We began our journey through Scotland at a place of great beauty and, for John Knox , great pain.
These days St. Andrews is best known for its world famous golf course and its university. But during John Knox’s day, the little village on the North Sea was a place of martyrs.
Today cobblestone initials mark the place where young Patrick Hamilton, a 24-year old nobleman and promoter of the Reformed faith, was burned at the stake as a heretic in 1528.
Eighteen years later, Knox’s beloved teacher, George Wishart met the same fate at the hands of the same church official: Cardinal David Beaton.
The incident began a cascade of events that changed the course of Knox’s life and punctuated Scotland’s often bloody Reformation.
Two months after Wishart’s death, Cardinal Beaton was assassinated in St. Andrews Castle. His body was hung from one of the windows. John Knox joined the rebel group, which then occupied the castle.
A mere two months later, however, a French fleet appeared offshore. They bombarded the castle and captured its occupants, including Knox. He spent the next two years as a galley slave.
England negotiated Knox’s freedom in 1549. Over the next 23 years, Knox would flee to Geneva and learn about the Christian community and polity pioneered by John Calvin, help pen the Scots Confession in his native Scotland, bicker with Queen Mary over doctrine and gain a reputation as a great leader of the Presbyterian Church.
The Reformation in Scotland was “complicated and compromised” by power struggles and politics between nations, kings and queens, lairds and churches. It was not, our pilgrimage leaders said, a mere matter of religious convictions. There was more at work and the emerging Reformed faith often dovetailed with personal and political ambitions.