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Death in Scotland

Chapters From the Twelfth Century to the Twenty-First


Peter C. Jupp and Hilary J. Grainger

For the past twenty years, Scottish death culture has emerged as a focus of scholars drawn from a wide variety of disciplines. Death comes to us all but too often we treat it as a private or personal matter. The former taboo about death is slowly lifting and contemporary research is playing an increasing part. Accordingly, the fifteen essays gathered in this book probe the multi-facetted role of death in Scottish history and culture. They explore personal fears of death, anxieties about Predestination, prayers for the dead and the appeal of Spiritualism. They analyse the public face of death in law, economics and medicine: changes in capital punishment, funeral poverty, the teaching of anatomy and prevention of stillbirths. Within the worlds of religion and ritual, they consider the making of saints, burial practice following the Scottish Reformation and the tradition of keening within the Gáidhealtachd. With an Introduction by Professor Jane Dawson, these essays by specialists in the field not only highlight the richness of the primary sources for studying death in Scotland but reveal how death studies identify key features of Scottish life and society across ten centuries.

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5 Negotiating Burial in Early Modern Scotland (Catherine McMillan)


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5 Negotiating Burial in Early Modern Scotland1


Like its English and Continental European predecessors, the Scottish Protestant Reformation of 1559/1560 intended to effect few changes as radical and sweeping as the understanding of the relationship between the living and the dead. In rejecting the Catholic doctrine that there existed a functional connection between the living and the dead, the application of Protestant theology necessitated the abolition of much of the ritual, ceremony, and sacredness of death and, more specifically, burial. For Scottish reformers, burial reform extended to the traditional practice of burial within ecclesiastical buildings and the new Kirk of Scotland quickly banned burial within kirks. Many Scots, however, continued kirk burial, thus forcing the negotiation and eventual modification of burial policy at the parish level. This chapter traces this development between 1560 and c.1638 and concludes that negotiation produced systems that simultaneously allowed for kirk burial and operated within the broadest parameters of Kirk policy.

In 1576, a question was raised in a meeting of the General Assembly of ministers of the Kirk of Scotland: should it be permissible for the dead to be buried within kirks? The Kirk had already given its answer soon after its establishment in the summer of 1560, but reiterated that the answer was – and which would continue to be – no.2 In 1631, the minister at Blair in Perthshire complained to the Privy Council of Scotland that a parishioner ← 109...

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