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History of St Mary's College

Scotland and its religious culture

Coat of Arms, outside St Mary's

Since 1707 Scotland has formed part of the United Kingdom and as such is joined by many ties to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. While its culture and sense of nationhood is proud and distinct, its people, shaped by Roman, Irish, English, Scandinavian and Continental influences and themselves playing a prominent part in the development of other countries, are welcoming and hospitable to those from beyond its shores.

Scottish Christianity, born of the twin influences of the Celtic Church and Rome, is deep-rooted and expressed today in the national Church of Scotland (a Reformed and presbyterian body), in a strong Roman Catholic community, and in the presence of many other branches of the Christian faith. Modern demographic changes have also seen the emergence in Scotland in recent times of a multi-cultural, multi-faith society, especially in the larger urban centres.

St Andrews

St Andrews Cathedral Night

St Andrews is in many respects an ideal place to study theology. As the seat of the primate of the mediaeval Scottish Church, the Archbishop of St Andrews, this small city was for many centuries the centre of church life in Scotland. Its origins as a Christian centre go back to the eighth century AD, to the time of the Pictish kings of eastern Scotland. To this day its position on a headland by the North Sea is dominated by the ruins of the great mediaeval cathedral and the fortified bishop's castle.

During the crucial dispute at the time of the Reformation St Andrews was at the heart of much of the action, witnessing the capture of John Knox by French Catholic forces and the martyrdom and murder of leading Protestants and Catholics. Since then religious struggle may have given way to more friendly rivalry as the town became the home of the international game of golf, but St Andrews remains a formidable intellectual centre with thriving contacts around the world.

The College of St Mary

St Mary's College was planned by Archbishop James Beaton shortly after his appointment to the See of St Andrews in a supplication sent to the Pope at Rome in 1525. As far as is known, nothing came of the proposal to establish within the metropolitan city and its University a College of 'clerks' for the benefit of those poor clerks and priests of the diocese who wished to pursue studies in Arts and Literature, Theology, Law and Medicine.

The Archbishop's plan to provide for a better-educated parish priesthood was renewed in 1537. This time he was successful and a Bull from Pope Paul III was issued on 12 February 1538, which was in effect the papal foundation of the College. It took, however, a further year before the Archbishop was able to take action.

The first recorded steps towards the foundation of the College were taken in the castle of St Andrews on 7 February 1539, and in the chapel of St John the Evangelist in South Street, three days later.

Cardinal David Beaton

The College of 'doctore, regents, masters, chaplains and students' was intended to have both an academic and a religious purpose. The religious purpose entailed the daily offering of prayers for the soul of the late King James IV and those of his successors. Hence, the prominence of the royal coat of arms on the street frontage of the College building.

Archbishop Beaton did not, however, live more than a few days after the formal inauguration of the College. His successor, Cardinal David Beaton, immediately undertook the work of erecting the College and incorporating in it the chapel of St John, the ancient pedagogy, and the Canon Law schools. Much time and money was expended by the Cardinal on the rebuilding of the chapel and the erection of the north range of the present College buildings. It is unlikely that much teaching took place at this time, but what there was was in the hands of the regents of the former pedagogy.

The political and the religious events of the Spring and early Summer of 1546 - the death of Wishart and the murder of the Cardinal - had a shattering effect on the city and the University.

During the vacancy of the Episcopal See, as a result of Beaton's assassination, Archibald Hay, a most distinguished Scots scholar at Paris, who had been summoned by the Cardinal, was appointed Principal and took office on 13 July. he had already given full expression in publications at Paris to his hopes and aspirations for the new College. He in fact envisaged at St Andrews a trilingual College, whose future lay in the cultivation of the new learning by instruction in Greek, Latin and Hebrew. Hay was not, however, destined to occupy the Principalship for more than 14 months. Having obeyed the summons to arms to resist the English invasion in July 1547, he died at the disastrous Battle of Pinkie.

Beaton Tower, St Mary's College

The new Archbishop, John Hamilton, who had also received some of his education in Paris, quickly showed an interest in the new College and set about recreating its fortunes. As Hay's successor, he chose John Douglas, who had been a regent in the University of Paris in the early 1530s and 40s, and had been supported by Archbishop James Beaton. Douglas was the natural successor to carry on the work of Hay. He was in fact to guide the fortunes of the College and the University without a break from October 1547 until March 1574.

The new Archbishop had far-reaching plans for the College. He continued the building activities of his predecessor and was responsible for all of the building south of the former Drawing Room of the Principal's House, and is commemorated by the Tower, into which is built his coat of arms. Hamilton, no doubt inspired by Douglas, made strenuous efforts to bring a number of distinguished Scottish scholars from abroad to augment and enhance its teaching, among them the celebrated philosopher, John Rutherford, and the distinguished lawyer, William Skene. Others who taught in the College at this time were Richard Smyth, the first Regious Professor of Divinity at Oxford, who subsequently became Head of the College at Douai, and Richard Marshall, another Doctor in Theology at Oxford and Dominican Prior of Newcastle.

At this time Hamilton was actively seeking to bring about a Catholic reformation in Scotland in which he envisaged St Mary's College should play a prominent part. It seems almost certain that the Catechism sanctioned by the Church Council in 1552 - the first book printed and published in St Andrews - was essentially the product of the theologians at that time working and teaching in St Mary's College.

The reforms proposed by the Scottish councils, the strengthening of the theological faculty in the University and the prublication of the Catechism, acknowledging the needs of the Church for a better-educated priesthood, together form the back to yet another supplication to Rome and a subsequent charter or new foundation in February 1554.

According to the Archbishop's intention, the future of the College was to be as a vehicle of Catholic reformation, and for this purpose it was to be thoroughly reorganised and further endowed. A good start was made, but already time was running out for those who advocated Catholic Reform in Scotland. Other factors had begun to influence the Scottish scene; the growing political dissatisfaction with the policy of the Queen Regent and the spread of the Protestant movement, particularly in the east coast towns. Those who supported the archbishop's ecclesiastical policy began to have grave doubts about its peaceful fulfilment.

In June 1559 the Protestant Reformation was accomplished in St Andrews. Principal Douglas, and many others who had been connected with the College in the previous decade, joined the reformers and, along with the sub-prior Winran, took their part in supporting the Reformation. Reform was henceforth to take a definitely Protestant form. Nevertheless, Douglas clearly saw the College as continuing in the service of the Church and consequently the transition could hardly have been accomplished more smoothly or with less dislocation. Although ecclesiastically deprived, the Archbishop continued, until his execution in 1571, to take an interest in the College of which he was the re-founded and patron, and to make appointments to the staff from amongst his kinsmen.

From 1560 until the death of Douglas, the College continued to thrive despite the uncertainties of the times. Building operations, however, ceased. Numbers of students remained high, although the College became somewhat of a Hamilton preserve. Douglas' successor in 1571, Robert Hamilton, was also minister of the parish church in St Andrews, and had been successively third and second master. He continued to hold his pastoral charge during John Knox's final stay in St Andrews.

About this time, dissension arose and St Mary's College became the object of repeated enquiry by parliamentary commissions headed by the regent Morton. Parliamentary and ecclesiastical concern result in the Act of Parliament of 1579 'refounding' and 'reorganising' the entire University of St Andrews. From that date onwards St Mary's College was destined to become the home of the University's Faculty of Theology and to be the principal College of Theology for the education of candidates for the ministry of the national church.

Andrew Melville was brought by the joint efforts of Crown and Kirk to St Andrews in 1580. A former student of the College, Melville, by his own scholarship and by those whom he secured as its masters, sought to re-establish the College as a centre of high academic learning. In the last decade of the century a constant stream of students from abroad continued to flow into St Andrews. Melville's activity in supporting the presbyterian cause against the King resulted in a royal summons to London and his subsequent deprivation of the Principalship in 1607.

His successor, Robert Howier, who had been the first Principal of Marishcal College, Aberdeen, and subsequently one of the ministers of Dundee, was academically well-suited to follow Melville. he also showed himself from this time forward more favourably disposed to the King's plans for the Church.

Samuel Rutherford

During his Principalship the earlier building operations were renewed. He linked up the Beaton and Hamilton buildings by that part now represented by the College offices and former Drawing Room. he also completely rebuilt the eastern sections of the South Street frontage and was largely responsible for the erection of the University Library on the probably site of the College chapel of St John. His arms and initials are frequently found on the east frontage.

During Howie's Principalship, the College continued to enjoy an international reputation and to draw students from all parts of the Protestant world. Howie, having guided the fortunes of the College and University throughout the first half of the 17th century, was succeeded in 1647 by Samuel Rutherford, one of the most distinguished of St Andrews divines and whose portrait, painted during his attendance at the Westminster Assembly of Divines in London, is undoubtedly the finest in College Hall.

James Hadow

In the 18th century her most distinguished members were Principal James Hadow and Professor Archibald Campbell, both of whose portraits adorn the College Hall. Hadow is best remembered for his opposition to the 'Marrow men', and Archibald Campbell for the way in which he sought to employ the benefits of the enlightenment in the service of theology.

George Hill, who was Principal from 1791 to 1819 was leader of the Moderate Party and a theological teacher of the young Thomas Chalmers.

Towards the end of the century one of the most colourful members of the College was Principal John Tulloch, a Moderator of the General Assembly and a man who was much admired by Queen Victoria. He was succeeded in the Principalship by John Cunningham, a forebear of Admiral Cunningham.

Archibald CampbellThe 20th century is represented by the portrait on the west side of the fireplace in St Mary's College Hall of Principal Galloway (last of the ex officio Principals), who was Professor of Divinity from 1915 to 1933, and on the east side by the fine portrait by Alberto Morocco of Principal G.S. Duncan (1940-1954), who was Professor of Biblical Criticism from 1919 to 1954.

Unfortunately the university does not have a portrait of its most highly celebrated theologian of the last century, Donald M. Baillie (1887 - 1954), Professor of Dogmatic Theology from 1934 to his death.

James K. Cameron, Professor of Ecclesiastical History. Used by kind permission.

St Mary's College c. 1767, by James Oliphant

St Mary's College, ca. 1767 by James Oliphant. University of St Andrews, All rights reserved.

Contact details

St Mary's College
The School of Divinity
University of St Andrews
South Street
St Andrews
Fife KY16 9JU
Scotland, United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)1334 462850
Fax: +44 (0)1334 462852