In February of 2010, Pope Benedict XVI, spiritual leader of over one billion Catholics world wide, announced to the bishops of Scotland, "Later this year I shall have the joy of being present with you and the Catholics of Scotland on your native soil."
Benedict XVI had been invited by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth and the British government to come to the United Kingdom for a formal state visit. He would arrive not in London, but in Edinburgh, Scotland. And he would arrive on September 16, the feast day of St. Ninian -- the first to bring Christianity to Scotland over 1600 years ago.
To honor the Holy Father's visit to their native soil, the Catholic bishops of Scotland desired to commemorate the event in a way that is uniquely Scottish -- by commissioning a special tartan for the occasion. To turn the idea into a reality, the Scottish Tartans Authority (STA) was contacted to assist in the project. STA Governer Matthew Newsome was brought on board as tartan designer. Newsome is a kilt maker and museum director -- who also happens to be a faithful Catholic working in campus ministry! Read more about the designer...
Newsome's design for the tartan skillfully weaves together symbols of Scotland, the Vatican, the Papal Visit theme, and St. Ninian himself. Read more about the tartan design...
The newly created St. Ninian tartan was officially unveiled on September 9, 2010, at the Scottish Parliament. Cardinal Keith O'Brien, president of the Scottish Catholic Bishops Conference, presented the tartan to the Rt Hon Alex Salmond, MSP, and other Scottish party leaders. Salmond spoke before Parliament of his pleasure at having a new tartan to welcome the Pope to Scotland. "I'm delighted that we and the party leaders will shortly be joining with the Cardinal of Scotland to launch the new tartan commissioned to celebrate the visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict to Scotland... and I'm sure the whole chamber will wish to join me in saying how much we are looking forward to the visit of His Holiness to Scotland."
All members of Scottish Parliament were given ties or scarves in the St. Ninian tartan. A length of cloth which would be given to Pope Benedict XVI, was also unveiled.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien stands with tartan designer Matthew Newsome as he explains to reporters and Members of Scottish Parliament the signifigance behind the St. Ninian tartan. Photo by Paul McSherry.
Benedict XVI arrived in Scotland on St. Ninian's Day, September 16, 2010, where he was first welcomed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, members of the Royal Family, and Scottish dignitaries. The Pontiff was then welcomed by the people of Scotland with a grand "St. Ninian's Day Parade" through the streets of Edinburgh. The parade featured pipers and drummers from across Scotland and further abroad, and over 1000 pupils from some 14 schools in Scotland named after St. Ninian. But none could take the spotlight off of Benedict XVI, waving at the gathered crowd from his popemobile, wearing the St. Ninian tartan draped across his shoulders.
One observer remarked, "The fact that he wore the tartan really meant a lot to all Scots, Catholic and non-Catholic alike."
The scarf worn by the Holy Father was made in Scotland by Glasgow company Ingles Buchan. Established over fifty years ago, and still a family owned company, Ingles Buchan's cloth -- including the St. Ninian tartan -- is woven in the Scottish borders. As soon as images of the Pope wearing the tartan hit the media, the weaving firm's phones rang off the hook. "We had calls from Poland, America and Canada," reported Ingles Buchan managing director, Colin Brown.
The scarf in the St. Ninian tartan had been given to Benedict XVI personally by Cardinal O'Brien. During his farewell address to the Pontiff given at Oscott College in Birmingham on Sept. 19, the Cardinal expressed his gratitude.
It was a particular joy for us in Scotland to realise that you would arrive in our country to begin your visit on the 16th of September, the Feast of St Ninian. Ninian was of course a bishop, ordained in Rome and sent back to his homeland to spread the Christian message. Your words and your very presence brought to our minds our ancient Christian heritage. The St. Ninian tartan scarf designed and woven for your visit, which you wore so graciously showed you were happy to be an honorary Scot for the day!
Scotland's First Minister, the Rt Hon Alex Salmond, MSP, greeting the Holy Father before the Papal Mass in Bellahouston Park in Glasgow on St. Ninian's Day, Sept. 16, 2010. Photo courtesy L'Osservatore Romano.