St Andrews events to mark 500th anniversary of Reformation

© DC Thomson
A summer graduation at the university

The University of St Andrews is to play a prestigious role as Scotland prepares to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

October 31 marks five centuries since the event regarded as the start of the Protestant Reformation, when Martin Luther posted his 95 theses attacking the practices and doctrines of the Medieval Catholic church in Wittenberg, a university town in Eastern Germany.

St Andrews is the only place in the UK to be officially designated as a “City of the Reformation” by the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe, who are leading the anniversary activities, so it will play a leading part in the commemoration, with services, lectures, an exhibition and a concert being held this month.

The university’s Reformation Studies Institute is hosting a series of open lectures on a variety of topics on theology, religious art, how new printing technology enabled Luther’s message to spread and the role of Protestantism in Britain today.

The talks are open to all and will be led by world experts from the university’s Schools of History and Theology.

BBC Radio 4’s service of Sunday worship will also broadcast live from the university’s chapel at 8.10am on October 22 with a special focus on the Scottish Reformation.

There will also be a special performance of Lutheran cantatas in the chapel on October 10 by the university’s St Salvator’s Chapel Choir, with music taken from its recent collaboration with the Kellie Consort which resulted in a new CD recording tracing the development of Lutheran music in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Museum of the University of St Andrews (MUSA) is hosting an exhibition on St Andrews’ involvement in the Reformation including the painting Wishart’s Last Exaltation by Sir William Orchardson depicting George Wishart blessing communion elements in a room in St Andrews Castle on the morning of his martyrdom in 1536.

This is believed to have been the first Reformed celebration of the sacrament in Scotland. Also on display are an illustrated bible and Reformation pamphlets from the university’s special collections.

The culmination of the commemorative events in St Andrews will be an ecumenical service with a sermon by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, the Right Reverend Dr Rowan Williams, on Reformation Day itself, Tuesday October 31, at 5.30pm in the town’s Holy Trinity Parish Church.

It will include participation from local churches and the University, and will include great Lutheran hymns.

St Andrews can claim to be the birthplace of the Scottish Reformation, with four early Reformers having been put to death for their beliefs in the town, including the first Scottish Protestant martyr, 24-year-old Patrick Hamilton, in 1527 and the last, 88-year-old Walter Milne, in 1558.

They are commemorated in the stark Martyrs’ Monument erected in 1843 on The Scores, overlooking the sea, and refurbished in 2013.

John Knox served as preacher to the Protestant nobles who occupied the former bishops’ palace in the Castle and was captured by the French who forced him to be a galley slave.

He subsequently preached a famously fiery sermon in Holy Trinity Parish Church on June 4 1559, which apparently provoked his congregation to storm the Cathedral and strip it of its statues and ornaments.