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October 20th 1579

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Sabbath Rules

Immediately after the Reformation the Scottish Parliament passed an Act prohibiting the holding of Sunday markets and also ordaining that “na handi-labouring, nor working be used on the Sabbath day, nor na gaming and playing, passing to taverns and ale houses, or selling of meat and drink, or wilful remaining of people frae their parish kirk, in time of sermon or prayers on the Sabbath day, be used.”  It gives a graphic picture of the behaviour of many of the population on a Sunday.

In Perth, the Kirk Session did its best to put the provisions of the Act into operation. In 1587, the Session passed an ordinance that the Sabbath should be observed “especially in the mills, flesher’s booths and bake houses,”  with various penalties for transgression. They were not very obviously successful. The Perth millers “have been divers and sundry times charged to compear before the Assembly for permitting their servants to occupy (i.e. work) on the Sabbath day, and to hold their mills going.” 

Likewise, the Session noting that “sundry resorted in time of sermon to taverns and ale houses and came not to the kirk as became Christians, therefore they ordered that ilk taverner or ale-seller that sells wine or ale in time of sermon shall pay 20s Scots.”  Again the ordinance seems to have been somewhat ineffectual. Three years later the Session was again fulminating against these backsliders. It was ordained “that no inhabitants within this burgh, chiefly taverners or toppers of wine or ale, receive or keep within their houses on the Sabbath day any person, stranger or inhabitant, whatsoever in time of preaching or sermon.” 

Things seemed to be little better the next year with regression even among the Bailies of the town. “Seeing there are many enormities done in time of preaching, within the kirk and without the same, with bairns crying and playing in time of preaching in the kirkyard, it is ordained that the Bailies keep their own appointed seats on the preaching days, that the minister may intimate to them such things that are to be done; and in case they be absent to be nominated by their names to come to the same the next day, and then in case of absence to be publicly reproved.” 

Still the sinners flourished and the next year came further resolutions, “that the hail Bailies with two Elders to await every Sabbath day for observation of the Sabbath that no handiwork, taverning, baking, breaking of flesh or other such like courses be used therein, that God may be hailly and holily glorified.”  But it was still to be a while before God was so glorified. The case of Thomas Taylor illustrates their problems, Thomas was accused of being “a contemptuous breaker of the Sabbath by breaking of flesh on the said day.”  He was ordered to make public repentance on the next Sunday. Thomas refused.

Excommunication was threatened but without result. “Forasmeikle as Thomas Taylor is not only found to have given great disobedience to the voice of the kirk, and for the present is under the admonition afore excommunication, but also has in the meantime vented not only contempt of our ordinance, but also ungracious and ungodly speeches, for the suppressing of the which it is ordained that the Bailies put the said Thomas Taylor in ward until further order be taken, both for the glory of God and good example to others in time coming, so that vice may be suppressed.” 

But Thomas had friends in high places and the Bailies refused to imprison him. The Session’s wrath was then turned upon the civil authorities. The Bailies were once again ordered “presently (i.e. immediately) to put him (Thomas Taylor) in ward for his contempt, otherwise to proceed in excommunication against the Bailies in case they be negligent.” 

Even this threat produced no result and in spite of further threats and warnings it was another four months until “after sundry warnings and admonitions from the pulpit, compeared Thomas Taylor, flesher, and humbly with his confession of his offences in breaking of the Sabbath and his disobedience to the voice of the kirk, submits himself to the will and discipline of the kirk.”  He was ordered “to make his public repentance for away taking of the slander……and in time of preaching to stand bareheaded before my Lady Gowrie’s desk and give a confession of the said offence.” 

It is interesting to note that he was not required to sit on the Stool of Repentance or wear the clothes of a penitent.

This was in the year 1592, thirteen years after the original Act from the Scottish Parliament was passed prohibiting working on the Sabbath day.

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