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December 13th 1577

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Those crazy Perth bakers!

The patron saint of the bakers of Perth was St Aubert or Obert, and on December 10th it was the custom to perform a pageant called St Obert’s play. The apprentices and journeymen would march through the town in various disguises carrying lighted torches with pipers, dancers and a drummer. One member impersonated the devil and another rode on a horse shod with men’s shoes.

Such behaviour was not considered acceptable in the brave new Perth of the Reformation. December 13th the Kirk session “compeared John Fyvie and confesses that upon the 10th December, which was called St Obert’s Even, he passed through Macbeth and William Jack riding upon a horse going in men’s shoes.”  All exhibited suitable signs of penitence and agreed not to offend again. Promises! Promises!

The very next year, “Gilbert Robertson, William Martin, Thomas Rollock, Thomas Jack, John Macbeth confess they have transgressed an act made in the Assembly of Ministers and Elders in that they superstitiously passed about the town on St Obert’s Even disguised in piping and dancing and torches bearing.”  They submitted themselves to the discipline of the church.

Two years pass and lo here is the Kirk Session again complaining of “the idolatrous pastimes of sundry insolent young men, in playing of St Obert’s play, to the great grief of the conscience of the faithful and infamous slander of the haill congregation throughout the haill country.”  But the sting is in the tail. Those taking part, and they are listed, are to be imprisoned “until every one of them shall have paid 20s (Scots) to the poor, further, that they shall put themselves in the seat of repentance there to remain the Sabbath day in time of the sermon; attour (in addition) that they shall find caution under the pain of £10 (Scots) and doubling of the former punishment, so oft as ever they offend again, never to do the like in time coming.” 

Five years later in 1587 there is yet another reference to St Obert’s Play. Not only is the Kirk quickly in pursuit but the Baker’s Guild agrees that any member taking part in the pageant should “be debarred from all the liberties of the craft, should never have entry to the same again, and should be banished from the town forever.” 

It was the knock-out blow and St Obert was never heard of again.

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