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October 16th 1585

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The Power of the Plague

The plague made periodic visits to Perth and Perthshire from as far back as the 14th Century. There was little knowledge of what caused the outbreaks and what might be done to guard against them.

Particularly after the Reformation, there was a tendency to regard it as a manifestation of divine displeasure with the general lifestyle of the people. Periods of fasting and humiliation were routinely called for by the ministers.

Such was the case in 1585 “that God in his mercy might remove this miserable plague from this town.”  Under the circumstances it was particularly unfortunate that two young people should have been found in the middle of the fasting period “in naked bed together, in filthy fornication.” 

The Session did what they could to demonstrate their disapproval of the young couple, particularly at such a time. They ordained that “they shall be carted backwards through the town from the said Elspeth’s house where they were apprehended, having paper hats on their heads, on Saturday next at ten hours before noon, and thereafter they shall be locked fast in front of the Cross Head till three in the afternoon. And thereafter to be warded until Sunday, at what time the officers shall convey them, with their paper hats, to the public seat of repentance that they may confess their offence, and ask God and the congregation for their forgiveness for the slander they gave and evil example to others to commit the like.” 

The plague continued to rage through the town.

Two years later the disease was still present in Scotland, and in November another fast of eight days was ordered, “with great humiliation and prayer to God, that it would please him to remove the plague of the pest.” 

The Session, no doubt feeling that eight days of fasting was a big sacrifice, tacked on another request to the Almighty. “As also to preserve us from the pest of the foul, whilk is Papistry ignorance, maintained presently by those Jesuits and Papists now come in, who presses to bring men under the thraldom of idolatry and ignorance and from the true knowledge of Christ our Savour revealed to us in his word, and to embrace their superstitious rites and ceremonies, from the whilk the Lord preserve us.” 

This of course was at a time when there was still a great, and justifiable, fear of a return to Roman Catholicism. Unfortunately there were no signs of any diminution in the plague.

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