On this episode of 5 Minutes in Church History, we’re going to be finishing our 3-part series on the Scottish Reformation. We’re looking at the year 1638. But before we look at the year 1638, we need to back up just one year and look at the year 1637. In fact, I want to go to a specific date—July 23, 1637. And we can even go to a specific place—to St Giles’ Cathedral. Now this was not just any cathedral. This cathedral has a great and rich history in the Scottish church. John Knox preached at St Giles’. This was John Knox’s church. So here we are in 1637, but we need a little bit more background before I can tell you this story.
If we go back to the previous episode we had—of course Elizabeth was the Monarch at that time, and she died in 1603—James came to the throne. Now James was of Scotland. In fact, before he was James I of England, he was James VI of Scotland. And he ruled until 1625, and then along came Charles I. Well James I did not like the Puritans, so he started a program of trying to route them from the land. In fact, his famous saying is, “I shall make them conform, or I shall harry them from this realm.” So James didn’t think very highly of the Puritans. And when Charles I came to the throne things went from bad to worse.
Well, Charles I had a theological and ecclesiastical henchman, William Laud. And he kept promoting Laud up the ranks, and eventually Laud became Archbishop of Canterbury. Laud constructed a new version of the Book of Common Prayer, and introduced a liturgy that was very much like the old Roman Mass. And then, under the auspices and guidance of Charles I, this Book of Common Prayer was introduced into the Scottish churches. And on Sunday July 23, 1637, this new Book of Common Prayer was read from the pulpit at St Giles’ Church. Well, now we have the background. Now let’s see what happened.
There’s was a particular member of this church. And this is one of my favorite stories I think in all of church history. There was a particular member there. Her name was Jenny Geddes. She was a laywoman in the church; she ran a market stall in town, and a faithful member of St Giles’. Well she came to church that day, and in those days they didn’t have pews in some of these cathedrals and parishioners would bring along stools, and they would have their own stool. And they would stand for parts of the service, but then during the sermon they would sit down on this stool.
Well it came to a part of the sermon where they were sitting on their stools, and Jenny Geddes, when she heard that the Book of Common Prayer was going to be read from, and when she heard what they were reading, and she recognized that this was a departure from what they were used to. Well, she did something that I’m not sure you see every day in church. So she stood up, she grabbed her stool, and she hurled it. It fact, as the historical reports have it, she “chucked” it, and the chucked it right at the minister’s head as he was reading from the Book of Common Prayer.
And while this stool is hurling through the air towards the minister, Jenny Geddes is said to have called out, “The devil cause you colic in the stomach, false thief! Dare you speak the Mass in my ear?” Well, like I said, this is one of my favorite stories in church history. Wouldn’t you love to meet Jenny Geddes? They say there is a sculpture of the stool that she would have sat on there in St Giles’ as a memorial to her.
Well, in the next year, 1638, the Scots formed the National Covenant. These are the folks we know as the Covenanters, and in 1640 the Scottish Parliament endorsed and adopted the National Covenant. And actually, in the next couple years and then through the whole next decade, we have the English Civil War. So here it is. It all started with Jenny Geddes not wanting to sit under some Romish-style Mass and chucking her stool at the minister’s head. So, a great story from church history—a great ending to the Scottish Reformation.