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Mass in the ruined chapel, Scalan, 2005


In June members of the Association met at Scalan for the celebration of Mass before the AGM at Chapeltown. It was a warm perfect day and a decision was quickly taken to celebrate Mass in the old chapel. Chairs appeared from the house, the altar was prepared and Canon Halloran commented on how moving it was to be celebrating Mass in the actual building used by the seminary in the 1 790s. 

Since that day, I have often wondered about the history of the chapel, from the time the seminary moved to Aquhorthies up to the time it was converted into a dwelling house. From Dr John Watts’ book, Scalan: The Forbidden College. 1716-1799 an idea can be formed of what happened.

The two priests, James and John Sharp were both at Scalan in the 1 790s, John as Professor, moving with the boys to Aquhorthies and James as Superior, who remained at Scalan until 1807. When the entire farm of Scalan was leased to him by the Duke of Gordon, he became the Duke’s tacksman, paying rent to him and collecting for himself the rents of the small tenants. Mass therefore continued to be celebrated in the chapel at Scalan until James Sharp left in 1807, to become Procurator at Aquhorthies. There were other Mass centres in Upper Glenlivet throughout the 1 700s, particularly in the Tombae area. From the 1770s there was a settled priest at a chapel at Tombae and from 1793 to 1812 the priest was Alexander Paterson.

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When James Sharp left, it was decided that there would no longer be a resident priest at Scalan. It was intended that Alexander Paterson would celebrate Mass there occasionally. The house, vacated by James Sharp, was partly tenanted by Bishop Cameron’s sister Helen, the rest of it to be occupied by the tenant to whom the farm was sub-let. He failed to jive there, using parts of it as a farm store. Helen Cameron lived at Scalan until her death in 1832. Alexander Paterson never celebrated Mass in the Scalan chapel, the people of the Braes walking the seven-mile round-trip to the chapel at Tombae.

In 1823, at the rearrangement of the tacks on the Gordon lands, a piece of ground at the Faevait, on the edge of the Vatich Moss, was offered as a new tack. In 1829, the Duke of Gordon offered this tack to Abbe Paul McPherson, who, born at the Clash of Scalan and brought up there, was determined that there should be a church in the Braes. At first he considered Scalan as a possible site, but when offered the lease of the land at the Faevait, built the first Chapeltown church there.

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From 1830, with a church now at Chapeltown, Scalan was virtually abandoned. James Sharp visited Scalan in the 183 Os and his description of a broody hen having her nest on the altar in the deserted chapel, sadly suggests neglect and ruin.

James Stothert, a convert and later, a priest, visited Scalan in 1845, and gave a detailed description of the lay-out of Scalan before it was altered internally. He did not mention the condition of the chapel, only the dilapidated state of the main building, part of the ground floor used by an under-keeper of the Duke of Richmond, the rest as a potato store.

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So it would seem that the celebration of Mass in the ruined chapel in June 2005 was almost two hundred years since James Sharp last said Mass there, before leaving in September 1808 for Aquhorthies.