The St. Ninian tartan commemorates the visitation of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom on September 16-19, 2010. The theme of this papal visitation was Cor ad Cor Loquitor, “Heart Speaks to Heart.” A major event of the Pope’s itinerary was the beatification of John Henry Cardinal Newman, prominent nineteenth century British theologian. Cardinal Newman chose those words as the motto for his Coat of Arms.
Keeping these facts in mind, colors were chosen to be reflective of the significance of this event. The livery colors of Cardinal Newman’s arms are red and white. White is also a color very much associated with the papacy.
St. Ninian is intimately associated with the church at Whithorn, the earliest Christian church in Scotland. Whithorn derives its name from the Anglo-Saxon Hwit aern, meaning, “white house.” The Venerable Bede identifies the church as Candida Casa, or “white house,” referring to its whitewashed stone walls.
Whithorn would grow to become one of the most important centers of Christianity in Scotland. During the reign of David I a priory was established there for the Norbertines, who are colloquially referred to as the “White Canons” due to the color of their habits.
Therefore the color white in the St. Ninian tartan is saturated with multiple layers of meaning.
The color white is used for both pivots. The white line on the blue field calls to mind Scotland’s national colors. The same white line is accompanied by a pair of red lines, reflecting the Cor ad Cor Loquitor theme.
The white line on the green contains exactly eight threads, one for each Roman Catholic diocese in Scotland. There are 452 threads in the design from pivot to pivot, representing the current number of Catholic parishes in Scotland.
This tartan utilizes two shades of green, giving the design a subtle distinction. The greens reflect the lichens growing on the stones of Whithorn. The thin yellow lines in the tartan, together with the white, reflect the colors of the Vatican.
This design was created with tradition in mind. This tartan would not appear out of place in an eighteenth century weaver’s croft or a twenty-first century tartan shop. Continuity with the traditions of the past is very much a theme both of Cardinal Newman’s theological writings and of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, and the traditions of Scottish tartan weaving are honored in this design.
The St. Ninian tartan is registered with the official Scottish Register of Tartans as No. 10282, "St. Ninian's Day."
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The St. Ninian tartan on the loom at Anthony Haines mill in Selkirk, Scotland, where Ingles Buchan cloth is woven. The success of the St. Ninian tartan has proved to be a boon for the family owned Borders weaving firm. Photo by Stuart Cobley of The Southern Reporter.