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ST GREGORY’S PRESHOME

 

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On the 23rd of May 1990, St Gregory’s Preshome, celebrated the two hundredth anniversary of its opening for divine worship.

The following notes give an insight into the importance of Preshome in Scottish Catholic history.

You will no doubt be aware that, after the Reformation in 1531, practising the Catholic Religion in Scotland could be carried out only in a comparatively secret manner. Nevertheless, especially in country areas like ours, it was very definitely practised.

Thanks to the influence of the Duke of Gordon, the Enzie area was a stout bastion of the old religion, but for many years was without any formal spiritual leadership.So when a Catholic Hierarchy was being re-introduced, the first Vicar Apostolic for Scotland, Bishop Thomas Nicholson, made his home on the Gordon Estates near Preshome.

His "Headquarters"was, in fact, a single-storied, heather-thatched cottage, and this "but and ben" was to remain the strategic centre of Scottish Catholicism for more than a Century, and only ended with the death of Bishop James Kyle in 1869.

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For many years, divine worship was conducted in a room at Preshome or in one of the "secret" " chapels in the area. By 1788 however, John Reid, the priest in charge of the eastern Enzie, felt that it was possible to build a place of worship which actually looked like a Church so, the site was chosen with-the distinct aim of avoiding much publicity and a too conspicous situation.

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It was proposed to build a Church of stone and lime, and to hold 700 persons. The estimated cost was 3.50, but, as is so often the case, the actual cost was nearly double. The Baronet of Letterfourie and his brother took a lively interest in the project and were to supervise the the work and contribute very liberally to the cost.

 

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The foundation stone was laid by the two brothers on the 29th May 1788 and the Chapel opened on Whit Sunday 23rd May 1790, but unfortunately the Baronet did not live long enough to see this auspicious day, for he was found dead in bed on April 30th.

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The Chapel has been described as being wide, and of rectangular plan with, round headed windows, freestone dressings, and harled walls.

The west facade is a charming product of eighteenth century taste, in which the Italian Baroque style has been skillfi.illy naturalised into a Banfishire setting, with flanking staircase pavilions and a pedimented gable, which features a plain stone panel bearing the simple dedication "DEO 1788", that is "To God 1788"

The Church is adorned with stone finials in the form and style of classical urns. Fr Reid, was himself a product of the Scots College in Rome, and it would appear that he was largely his own Architect for the work.

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In the opinion of many not only was it the first Catholic Church since the Reformation to look like a Church, it remains to this day, surpassed by no other Chapel in Scotland with regard to spaciousness   and in the elegance of its internal proportions.

The Dedication to St Gregory the Great comes from the presentation to the Church by the last Earl of Findlater of a fine painting (some would say a copy) of St Gregory, by Annibale Caracci. This remarkable picture has formed the gem of the Church until the present day.

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The ceiling is quite distinctive and panelled with timber tracery. Mother feature of the Church is the use of coloured and patterned clay tiles to the floor of the Sanctuary. The holy water stoups in the porch are made from local Portsoy Marble and were the gift of the Countess ol Findlater.

 

FLOOR PLAN

Like many Churches there have been changes over the years. In 1896, under the direction of Peter Paul Pugin, the Sanctuary was enlarged to the east, thereby taking away the original Sacristy.

Part of plans included the relocation of the painting of St Gregory, but its retention as the altar piece was insisted upon, and it remains there to this day, commanding the attention of all who visit the Church.

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The existing altar was the gift of Canon John J. Kyle, and at the ends of the altar rails are brass plaques, one to Bishop James F Kyle, the other to his nephew Canon J. .I Kyle.

 

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In 1990, on the Feast of St.Gregory,an extensive refurbishment and redecoration was completed, at a cost in excess ofl 100,000, and which has brought this important Church back into the condition that it so rightly deserves, thanks largely to a grant from the Historic Buildings Council.

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Preshome has an important place in Scottish Catholic History for another reason. It was here that Bishop James Kyle amassed a vast collection of books, letters and manuscripts from past ages, and after his death in 1869 at Preshome, the Scottish Bishops felt that these important archives should be held in a less remote location than at Preshome, and were transferred to Blairs College, near Aberdeen, to form part of the "Blairs Collection", and now housed with the Scottish Catholic Archives, at Columba House, Edinburgh.

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The final transfer of material from Preshome was as recent as 1973. This included some 25,000 letters, known as the "Preshome Letters", now deposited with the Scottish Catholic Archives in Edinburgh. and the 4,750 books forming the "Preshome Chapel Library", currently on a 30 year loan to the National Library of Scotland.

St.Gregory’s Church is served from St.Peter’s Buckie by Rev E. P. Traynor.

Mass Times are as announced.

 

 

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