Visitors to St. Augustine do not usually see men and women in kilts, but there will be many of them during the annual Kirkin’ of the Tartans Scottish celebration.
The festive event will begin after the 11 a.m. service Jan. 21 at Memorial Presbyterian Church, 36 Sevilla St.
The Kirkin of the Tartans is a tribute to the clans of Scotland who came together peacefully respecting the dictates of the kirk (church). The tartans are the clan’s plaid colors. The men and women of Memorial Presbyterian Church carry tall banners with Scottish plaid colors called tartans honoring the Scottish heritage of the Presbyterian church. The Presbyterian church was formed in Scotland by John Calvin and John Knox.
While the truth about the origin of this service is uncertain, historians note that there was among Scottish Christians an annual service in which they wore their finest tartans, gave thanks for God’s blessings and rededicated themselves as the people of God in Jesus Christ. The Proscription Act of 1746, which made it illegal to wear or display the tartan, to play the bagpipes or to sing Highland songs, made the rededication service virtually impossible. However, the service went underground, as it were, with the faithful secretly carrying small swatches of the material to be “kirked” (“churched”) in a Sunday service.
The tradition among Scottish-Americans can be traced to Dr. Peter Marshall a Scots-American preacher, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C., and twice appointed as Chaplain of the United States Senate. He is remembered popularly from the book and movie “A Man Called Peter.” He presided over the first Kirkin’ of the Tartans ceremony to be held on American soil.
Memorial Presbyterian continues this tradition, which is celebrated across the United States in a variety of churches and Highland Games gatherings, in recognition of the indebtedness to Scottish Presbyterians who brought the Presbyterian tradition to the U.S.
Henry Flagler, the father of St. Augustine tourism and a Presbyterian, named his home Kirkside (beside the church) in honor of his Presbyterian heritage. Flagler was the son of a Presbyterian minister and built Memorial Presbyterian Church in memory of his daughter, Jennie Louise Benedict. Kirkside was built beside the church and was the home of Flagler and his family for many years. It was demolished in 1950.
Anyone with a kilt is invited to participate, and visitors are welcome to the annual event that includes the sound of bag pipes while surrounded by the color of the Tartans.
For information, call Louise Osborn at 829-6451 or go to memorialpcusa.