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St Ninians Cathedral, Perth

St. Ninian’s Cathedral in Perth, Scotland, was the result of the friendship of Horace Courtney Gammell Forbes, 19th Lord Forbes (1829 – 1914), and George Frederick Boyle, 6th Earl of Glasgow (1825–1890), while at Oxford University. Not only was St. Ninian’s the first cathedral built in Great Britain since the 1560 Scottish Reformation, but it also re-united two Protestant congregations separated by doctrinal beliefs.

In 16th century England, King Henry VIII encouraged the break with Catholicism due to the Pope’s refusal to grant him a divorce from his wife Catherine of Aragorn. He forced a series of Acts of Parliament which included the 1534 Act of Supremacy which declared that Henry was the "Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England".

His contemporary James V King of Scots avoided such changes to the church in Scotland. He continued to appoint his favorites to high posts and heavily taxed the Catholic Church. His direct involvement undermined both the religious authority and finances of the Church. As a result, the Scottish Parliament in 1560 approved a “Reformed Confession of Faith” (also called the Scots Confession) and three Acts that abolished the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland. The celebration of mass was punished and all Papal jurisdiction in Scotland was repudiated. Catholic Mary Queen of Scots refused to endorse these acts. Mary was forced to abdicate in 1567 and her young son James VI approved the acts in 1572.


However, the Reformed Church faced a growing faction that repudiated the right of the monarch to appoint leaders to Church. This created a delicate balance in Scotland between the established Episcopal doctrine that recognized royal authority and the growing Presbyterian faction that demanded that bishops be elected by “presbyters” or local church leaders. As noted by Fred D. Schneider: “For the Church of Scotland the period between 1575 and 1690 was one of alternating phases of church order: episcopacy in 1585, presbytery in 1592, episcopacy in 1610, presbytery in 1631, episcopacy in 1661, and presbytery in 1690. The practical result, however, was less an oscillation between extremes than a compromise between “establishment” and “opposition…” (Schneider, Fred D.; “Scottish Episcopalians and English Politicians: The Limits of Toleration,” Historical magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Volume 45, Number 3, September 1976.) 

The Jacobite Uprisings of 1689, 1715, and 1719 exacerbated these religious differences. Generally, Catholics and Episcopalians sided with the deposed James II and VII (called “Jacobus” in Latin.) They were opposed by Presbyterians who resisted the Stuart monarch’s abuse of their “divine right” to appoint bishops. As noted by the Reverend George T. S. Farquhar, “...the penal laws, the administration of which had been shewing some signs of relaxation, were rendered more severe than ever. In April an Act was passed by which every Episcopal Minister performing Divine Service in any Meeting House within Scotland, without having taken the oaths, is to suffer six months' imprisonment, and have his Meeting House shut up for six months; and every house where nine or more persons, besides the family, are present at Divine Service, is declared to be a Meeting-House within the meaning of the Act.” (Farquharson, Reverend George T. S.; The Episcopal History of Perth 1689 – 1894, 1894.) 

In 1719, the church split into “Usager” and “Non-Usager” factions, with both sides consecrating their own bishops. “Non-Usagers” promoted the eventual reconciliation with the main Church of England, while “Usagers” wanted to restore traditional liturgies. The Concordate of 1731, indeed (strained as it was at times), availed to keep the "Usager" and "Anti-Usager" Bishops together, and so the unity of the Scottish Church at large was always successfully preserved. But the two parties were still facing one another in Perth with jealous feelings. 

Anti-usagers “looked upon the distinction between the Church and the Presbyterians more as one of taste than of principle, and their conduct leads us to suppose that they rather viewed Bishops and Clergy as the employes of a religious society managed by themselves, than as persons inheriting a spiritual commission derived from Christ.” Usagers “looked upon Bishops of the Apostolical line as essential to the visible Church, and while satisfied to confine themselves to the English Book of Common Prayer for the sake of unity with the others, would prefer that the Scottish Eucharistic Office should come into use.” (Ibid.)

The two sides formally split in 1740 over the celebration of Easter into the “regular” Usage congregation and “irregular” Anti-usage congregations. A hundred years later, the two factions slowly drifted together due to the English education of Scottish leaders. As noted by Farquharson: “Warmer breezes from the south had begun to salute it. Mr. Wordsworth, an Englishman, was presiding over Trinity College ; the members of the Episcopate were no longer of the old-fashioned Aberdeen School, but men influenced by England ; congregations of a similar tone were springing up, not now among the farmers of the north, but amongst the well-to-do inhabitants of Edinburgh and Glasgow. And Bishop Torry himself acknowledged the affinity between his old-fashioned Scottish School and the new light that had arisen at Oxford.” (Farquharson, Reverend George T. S.; The Episcopal History of Perth 1689 – 1894, 1894.)

George Frederick Boyle.jpg

George Frederick Boyle (1825–1890),
later 6th Earl of Glasgow


Altar of  St. Ninian's Cathedral, Perth


Some of the “new light” from Oxford was generated by two friends at Oriel College in Oxford. George Frederick Boyle (1825–1890), was the fourth son of the George Boyle, 4th Earl of Glasgow. Horace Courtenay Gammell Forbes (1829 – 1914) was the third son of Walter Gammell Forbes, 18th Lord Forbes. Both were influenced by the religious views of the Right Reverend Alexander Penrose Forbes (1817 –1875), the Bishop of Brechin and the grandson of Sir William Forbes, 6th Baronet of Pitsligo. Through the younger Forbes, Boyle became acquainted with Lord Forbes, who maintained a townhouse at 52 St. John’s Street in Oxford. 

As described by Farquharson: “Now the prospects of the Scottish Church would often form the subject of their discussion, and it occurred to their ardent and patriotic hearts, stirred by the vigorous movement by which they found themselves surrounded; that they ought to inaugurate some grand attempt for the revival of the northern Zion. The proposal to begin a restoration of our Cathedral institutions was no sooner suggested than it fascinated their minds.” (Ibid.) That proposal was to create a diocese with a cathedral in the general center of Scotland. They chose Perth because: “It was a City of considerable population; it was in the very centre of the land ; there passed through it perhaps a greater number of strangers than through any other town in Scotland, except Edinburgh ; Trinity College was in the neighbourhood, and in this place it might consequently be expected to exercise a powerful influence on the future destinies of the Church throughout the country.” (Ibid.)


With the approval bishop of the diocese, the Rt. Rev. Patrick Torry, Forbes and Boyle selected the London architect, William Butterfield. They initially raised £5,751, most from the families of Lord Forbes and the Hon. George Boyle. In 1849, constructed began on the site of the old Blackfriars Monastery. The bishop chose to name the cathedral after St. Ninian who brought the Christian message to Scotland in the 5th century and it was the first to be consecrated in the U.K. following the reformation. The first phase of construction resulted in a chancel with a north aisle and a single bay nave. When this was completed, the cathedral was consecrated on December 10, 1850, by the Rt. Rev. Alexander Penrose Forbes of Brechin since eighty-six-year-old Bishop Torry was too frail to preside. Construction continued until 1890 with the completion of three more bays of the nave plus aisles, and the lower part of a single western tower. Transepts were added either side of the base of the tower, ending level with outer sides of the aisles.

Although younger brothers of the family heirs, both George Frederick Boyle and Horace Courtenay Gammell Forbes succeeded to their respective titles. James Boyle, 5th Earl of Glasgow died without issue in 1869 and his brother George succeeded as the 6th Earl of Glasgow. In 1956, he had married Montague Abercromby, the niece of his mentor the Right Reverend Alexander Penrose Forbes. 

Horace’s brother Jonathan Barrington, Master of Forbes, died unmarried in 1846. Horace became the Master of Forbes and succeeded as the 19th Lord Forbes when his father died in 1868. He continued his financial support Scottish Episcopal Church. For example, in 1888 he gave £5,000 for a Prebendary stall in Perth Cathedral, in memory of the Right Reverend Alexander Penrose Forbes, Bishop of Brechin. Lord Forbes was elected as a representative Peer for Scotland from 1874 to 1906 and was President of the Scottish Church Union.


Lord Forbes never married and when he died in 1914, his younger brother Atholl Monson of Brux (1841-1916) succeeded as the 20th Lord Forbes. Horace Courtenay Gammell, 19th Lord Forbes was buried in the Keig Old Kirkyard on the estate of Castle Forbes.


Note that the grave marker indicates him as the 20th Lord Forbes. However, the numbering of the Lords Forbes was adjusted by the Lord Lyon King of Arms in 1955. To learn more, see John Forbes - The Lord Who Wasn't

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