The Annual Scalan Pilgrimage – Sunday 5th July 2015


The Annual Scalan Pilgrimage and Mass took place this year on Sunday 5th July with Mass at 4.00pm

Following hot on the heels of the National Pilgrimage at Keith which Celebrated The 400th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of St John Ogilvie, the Pilgrimage to Scalan was a quieter affair.  Nonetheless it was a wonderful celebration with over 100 people present.  Many of the pilgrims from further afield had stayed locally on the Saturday night and were able to take advantage of attending both pilgrimages.

The Right Reverend Bishop Hugh Gilbert was the main celebrant with The Most Reverend Archbishop Emeritus Mario Conti, The Right Reverend Bishop Toal, Fr. Martin Birrell from Pluscarden and Priests from Glasgow and Motherwell concelebrating, with Fr. Colin Stewart looking after the music – and keeping the congregation on their toes.  Hymns included Christ is made the sure foundation, Oh God you search me and you know me, and O loved of God Wearing the martyr’s thorns.

Although overcast, amazingly (by current standards) the weather remained dry – two afternoons in the same weekend, almost a record this year!  The clement weather enabled many of the assembled to linger and take advantage of the proffered hospitality of a hot drink and cake.



Steeped in history Scalan was once a seminary and was one of the few places in Scotland where the Roman Catholic faith was kept alive during the troubled times of the 18th century.

The Braes of Glenlivet offered seclusion, and from 1717 to 1799, over a hundred young men were trained to be priests in the College which is nestled, and hidden, within a barren circle of hills.  The priests survived attacks on the seminary by the Government’s Redcoat soldiers, aided by the locals of Glenlivet – people of all faiths, who acted as lookouts warning the college and its staff of incoming Redcoats.

The students followed a Spartan lifestyle, rising at 5 o’clock, washing in the Crombie, morning prayer, half an hours meditation, and mass followed by breakfast of oatmeal porridge at 8am.  The student then studied until noon.  Dinner was followed by an hours recreation then back to study until suppertime – which was porridge again.  A further hours recreation followed supper, then it was evening prayer, details on the following days meditation, then bed (9pm in winter 10pm in summer).  An austere lifestyle!

The College and the ‘Heather Priests’ played a vital role in keeping the traditional Catholic faith alive in northern Scotland.


Today although easily accessible by car, it still feels like you are in the middle of nowhere, with the final mile negotiated along a rough farm track.  Scalan is timeless, where the past and the history still feel tangible.


‘The time by the goodness of God will come, when the Catholic religion will again flourish in Scotland; and then, when posterity shall enquire, with a laudable curiosity, by what means any sparks of the true faith were preserved in these dismal times of darkness and error, Scalan and the other colleges will be mentioned with veneration, and all that can be recorded concerning them will be recorded with care … ‘ (Rev. John Geddes, Rector of Scalan 1762 to65)