Editorial by Rev. Fr. Sebastian Wall, Prior of St. Andrew's House, Carluke, Scotland
May is traditionally Our Lady’s month. In the Litany of the Saints of Scotland we see the title Our Lady of Aberdeen.
The story of this small wooden statue is a fascinating tale of survival. The statue was made from oak in Aberdeen sometime in the early 1500s, and was placed in St. Machar’s Cathedral in Aberdeen, where it was known as Our Lady of Pity. It is four feet three inches high.
Bishop Gavin Dunbar was the Bishop of Aberdeen from 1518 to 1532. He was keen to build a bridge over the river Dee, but uncertain of where exactly to put it. Being a devout man, he prayed to Our Lady for inspiration. In a vision She showed him the exact location of where to build the bridge, and that is where it was built, and where it is today.
Eventually, in 1527, the bridge was completed. In honour of Our Lady and her help in chosing its location, a chapel was built on the south side of the bridge, the ‘country’ end. With great ceremony, the statue of Our Lady was carried shoulder high from the cathedral of St. Machar to the chapel and installed there.
As we see in our main article this month, the Reformation was rudely imposed on Scotland in 1560 and by 1593 a decree had been passed that Catholics must either give up their faith or emigrate.
Moreover, knowing the iconoclast tendencies of the proponents of the new ‘faith’, the Catholics of Dundee hid the statue of Our Lady before the complete destruction of the bridge chapel. It was piously hidden for three generations in Scotland but then finally sent for safe-keeping to Brussels where it ended up in the care of the Augustinians and, as its arrival coincided with a great victory against the protestant Dutch, was given the title ‘Our Lady of Good Success’.
A hundred and fifty years later and the statue was in danger again, this time at the hands of the invading French revolutionaries but she was saved by an Englishman dwelling in Brussels. He kept the statue in his house and it was almost twenty years later before the statue was placed in the chapel where it remains today.
The Hymn to Our Lady of Aberdeen pleads in its final verse: “Come back, come back to Scotland” but, awaiting that day, copies have been made and our picture shows the one presently in our chapel in Glasgow, surrounded by her Easter flowers.
Many thanks to Fr. O’Hart for his help in the Holy Week ceremonies last month and to you all for your fervour during the latter part of Lent.
With every good wish and blessing,
Rev. Sebastian Wall (Prior)