterian statesman, the Episcopalian bishop, the patriotic ecclesiastic, with many another whose name to-day is in the history books. But ever recurring, again and again, above all other voices that were ever lifted up in righteous protest within these walls, like the persistent theme in a fugue, thunders the voice of the one man who was greater than them all—John Knox.

How generously the Grey Mother has nursed the many Kirks that she has held in her arms! After the Reformation, forty-four altars were smashed to pieces here, and nearly one hundred officiating priests were dismissed. You can almost hear the shuffling of their feet as they hurry out from the Sanctuary, to the sound of the hammers which destroy one piece of popery after another. Then the building is divided up into four separate Kirks. Part is even used as a prison Shops are plastered round the outer walls. Later still, a ruthless restoration destroys many of the external graces of the old Cathedral by covering its outside walls with a bald, commonplace casing of stone. But now, after many travails and dividing sorrows, the old Grey Mother is at rest again. The many churches have become one, and the tranquil beauty of old age has mellowed her anxious face.

For still she stands on the crown of the causey and waits for another union of her sundered children's hearts. She sees them ettling after a closer bond. She hears them calling to one another in their own cautious Scots way. She is weary of their strife and anxious lest they taigle over long. Will the Grey Mother wait in vain?


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