The Cathedral Church of the Archdiocese of St. Andrew’s and Edinburgh in Scotland is named St. Mary’s in honor of our Mother.
The site for St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral was chosen in 1801 by Bishop Hay of the Lowland District. Bishop Hay’s hope was that this site for the Cathedral would prove to be sheltered within the protection of the surrounding buildings. He had suffered the loss of his own Chapel which was burned down by the mob, and he did not want that to happen again.
Prominent Scottish Architect, James Gillespie Graham, designed the Chapel of St. Mary’s and the doors of this Gothic Cathedral were finally opened under Bishop Cameron. The First Mass was celebrated in St. Mary’s in August of 1814. It was during his Bishopric that the church was significantly embellished. Upon the re-establishment of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in Scotland in 1878, under Pope Leo XIII, it became the pro-cathedral of St. Andrews and Edinburgh; the new Archdiocese.
It was not until this restoration in the late 19th century that the Cathedral was given a dignity which was worthy of its name. This renovation was largely due to Canon Donlevy, the Cathedral administrator. It was Donlevy who had the walls on the sides of the church made into considerably sized arches. In addition the sanctuary, originally very shallow, was extended back by three bays of arches. Canon Donlevy is now buried in the vault located in front of the Lady Altar. Another man who is responsible for the improvement of the Cathedral building was Monsignor Stuart who had panels built on the Lady aisle. These panels turned into the setting for the Stations of the Cross which were built as a memorial to the men of the parish who were killed in the First World War.
The Cathedral was solemnly dedicated in April of 1978 and a chapel was dedicated to St. Andrew, the nation’s patron. The Feast of St. Andrew was celebrated as a Holy Day of Obligation in Scotland up until 1918. The X-shaped cross upon which St. Andrew was martyred has become a symbol of this Saint and now appears on the national flag of Scotland, also known as the Saltire. This chapel was visited by Pope John Paul II in May of 1982 during his pastoral visit to Scotland.
During John Paul II’s visit to Edinburgh he addressed both the young people of Scotland as well as the Priests and the religious men and women who resided there. What he said to the youth is notable and can be a lesson to us. He said to them that he understood they were experiencing a “great crossroads” in their lives and were at the point in which they must decide on how they wanted their future to be lived out. His advice to them was; “you must never think that you are alone in deciding your future! And secondly: when deciding your future, you must not decide for yourself alone!” He went on to speak of Saint Andrew as an example of why we ought to rely on Another. This other being God our Father.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 14, Jesus speaks of His Father’s Kingdom to a gathering of five-thousand people (not including the number of women and children also gathered there). The people were hungry, but all the food the Apostles could find summed to a total of five loaves and two fish which were given by a small boy. The Apostle Andrew said to Jesus in regards to the young boy’s offering, “what is that between so many?” It turns out, it was quite significant, for after everyone had eaten their fill, the disciples gathered twelve baskets of bread. Bread which was leftover after the entire crowd had been fed.
Saint Andrew alone could not have multiplied the loaves and fish given to him by the small boy, yet Jesus could, and he did! Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish, showing that He cannot and will not be outdone in generosity. With St. Andrew in mind, JPII said to the young people of Edinburgh, “place your lives in the hands of Jesus. He will accept you, and bless you, and he will make such use of your lives as will be beyond your greatest expectations!” Do not forget, Jesus not only provided for the hungry five-thousand, he provided them with food to spare! Let us reflect on this for a moment. Jesus is omniscient; he is all-knowing. He could have multiplied enough food to the basket with no need of multiplying enough to have extra...but he did. I do not doubt that he was trying to prove a point; the point that He desires to fulfill our desires, even more than we expect him to.
The same day that JPII spoke to the youth, he also spoke to the Priest and Religious of Scotland, and he did so within the walls of St Mary’s Cathedral. He urged these Religious to be powerful witnesses of the Gospel, to “believe in the power of the word itself, and never become discouraged” in their preaching and in their efforts to encourage the laity to take their place in the life of the Church. JPII spoke on how he yearned to hear each person’s testimony of “magnalia Dei” or “the greatness of God”; of how the Holy Spirit was working in each individual's life. He said, “In the depths of your hearts, in the struggle between grace and sin, in the various moment and circumstances of your pilgrimage of faith - in how many ways has Christ spoken to you and said: ‘Come follow me’!”
Just a couple of years after the 200th anniversary of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh, may we take a few minutes to ponder what Jesus is calling us to when he says “Come follow me!” and when we do so, may our prayer become one which increases the Theological virtue of hope in our lives, as we trust that our Father’s goodness cannot be outdone.