Scotland was a dominate Roman Catholic country, so it is no revelation, to learn that the, “cross” figured a great deal in their existence. It became a symbol of ” life and death”.

Whenever, the chieftain of a clan needed to rally together his band in an emergency, he used, “The Fiery Cross”.

First the chief would kill a goat. Then he made a cross out of a light wood and set fire to the ends of it, dousing the flames in the goat’s carcass. The cross’s burnt extremities would now be smeared with the animal’s blood.

Surprise attacks were quite common, even against neighbouring clans, not just an outside enemy.  The cross was then carried from man to man and quickly passed, to all the clan members, throughout the whole area of the chieftain’s domain. Every man between sixteen and sixty was compelled to leave his home, and whatever he was doing, and make haste to the designated gathering site.

Deemed to be a “Highland” warning, it was used very effectively in the “Lowlands” in 1547. At this time the English Government supported the union between King Edward VI of England and Mary Queen of Scots. The Scots opposed this and so the English attacked Scotland.

Wondering if the Scots would oblige a call to arms, the Scottish Governor chose a “fiery cross” to accentuate cooperation. It was sent out man to man and archers also fastened the burning cross to their bows. With great speed the message was delivered to all the outlying villages and towns. The outcome was a massing of a Scottish Army of 36,000 men in a remarkable space of time ready to fight and guard the country.

This fiery cross, or “Crann Tara”, also known as “The Cross of Shame”, was so called because any man who failed to acknowledge its calling was considered vile and disloyal to his clan and chief.

If anyone decided to be rebellious and not comply with the chief’s wishes, the fellow was caught and subjected to the punishment of the “fire and sword”, the grief, which the burnt and bloody marks on the cross proclaimed. Often, then, he was outlawed by his clan.

A poem portrayed its urgency and dedication:-

…. Far o’er its roof the volumed flame, Clan Alpine’s vengeance shall proclaim,

…. When flits this cross from man to man, Vich-Alpine’s summons to his Clan,

…. Fast as the fatal symbol flies, In arms the huts and hamlets rise,

…. Prompt at the signal of alarms, Each son of Alpine rushed to arms.

The Fiery Cross               










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