AMESBURY — Scottish clans from across the region converged upon St. James Episcopal Church yesterday morning to have their tartan flags blessed during a first-of-its-kind event at the Main Street house of worship.
More than 100 people filled the church to witness the blessing, which took part during the church’s regular Sunday service. But there was nothing regular about the blessing ceremony, which saw Scottish nationals and those with Scottish backgrounds wearing kilts, berets and wide knee-length socks.
Tartan, often called plaid in this country, is fabric made of criss-cross patterns of varying colors. Each clan has their own distinct pattern. Music was provided by bagpipe player Gordon Webster, co-founder of the Scottish School of Arts in Manchester, N.H.; violinist Amy Colby; and the St. James choir led by organist Matt Seiss.
The event was the brainchild of parishioners Mark and Claire Tobyne of Haverhill, who were hoping to find a way to celebrate Tartan Day and give fellow parishioners a strong taste of Scottish culture.
Tartan Day, celebrated each April 6, marks the anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, the 1320 event that saw the creation of an independent Scotland. For centuries under British rule, the playing of bagpipes, the wearing of kilts and tartans and the Scottish language itself was outlawed, according to the Tobynes.
“We put the word out through numerous sources and we were very happy with the turnout,” Mark Tobyne said.
In all, about eight distinct clans attended yesterday’s service. Each clan’s spokesperson was responsible for carrying their clan’s flag into the sanctuary and then standing by them as they were blessed by the Rev. Deborah M. Woodward.
For Woodward, who has been leading services at the church since January, the blessing of the tartan flags was a thrilling opportunity, one that she knew little about until the Tobynes approached her with their plans.
“It just got more and more exciting as we got along,” Woodward said.
Adding to the Scottish flavor of the service, Woodward, wearing the official Massachusetts tartan, set aside the church’s normal prayer book and read from a Scottish variety. In her homily, Woodward praised the Scots for their many contributions to Western society. And the lessons were those suggested for the Feast of St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland since the 10th century.
After the service, parishioners got a chance to mingle with clan representatives downstairs in the church’s dining area and get a closer look at their distinctive garb and listen to their Scottish brogues.