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Issue 82 - What I Love About Scotland

Scotland Magazine Issue 82
August 2015

 

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What I Love About Scotland

A series in which well known individuals based around the world express their thoughts about the Scotland they know well

I have never woken up in the morning thinking that I live in Scotland but instead, that I live in that part of Europe, now called Scotland, where the Celtic kings of Dalriada were crowned connecting Scotland with Ireland and almost everywhere else.

It is really all about the Road to Meikle Seggie*, the road that followers of Saint Columba used to bring Christianity from Iona into the heartland of Europe, journeying up one of the many rivers in France and Germany to find themselves within three miles of Aachen, in French known as Aix-la-Chapelle, the location temple church of the Emperor Charlemagne and the oldest cathedral in Europe.

Next door to the shrine of Charlemagne you will find an altar honouring the Scottish missionary and follower of Columba, Saint Fillan, and you can think of him as he began his voyage to Aix-la-Chapelle from Pittenweem on the Fife Coastline.

This was not a world controlled by the euro, but one defined by the cross and Saint Andrew, Scotland's Patron Saint, who belonged to a Scotland that extended from the Hebrides to the Cyclades.

My boyhood was spent on the shoreline of the Firth of Forth, that great seaway pointing directly to the European continent, and I can still see the islands that so enchanted me in my youth. One of them is known as Inchcolm, ‘Inch’ meaning ‘Island’ of St Colm, otherwise Columba. The largest is called Inch Keith which is associated with Saint Serf, and in my mind's eye I can still imagine the site of his monastery.

In and around the coastline of the Firth of Forth stretching from Fife Ness to North Berwick Law, there are over thirty churches dedicated to Saint Serf and perhaps the most important of these is the great Abbey of Culross.

But who was this man whom legend tells us was the Scottish equivalent of Saint George, slayer of dragons?

He was actually Saint Severus, Patriarch of Antioch, a missionary born in Asia Minor and sent to make sure that the Scots followed not the Celtic rite but that of Rome.

My whole aim in life has been to place Scotland in the context of European culture. When I think of Italy and France, I am in Scotland. Everywhere I go in Scotland, I am reminded of Europe. I began my career as a teacher at Duns Scotus Academy, named after the Duns born Scot who is buried in Cologne. Then I think of Patrick Geddes, founder of the Collège des Écossais and the art critic John Ruskin whose entire mindset was focussed on Europe.

I have to ask myself what is the greatest manifestation of the art of the playwright in Scotland and I have to conclude that it is the ‘Scottish Play’ written not by a Scot but by William Shakespeare, the personification of English culture.

Of course, the real Macbeth was a saintly king who went on a pilgrimage to Rome, the complete opposite of the tyrant created by Shakespeare. But then I think of how the Scottish Declaration of Independence, composed in 1320 by the leaders of the Scottish Nation and convened at the Abbey of Arbroath, took the form of a letter to the Pope in Rome, the successor to Saint Peter and the ultimate spiritual leader of Christendom.

For me, the Road to Meikle Seggie begins in Edinburgh's Old Town moving into its rural environs and wider Scotland before ranging across Europe. Edinburgh, like Rome an historic site built on seven hills, is by its nature the most continental city in Britain. I have no doubt that living in Edinburgh means that you are living in Europe.

Meikle Seggie is a remote farmstead on the western flanks of the Ochil Hillls. It is, in a sense, nowhere and everywhere.

That is what I love about Scotland.

Author biography

Richard Demarco CBE is founder of the Demarco European Art Foundation, co-founder of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, and Professor Emeritus of European Culture at the University of Kingston.
*The Road to Meikle Seggie (with Italian translation) has been republished by Luath Press. £15.00 (UK); $30.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-910021-84-2