Religion in Scotland

Religion in Scotland
Religion in Scotland
Flag of Scotland.svg

Church of Scotland
Roman Catholic Church
Free Church of Scotland
Free Church of Scotland (Continuing)
United Free Church of Scotland
Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland
Associated Presbyterian Churches
Scottish Episcopal Church
Baptist Union of Scotland
Action of Churches Together in Scotland
Scottish Reformation
Bahá'í Faith

Christianity is the largest religion in Scotland. At the 2001 census 65% of the Scottish population was Christian. The Church of Scotland, often known as The Kirk, is recognised in law as the national church of Scotland. It is not an established church and is independent of state control. However, it is the largest religious grouping in Scotland, with 42% of the population. The other major denomination is the Roman Catholic Church, the traditional Christian church of Scotland prior to the Reformation, which claims around 16% of the population, and is especially important in West Central Scotland and the Highlands. There are also around 15,000 each of Baptists, Episcopalians and conservative Presbyterians, with smaller numbers of Quakers, Pentecostal, Gospel Hall. The only churches to witness an increase in attendance are independent churches, which include the popular evangelical wing.[1]

Judaism has been established in Scotland since at least the High Middle Ages. In recent years other religions have established a presence in Scotland, mainly through immigration, though also partly through the attraction of converts. Those with the most adherents are Islam (mainly among immigrants from South Asia), Buddhism, Sikhism and Hinduism. Other minority faiths include the Bahá'í Faith, Rasta and small Neopagan groups. There are also various organisations which actively promote humanism, rationalism and secularism, reflecting the 28% who claim to have no religious beliefs, or did not state a religion.

Orthodox Christianity has a significant presence in most of the large cities of Scotland. Although it was once present mainly through the Greek Orthodox Church, its churches have become the place of worship for many other Orthodox Christians from Russia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and many other countries (mainly former USSR states).



The ninth century St Martin's Cross, with St John's cross in the background, stands outside the entrance to Iona Abbey in Iona, Scotland, one of the oldest and most important religious centres in the United Kingdom

Early Pictish religion is presumed to have resembled Celtic polytheism in general. The date at which Pictish kings converted to Christianity is uncertain, but there are traditions which place Saint Palladius in Pictland after leaving Ireland, and link Abernethy with Saints Brigid and Darlugdach of Kildare.[2] Saint Patrick refers to "apostate Picts", while the poem Y Gododdin does not remark on the Picts as pagans.[3] Conversion of the Pictish élite seems likely to have run over a considerable period, beginning in the 5th century and not complete until the 7th. Recent archaeological work at Portmahomack places the foundation of the monastery there, an area once assumed to be among the last converted, in the late 6th century.[4] This is contemporary with Bridei mac Maelchon and Columba. The process of establishing Christianity throughout Pictland will have extended over a much longer period. Pictland was not solely influenced by Iona and Ireland. It also had ties to churches in England, as seen in the reign of Nechtan mac Der Ilei. The reported expulsion of Ionan monks and clergy by Nechtan in 717 may have been related to the controversy over the dating of Easter, and the manner of tonsure, where Nechtan appears to have supported the Roman usages, but may equally have been intended to increase royal power over the church.[5] Nonetheless, the evidence of place names suggests a wide area of Ionan influence in Pictland.[6] Likewise, the Cáin Adomnáin (Law of Adomnán, Lex Innocentium) counts Nechtan's brother Bridei among its guarantors.

The ruins of the Cathedral of St Andrew in St Andrews, Fife.

Christianity probably came to Scotland around the 2nd century, and was firmly established by the 6th and 7th centuries. However, until the 11th century, the relationship between the Church in Scotland and the Papacy is ambiguous. The Scottish 'Celtic' Church had marked liturgical and ecclesiastic differences from the rest of Western Christendom. Some of these were resolved at the end of the 7th century following the Synod of Whitby and St Columba's withdrawal to Iona, however, it was not until the ecclesiastical reforms of the 11th century that the Scottish Church became an integral part of the Roman communion.

The importance of monastic centres in Pictland was not perhaps as great as in Ireland. In areas which had been studied, such as Strathspey and Perthshire, it appears that the parochial structure of the High Middle Ages existed in early medieval times. Among the major religious sites of eastern Pictland were Portmahomack, Cennrígmonaid (later St Andrews), Dunkeld, Abernethy and Rosemarkie. It appears that these are associated with Pictish kings, which argues for a considerable degree of royal patronage and control of the church.[7]

The Stone of Scone in the Coronation Chair at Westminster Abbey, 1855.

The Stone of Destiny (Lia Fáil) is also supposed to be the pillow stone said to have been used by the Biblical Jacob. In 1297 the Stone was captured by Edward I as spoils of war and taken from Scone to Westminster Abbey, where it was fitted into the old wooden chair, known as St. Edward's Chair, on which English sovereigns were crowned.

The cult of Saints was, as throughout Christian lands, of great importance in later Pictland. While kings might patronise great Saints, such as Saint Peter in the case of Nechtan, and perhaps Saint Andrew in the case of the second Óengus mac Fergusa, many lesser Saints, some now obscure, were important. The Pictish Saint Drostan appears to have had a wide following in the north in earlier times, although all but forgotten by the 12th century. Saint Serf of Culross was associated with Nechtan's brother Bridei.[8] It appears, as is well known in later times, that noble kin groups had their own patron saints, and their own churches or abbeys.[9]

The church in Scotland attained independent status after the Papal Bull of Celestine III (Cum universi, 1192) by which all Scottish bishoprics except Galloway (and the then Norwegian islands) were formally independent of York and Canterbury. However, unlike Ireland which had been granted four Archbishoprics in the same century, Scotland received no Archbishop and the whole Ecclesia Scoticana, with individual Scottish bishoprics (except Whithorn/Galloway and the islands), became the "special daughter of Rome".

John Knox was the leading Scottish religious reformer of the 16th century

That remained the picture until the Scottish Reformation was initiated in 1560 by John Knox, who was a Calvinist and the Church in Scotland broke with the papacy, and adopted a Calvinist confession. At that point the celebration of the Roman Mass was outlawed. When Mary, Queen of Scots, returned from France to rule, she found herself as a Roman Catholic in a largely Protestant state and Protestant court. For more information on the history of the Reformation in Scotland, see also Scottish Reformation, John Knox, Jenny Geddes, Book of Common Order, and Bishops' Wars.

Modern Christianity

As measured by the 2001 Census returns (see Statistics section below) The Church of Scotland, which is also known as The Kirk, is Scotland's largest Christian denomination. It is recognised in law (by the Church of Scotland Act 1921) as the country's national church though it is not an established church, being independent of state control in matters spiritual. The Church of Scotland is a Reformed church, with a Presbyterian system of ecclesiastical polity as determined in 1690. The monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth II) is an ordinary member of the Church of Scotland, and is represented at the General Assembly by their Lord High Commissioner.

The second largest church in Scotland is the Roman Catholic Church which survived the Reformation, especially on islands like Uist and Barra, despite the suppression of the 16th to the late 18th centuries. Roman Catholicism in Scotland was strengthened particularly in the west of Scotland during the 19th century by immigration from Ireland. This continued for much of the 20th century, during which significant numbers of Catholics from Italy, Lithuania and Poland also migrated to Scotland.

The Scottish Episcopal Church, is Scotland's third largest Christian church with around 39,000 members.[10] It dates from the final establishment of Presbyterianism in Scotland in 1690, when it split from the Church of Scotland. Though part of the Anglican Communion, it is not a 'daughter church' of the Church of England.

Orthodox Christian churches are also a notable presence. In Glasgow, the Cathedral of St Luke Greek Orthodox Cathedral of St Luke is an important church, with important historical background.

Divisions within Presbyterianism over the question of establishment (see Disruption of 1843) in Scotland led to the setting up of other denominations including the Free Church of Scotland. The modern day Free Church of Scotland (post-1900) adheres to a more conservative style of Calvinism.

Other denominations in Scotland include the Jehovah's Witnesses, Methodists, the Congregationalists, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Other faiths

Scotland has a relatively high proportion of persons, 28% of the population, who regard themselves as belonging to 'no religion'. Indeed, this was the second most common response in the 2001 census after The Kirk, outnumbering even Roman Catholics.[11]

Islam is the next religious viewpoint after Christianity and nonreligious in Scotland, although it accounts for less than 1% of the population (estimated 50,000).[11] See Islam in Scotland.

According to the 2001 census, approximately 6,400 practising Jews live in Scotland, most of whom are centralised in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and to a lesser extent Dundee. Scotland's Jewish population continues to be predominantly urban. Despite the small numbers, Judaism in Scotland has a long history. While England during the Middle Ages had state persecution of the Jews, culminating in the expulsion of 1290 (it has been suggested that Jews may have arrived in Scotland after this date)[citation needed], there was never a corresponding expulsion from Scotland. Merchant trade routes between Scotland and Poland and Lithuania helped establish Jewish populations in Scottish port towns in the mediaeval period. Evidence of Jews in medieval Scotland is fairly scanty, but in 1190, the Bishop of Glasgow forbade churchmen to "ledge their benefices for money borrowed from Jews". [1] This was around the time of the Anti-Jewish riots in England so it is possible Jewish refugees lived in Scotland for a brief time, or it may refer to English Jews' interests in Scotland. Like many Christian nations, medieval Scots believed themselves to have a Biblical connection. The Declaration of Arbroath (6 April, 1320), which was sent as an appeal to Pope John XXII, confirmed Scotland's status as an independent, sovereign state and asserted its right to use military action when considered unjustly attacked. It was sealed by fifty-one magnates and nobles. It is still periodically referenced by British Israelitists. The text asserts that in the eyes of God:

cum non sit Pondus nec distinccio Judei et Greci, Scoti aut Anglici
("there is neither bias nor difference between Jew or Greek, Scot or English")
Glasgow Central Mosque, the largest mosque in Scotland.

The majority of Jewish immigration appears to have occurred post-industrialisation, and post-1707, meaning that Jews in Scotland were subject to various anti-Jewish British laws. Scotland was under the jurisdiction of the Jew Bill, enacted in 1753, but repealed the next year.

Shetland is one of the few places where paganism has remained fairly common in Scotland, and today they celebrate Up Helly Aa annually. Edinburgh also has annual celebrations of Beltane and Samhuinn. Modern Neopagan religions inspired by pre-Christian British and Celtic beliefs, such as Wicca, Neo-druidism and Celtic Reconstructionist Paganism have some adherents. While the culturally-based Neopagan traditions (such as Celtic Reconstructionism) may be quite comfortable with Christianity and open about their practices and beliefs, some members of traditions that place more emphasis on occult practices (such as Wicca and Ceremonial magic) tend to fear persecution and practise more discreetly. Baha'i Faith is a minority religion.[12]

Religious leaders


Religious affiliation in Scotland[11]
Religion/Denomination Current religion % Religion of upbringing %
Church of Scotland 2,146,251 42.4 2,392,601 47.3
No Religion 1,394,460 27.5 887,221 17.5
Roman Catholic 803,732 15.9 859,503 17.5
Other Christian 344,562 6.8 424,221 8.4
Religion not stated 278,061 5.5 422,862 8.4
Islam 42,557 0.8 42,264 0.8
Other Religion 26,974 0.6 8,447 0.2
Buddhism 6,830 0.1 4,704 0.1
Sikhism 6,572 0.1 6,821 0.1
Judaism 6,448 0.1 7,446 0.1
Hinduism 5,564 0.1 5,921 0.1
Base/Total 5,062,011 100 5,062,011 100

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Catholic church moves into Pole position Scotland on Sunday, 25 May 2008
  2. ^ Clancy, "'Nennian recension'", pp. 95–96, Smyth, Warlords and Holy Men, pp. 82–83.
  3. ^ Markus, "Conversion to Christianity".
  4. ^ Mentioned by Foster, but more information is available from the Tarbat Discovery Programme: see under External links.
  5. ^ Bede, IV, cc. 21–22, Clancy, "Church institutions", Clancy, "Nechtan".
  6. ^ Taylor, "Iona abbots".
  7. ^ Clancy, "Church institutions", Markus, "Religious life".
  8. ^ Clancy, "Cult of Saints", Clancy, "Nechtan", Taylor, "Iona abbots"
  9. ^ Markus, "Religious life".
  10. ^ Scots church 'may appoint UK's first female bishop' BBC News, 16 January 2010
  11. ^ a b c Scottish Executive (2006-05-17). "Analysis of Religion in the 2001 census". United Kingdom Census 2001. Scottish Parliament. Retrieved February 14, 2007. 
  12. ^


  • Clancy, Thomas Owen, "Church institutions: early medieval" in Lynch (2001).
  • Clancy, Thomas Owen, "Scotland, the 'Nennian' Recension of the Historia Brittonum and the Libor Bretnach in Simon Taylor (ed.), Kings, clerics and chronicles in Scotland 500–1297. Fourt Courts, Dublin, 2000. ISBN 1-85182-516-9
  • Clancy, Thomas Owen, "Nechtan son of Derile" in Lynch (2001).
  • Clancy, Thomas Owen, "Columba, Adomnán and th Cult of Saints in Scotland" in Broun & Clancy (1999).
  • Cross, F.L. and Livingstone, E.A. (eds), Scotland, Christianity in in "The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church", pp. 1471–1473. Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1997. ISBN 0-19-211655-X
  • Foster, Sally M., Picts, Gaels, and Scots: Early Historic Scotland. Batsford, London, 2004. ISBN 0-7134-8874-3
  • Hillis, Peter, The Barony of Glasgow, A Window onto Church and People in Nineteenth Century Scotland, Dunedin Academic Press, 2007.
  • Markus, Fr. Gilbert, O.P., "Religious life: early medieval" in Lynch (2001).
  • Markus, Fr. Gilbert, O.P., "Conversion to Christianity" in Lynch (2001).
  • Pope, Robert (ed.), Religion and National Identity: Wales and Scotland, c.1700-2000 (2001)
  • Taylor, Simon, "Seventh-century Iona abbots in Scottish place-names" in Broun & Clancy (1999).
John Calvin
 Calvinism portal v · d · e

External links

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