Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Clergy Tartan

While some guys like ancient liturgical dress, I've discovered Scottish tartans. And in particular, the "clergy tartan" (or better, breacan na'n clerarch, "tartan of the cleric"), the only Scottish tartan developed for a specific vocation. According to Matthew Newsome, a tartan historian (with an amazing blog devoted completely to tartan history), this particular tartan developed in the 19th century (this article can be found here):

There is a tradition that Highland clergy wore Highland clothing, but were instructed not to wear bright colors. As to the veracity of this statement, I cannot say. Regardless, this is the tradition that has been handed down. The first evidence we have of a tartan for clerics is from the records of the weaving firm Wilsons of Bannockburn, c. 1830. They called their tartan of black, lavender, and light blue “Priest.” Why they called it that is anyone’s guess, but most likely they thought “Priest” was a suitable name for a tartan in muted colors.

Tartan researcher James Logan next illustrated the design in The Scottish Gael, published in 1831, under the name “Clergy.” He changed the light blue and lavender of the Wilsons’ design to white and gray, and one pivot was different. The tartan is next seen in The Authenticated Tartans of the Clans and Families of Scotland, published in 1850 by William and Andrew Smith. They attempted to reproduce the tartan as given by Logan, but with Wilsons’ coloration. However, there were problems with the production methods. Sometimes lavender was mistakenly used for stripes that should have been black. And the light blue in some copies of the book turned out a green-gray. Variations occurred from one edition to the next, and sometimes between copies of the same edition. If anyone wonders why there are often different versions of the same tartan in circulation, this sort of occurrence is usually to blame!

By 1850, and the publication of the Smiths’ work, the tradition had already been established that this was the tartan early worn by clerics. They write, “Down till a very recent period, this pattern was generally used by the Clergy in the Highlands for their week-day habiliments; and even now the secular mantle or plaid of the priesthood in the North is not unfrequently made of this, or similar kinds of

The Clergy tartan was next illustrated by James Grant in 1886, in The Tartans of the Clans and Septs of Scotland. He used blue in place of lavender, including for two lines that should have been black, (apparently copying the error from one of the Smiths' books). In his text, however, he says that the tartan was white, black and grey. This would indicate that he intended to illustrate the tartan from Logan's work, but the publisher substituted a different illustration. In later editions of his book, the text described the tartan as dark blue, light blue, and black, but in the illustration this time light blue was rendered as green!

Lastly, in the first edition of The Setts of the Scottish Tartans, D. C. Stewart attempted to make a compromise between Wilsons’ and Logan's settings. This had the undesired effect of creating yet another variation. In later editions this was amended.

Where does the Clark family tartan come into all this? Both “clergy” and “clark” have the same root in Latin-–clericus. The Clergy tartan seems to have been used by the Clark family for that reason. In fact, in some nineteenth century records, the tartan is identified by both names. The practice today that many tartan weavers follow of rendering the Clergy tartan in more muted tones than the Clark tartan is a convention adopted to allow for distinction between those wearing the tartan for family connections, and those wearing it because they are ordained ministers.

As I have stated many times, there is no such thing as a “right” or “entitlement” to wear a tartan. However, when you wear a named tartan, you are identifying yourself with whatever that tartan represents. As the Clergy tartan is widely recognized as representing the ministry, I certainly would not recommend it be worn by anyone who did not fit the bill! Just ask yourself if you would feel comfortable wearing a Roman collar, or a monk’s robes.

Finally, the Clergy tartan does not represent any particular sect or denomination. While it is perhaps most popularly used by ministers of the Church of Scotland (Presbyterians), there is no evidence to suggest that its use was ever limited to one group. Keep in mind that until the Reformation of the sixteenth century, all of Scotland was Catholic. Even after that time, the Highlands of Scotland remained Catholic much longer than the Lowlands. And while Presbyterians are most common among Protestants, you also have the Church of England, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and many other denominations in more recent times. Yet the Clergy tartan was never mentioned in association with one particular sect. It was always simply said to be used by “Highland Clergy.”

The only denomination-specific tartan that I know of is the Episcopal Clergy tartan designed by Rev. John B. Pahls in 1966. This tartan honors the clergy of the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church in the USA, and marked the bicentenary of the death of the Rt. Rev. Samuel Seabury, first American bishop of that church. So, if you are Episcopal Clergy, you might choose to wear that tartan. But other than that, any Clergy tartan can be worn by any cleric of any stripe.

Among the types of products you can buy in "clergy tartan" is this really cool stole; can you imagine wearing this with a black Genevan gown? Is it possible to be more "old school" than that? (Okay, I'm teasing a little bit, but it is still a cool stole--not $250 cool, but cool nonetheless; I've ended up settling for a $25 tie.)


brent said...

My diploma from CTS is framed with a blue and green tartan backdrop. I was told by the woman who does this for CTS that this was the Clergy Tartan. This was also my understanding for CTS's colors of blue and green. I wonder if there were other variations from the ones you described. By the way, loved the stole. But I couldn't find the tie.

Sean Lucas said...

Apparently, there is also a Clergy Tartan that is green, black, and white (the green replaces the blue in the picture above). I've wondered about the Seminary's tartan; I don't think it is Clergy Tartan (even if we may claim that it is). Generally, dark navy blue and green tartans are Clan Campbell (think "black watch"); but I'll need to investigate a little bit more to be definitive. Thanks for giving a good research project!

btw--the tie wasn't on that website. You can find them at just about any tartan shop on the web; I bought mine at Thistle and Clover in St. Charles, MO. sml

Greg Linscott said...

Very interesting.

Brian Shelton said...

A few years ago, my curiosity got the best of me and I took my masters hood from CTS (1997) to the Scottish Tartans Museum in Franklin, NC. I had never heard of "clergy tartan," but indeed the tartan expert there so identified it right away! He offered an abbreviated history that you had above, Sean.

Furthermore, I questioned why my hood was such a dark blue (I had it made by the "seminary lady" in 2001 when I got a job at a little Christian college near here), while the hood pictured at my CTS graduation had a more lavender blue color. His response was that original era Scottish looms did not always use the exact same shades, but that the distance of the lines (and he set into a lot of technical tartan language) was the real determining factor.

Anyway, I'm pretty sure that Brent's CTS paraphernalia is in fact clergy tartan!