In 1771, the Roman Church's fortunes were to change for the better - Bishop James Grant was able to persuade William Young, a staunch Catholic and local merchant to bid for the derelict property of the Smiths of Inveramsay in Justice Street, off the Castlegate. Formerly known as Skipper Scott's Close, after a prominent sea captain who was also a Jacobite supporter and 'out' in the 'Fifteen' with the Old Pretender, James III, it had been used as a lodging house and 'gin land' by the tenants of Inveramsay Court. Young was pleased to help, and the Bishop able to move into his new lodgings once the old property was demolished in 1774.
By the end of the 18th century, Aberdeen had already lost two bishops to old age, Bishops John Geddes and John Gordon, the latter being one of two of Bishop Geddes' nephews. The other nephew, ordained as a priest just five years earlier, was Charles Gordon. It was he, affectionately known by Catholic and non-Catholic alike as Priest Gordon - the first parish priest for many a long year. He would serve as the incumbent from 1799 until his death in 1855, working until his dying day for the poor and needy of Aberdeen.
|Charles Gordon, Priest of Aberdeen|
In 1803, having raised quarter of the money from his congregation, and the rest from his noble friends whom he believed 'The Blessed Virgin had laid it on their herts to gie to the chapel,' Priest Gordon had his prayers answered - High Mass was celebrated in the city for the first time since the Reformation. A victory over prejudice and bigotry for this couthy mannie!
|Replica of 'Our Lady of Good Success' - in St Peter's Chapel|
|Interior of St Peter's, Chapel Court|
Professor of Divinity, William Clark wrote a fine biography of Priest Gordon, demonstrating that although he loved his fellow man and woman, he did not suffer the reformers gladly! Prof Clark recalls as a student listening to Fr Gordon denounce the Protestant leading lights of the Reformation:
Martin Luther and John Knox were held up to universal execration in the most delightful broad Scotch and with a vehemence that might have satisfied the Grand Inquisitor. Occasionally these attacks produced bursts of merriment from his protestant hearers, and, if these became audible—which they sometimes did—the author was ejected by the sexton.Priest Gordon did not stop short of criticising the dead, he went for the living too! He was often heard to be sparring verbally with Church of Scotland minister, Dr William Kidd, incumbent of the old Gilcomston Church in Summer Street (now empty, was the former Denburn CofS). Local Catholic historian, Monsignor Sandy MacWilliam reports:
Once they were discussing the doctrine of Purgatory. Dr. Kidd declared it preposterous, a mere figment of the ecclesiastical imagination, having no place in scripture and so on—’Weel’, said the priest, ‘a’ I hiv tae say, Doctor is that we can gang farrer and fare waur!’But the 'crowning act of his life' according to Monsignor MacWilliam, was the school. Priest Gordon took on the challenge of education in 1831 after the death of James Barclay, one of his congregation, who had been teaching Catholic children in a small school in Longacre, on the ancient lands of the Greyfriars. The school, which had two wings added to the original plan to serve as an orphanage, was again funded by the most generous donations of friends and parishioners alike.
|Exterior, Original St Peter's School, Constitution Street|
Charles Gordon was 84 years old at his death! Yet his work was his testament, he never boasted of his achievements, they spoke volumes for this country priest. His funeral procession was said to stretch from Justice Street all the way to the Snow Kirkyard in Old Aberdeen, and people were still joining it as he was laid in the same grave as his brother and uncle who had passed away sixty years before. What a triumph that this kindly soul whose faith was of the most practical kind, that he should be buried in what had been Bishop Elphinstone's parish church, St Mary ad Nives, built in 1498 for the ordinary folk of his new university town. Like him, Elphinstone was a man away ahead of his time, offering medicine as a subject alongside the traditional vocations of law and divinity before any other university in Scotland, and full of encouragement for learning and development. Although the reformers Priest Gordon despised had enticed the politic Dr William Guild into destroying the Snow Kirk to show his 'support' for the Covenant, the Catholics of the city eventually had the ruin reconsecrated as a cemetery for their own.
|Tomb of Priest Gordon, Bishops John Grant and John Geddes et al|
|Detail of Latin inscription on Charles Gordon's gravestone|
|Priest Gordon's Statue, outside St Peter's RC School, King Street|