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Saint Mary’s University Canada Research Chair in Atlantic Canada Communities, Dr Karly Kehoe, discusses the creation of the St. Andrew’s Chapel and what it represented for the Catholic population of Glasgow, as well as looking at the work of Glasgow missionary Andrew Scott and Irish Catholic lawyer Daniel O’Connell in their quest for Catholic emancipation.
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Anyone who knows Glasgow will know that it is a city with an incredibly rich and colourful history, whose people are as passionate, engaging, humourous and kind as you’ll find anywhere in the world. Glasgow is, as it has always been, a working city. In the nineteenth century it was, as it is now, full of possibilities but one where the legacy of its past is complex and at times very difficult but always, always genuine.
What you see is what you get with Glasgow, and it’s this quality, I think, that endears it to so many people at home and abroad, and what you get is a brilliant tapestry of people and traditions. To me, an outsider who has taken the time to learn a lot about this city in which I live it is a very special place, but also a place with an extremely complicated past comprised of many layers. One of these layers is religion.
This scenic etching was created by the engraver Joseph Swan in 1824 and it captures Glasgow at a point in its history when it was about to embark on a journey that would see it become two things by the end of the nineteenth century. On the one hand, it would emerge as the second city of the British Empire, on the other it would gain notoriety as one of the most overcrowded and unhealthy cities in the whole of Europe.
To me this etching is important for a few reasons. Firstly, it depicts a rather idyllic scene along the banks of the Clyde, a river that would become one of Scotland’s busiest and most productive arteries as the city’s population and industry roundabout exploded. It captures a moment when Glasgow was on the cusp of incredible development, in many ways it was symbolic of the calm before the industrial storm. Secondly, as a viewer you will find your eyes centering on St. Andrew’s Chapel, the first Catholic chapel to be built in the city since the Reformation of the sixteenth-century. Finally, and linked with the first two points, is the fact that this image represents the connection that was being forged at this very tumultuous time between Catholicism and the progress of the Scottish nation, and this, I think, is really interesting.
In the mid-1820s Glasgow was a city on the cusp of great change. Not only was it recovering from a serious economic slump following the Napoleonic Wars, but its population was expanding rapidly year on year. In fact Glasgow had become Scotland’s main population centre by 1821, with over 147,000 people. As a consequence, it was encountering significant growing pains as it was making a transition to an industrial hub, and its civic leaders who had yet to establish a municipal infrastructure that would make the process of urban growth manageable, were desperately trying to keep pace with all that was going on.
The construction of St. Andrew’s Chapel, which is the building in the middle of the picture, took place in the immediate aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars when Scotland, but Glasgow in particular, was experiencing really difficult economic times. The situation was so bad for many working class people in 1816 and 1817 that voluntary subscriptions had to be taken up to help ease their distress. In fact over nine a half thousands pounds was raised to provide relief to over twenty three thousand people. In terms of the bigger picture, what was happening was that the relationship between the trades and the industrialists was changing, and there was less emphasis being placed on skilled labour.
People walking by the building today, might know that it houses the painting of St. John Ogilvie by the celebrated Glasgow artist Peter Howson, but most probably won’t know anything about its greater symbolic historical importance, but they should because when it was built between 1814 and 1817 it represented a significant achievement for an emerging nation, but also for a people who had spent the better part of the previous 250 years underground.
What this chapel, now a cathedral, represented was the reawakening of Scotland’s Catholics and the beginning of their formal re-acquaintance with the nation that they had been told they didn’t belong to. In 1801 Glasgow’s total Catholic population was pretty small – in the low hundreds at most – but by 1831 there were almost 27,000 Catholics living in the city. This massive jump meant that provision had to be made for those among them who were church-goers or wanted to be church-goers. The Catholic population started to creep up in Glasgow in the early 1790s as a result of migration from the Highlands.
Masses were set initially in a temporary chapel, rather secretly on Mitchell Street, before a small chapel was built in the Gallowgate in 1797. The laying of the foundation stone for St. Andrew’s in 1815 represented a major turning point for Glasgow’s growing Catholic body, which by this point was also starting to include a growing number of Irish. Not only would this be a public place for Catholic worship but its situation in a prominent location overlooking the main trade route – the river Clyde – an important step forward for a faith that had, for a long time, been driven underground by extreme expressions of anti-Catholicism. Works had to be undertaken to deepen the Clyde in the eighteenth-century to enable it to work as a sea-port and in 1810 it was formally recognised as one by parliament. This helped a lot to boost its industrial capacity, but what it also did was create a demand for labour and often this labour was unskilled people coming from Ireland. Describing the chapel in their report on the city of Glasgow in the New Statistical Account, which was compiled from reports collected from across Scotland between 1834 and 1845 the narrators, all of whom were Church of Scotland ministers, wrote that “this spacious edifice, in which there is a magnificent organ, was opened with great solemnity on the Sunday before Christmas, 1816.” It was a very public expression of Catholicism in a city that had, for centuries, rejected it.
The building itself was designed by James Gillespie Graham, a prolific Scottish architect who specialised in Gothic churches and castle-style country houses. Born in Dunblane, Gillespie Graham lived between 1776 and 18155. The career of this talented and ambitious architect spanned half a century, from 1800 to 1851, and his work can be found from one end of Scotland to another – from Skye and Arisaig in the Highlands, to Cupar in Fife, Elgin in Morayshire, and Dumfries in the south-west. Among his numerous recorded works were five Catholic chapels, in addition to St. Andrew’s in Glasgow and St. Mary’s in Edinburgh, both of which would become cathedrals in their own rights in 1880s.
Another was the chapel at St. Margaret’s Convent in Edinburgh for the Ursulines of Jesus. Why I’m mentioning this is because it represents yet another first. The Ursulines were the first order to return to Scotland since the Reformation, and they would play an absolutely essential role in mentoring the spiritual and educational development of countless young women across Scotland. This chapel would be their place of contemplation.
The construction of all of these chapels was an attempt to project an image of a loyal, dutiful and respectable Catholic body and this image was promoted by the clergy who sought acceptance and religious toleration for Catholics in Scottish society. One of the early Catholic missionaries to work openly in Glasgow was Andrew Scott who would, in 1828, become Glasgow’s first vicar apostolic, which is basically a Bishop in a region without any established church hierarchy, and Scotland didn’t actually have an established Catholic hierarchy until 1878.
A resolute authoritarian of old Catholic stock from the Innes and Morayshire, which is in the North-East, Scott would certainly make his mark in Glasgow. He was anchored to St. Andrew’s as its senior priest, and while he became well-known for the work he did to help Catholicism get back on its feet, he also gained a reputation for his intense anti-Irishness. And this is why I wanted to include the second image, that of Daniel O’Connell, the Irish Catholic lawyer who pushed hard for Catholic emancipation in the 1810s and 1820s. O’Connell, declared ’The Great Liberator’ when his election to parliament forced the issue of Catholic emancipation in 1829, won countless admirers in Ireland and across Britain, but he also frustrated many clergyman, who feared his influence over the working classes and who saw him as a serious threat to their authority. Particularly with his Catholic Association, which had been established in 1823 to fight for the cause of Catholic emancipation.
Scott, as you might imagine, was not a fan, and many historians, including Martin Mitchell and myself, will argue that he was at his most vicious – and I think it is very fair to describe him in this way – during the 1820s when he attempted to thwart the efforts of the Glasgow Catholic Association which had been established by Irish laymen in Glasgow to lend support to Ireland’s Catholic Association and to broaden the movement for Catholic emancipation. Daniel O’Connell was greatly admired by Glasgow’s Irish labourers, but the popular feeling he acquired worried many of Scotland’s clergy who were not very comfortable with the growing number of Irish in their midst or with the growing assertiveness of the laity.
What characterised the relationship between the clergy and the laity in the 1820s, 30s and 40s was tension. There was a real effort to consolidate the authority of the clergy over the laity, and this was happening across Britain and Ireland and the colonies, not just in Scotland, and I think its important that we recognise that. Political activism of any kind was opposed by the church leadership. In Scotland, where the reliance on Irish priests was growing because there were simply not enough native ones to cope with the growing population.
The Scottish Catholic leaders like Scott, were worried because they were seen as too political. It was this tension that would shape much of the development of Catholicism in nineteenth-century Scotland. Both of these images, therefore, tell a much bigger story than one might assume. They are symbolic not only of Glasgow’s changing landscape but also of a period of major transformation of the Catholic church, which had for over two centuries been pushed to the periphery of Scottish life. By the end of the century, however, and influenced very much by the built environment, Catholicism in Scotland