Edinburgh, the city in Scotland where St. Mary's Cathedral is located and where the St. Paul's Choir is singing this week, is the Capitol of Scotland. No matter from which direction one approaches this city, the thing that dominates it is Castle Rock. The "rock," shaped by fire and ice perhaps 350 million years ago, became a natural place of safety and defense for the first people's who lived here. Traces of human occupation go back millennia. There is some evidence that the Romans used it for such.
What we know as Southern Scotland was occupied by the Northumbrians until the 10th century. The first fortification was built for Scottish use on the rock in 1058. Because of the multitude of wars that ravaged the land for control of the territory and rule, the rock has passed back and forth from British to Scottish hands. Robert the Bruce brought that to an end in 1314 securing Scotland's independence. In 1707 Scotland and England entered a union that created the British Empire.
The oldest still-standing building on the rock is the 12th century St. Margaret Chapel. Margaret was married to the Malcolm who is mentioned in Shakespeare's "Macbeth." Margaret was responsible for bringing the Scottish church closer to Rome. This brief history lesson is important because across the centuries, perhaps the biggest battles waged on Scottish soil have been "wars of religion." Quite a oxymoron isn't it?
The book I have been reading in preparation for this trip, "How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything In It" by Arthur Herman, begins with an event that happened in 1696. Four young men were hurrying past Tron Church, which is also very old and very near the Castle. It was eight o'clock on a cold August night. One of the students, Thomas Aikenhead, was just eighteen and a theology student. He made a small joke about wishing he were in hell so that he might that way be warm. It is not known whether his friends laughed at his little joke. What is known is that one of them, fearing that news of this indiscretion might get out and he would be guilty by association, reported what Aikenhead had said to the Kirk authorities. To make a long story short, as they say, the church had Aikenhead hung for blasphemy.
(If you think this story reflects the darker side of the church, remember that once one of John Calvin's theological enemies came to hear him preach. Calvin, who was also mayor of the city, had the man arrested and burned at the stake. It was just the Christian thing to do.) While Aikenhead was waiting for his execution, many letters were written in his defense. One of these found its way to John Locke in England. Locke, out of this event, helped lead the movement that would bring into being separation of church and states.
All of the battles that have been waged in, around and about religion in this part of the world have made Edinburgh densely populated with churches. Had there not been an Edict of Toleration that came out of these struggles, there likely would be no St. Mary's Cathedral in Edinburgh today. (On our visit to Castle Rock this morning, not only could we see many of these churches but also a huge Mosque.) Walking the streets of Edinburgh, multi-cultural diversity is evident in looking at people, their dress and the wide variety of ethnic cuisines available at restaurants.) Thus was our morning spent on a rock that has been in existence for thousands and thousands of years.
I was left alone after lunch as those who are singing went for rehearsal and to sing a service that has been for centuries another kind of rock for people of a Christian liturgical tradition - Evensong. If you want to know the entire program of music that the St. Paul's choir will be presenting this week, click here. The Evensong Service for this Monday is now over and all of you would be so appreciative of the St. Paul's choir. They all work so hard to present at these services. They sing everyday this week, except Saturday, and twice on Sunday.
Evensong is a service that has been sung for centuries in its present form. Most everything the choir sings changes every service. Also, our organist, Ken Coleman, has prepared a different voluntary for each processional and recessional. (That is lots of preparation for lots of music.) Carl Jung wrote that what led to transformed people were rituals and symbols. I can't help but believe that the prayers and rituals of faithful people, whatever their tradition, can but lead to a transformed world. Being wrapped up in this centuries old tradition, surrounded by the symbols of the ages, offers the opportunity to spend more and deeper time in peace, hope, joy and strength. Another kind of rock altogether.