Side by side ... the Pope and John Knox

HE IS the man who led Scotland's split with the Catholic Church but when the Pope returns to Scotland later this year, John Knox will usher him through the streets of Edinburgh.

• The man who drove the Reformation, John Knox, branded popes 'antichrists'

In what has been hailed as a symbol of the strong relations between the Scottish Catholic Church and the Kirk, the leader of the Reformation will be represented in a parade by an actor alongside a host of other historical figures.

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While the inclusion of the figure who revoked the Pope's authority in Scotland may come as a surprise to some, the Catholic Church said the "joyous, inclusive and charitable" parade was designed to reflect Scotland's shared Christian heritage.

The Church of Scotland has welcomed the concept and said it would serve to further strengthen the bonds between the churches.

Knox will be among historical characters depicted in the St Ninian's Day parade, which will mark Pope Benedict XVI's state visit to Scotland. Other figures who will be portrayed include Eric Liddell, the Olympic athlete and Protestant missionary.

Peter Kearney, spokesman for the Catholic Church in Scotland, told The Scotsman that Knox was an "important" figure in Scottish Christian history.

He said: "The underlying theme behind the event is a celebration of unity, and recognising Scotland's shared Christian heritage. We have a shared Christian history and we are celebrating that."

Mr Kearney added that Ninian, too, was a saint held in common by all Scottish Christians.

A spokesman for the Church of Scotland agreed on the importance of recognising the nation's Christian history.

He said: "When Pope John Paul II met the Moderator of the General Assembly on his visit to Scotland, it represented a milestone in relations between the two churches, which greatly improved as a result, and we would hope that the Pope's visit later this year will strengthen the links even further.

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"It is a sign of a healthy nation that diversity within the Christian community is something to be celebrated as opposed to a source of division and struggle.

"It is a gift to those of us of a Protestant persuasion that, by including this figure, the Catholic Church is contributing to the celebrations of the Reformation."

Earlier this year, the close ties between the two faiths was recognised with the creation of a "joint liturgy" for the reaffirmation of baptismal vows.

The two churches, historically divided along sectarian lines, will also join together later this year in a joint ceremony at Edinburgh's St Giles Cathedral to mark the 450th anniversary of the Reformation, which heralded the creation of the Presbyterian Church when it split from the Catholic Church.

• The Pope will arrive for his state visit in September

The Pope's arrival in Scotland on 16 September coincides with the feast of St Ninian, a 4th-century Scottish saint credited as one of the first to bring the Gospel of Christ here.

Along with the procession of historical figures - which will include Mary Queen of Scots, Bonnie Prince Charlie, William Wallace, St Andrew, Robert the Bruce, St Margaret, St Columba and Alexander Fleming - the parade will feature schoolchildren from across Scotland and 1,000 pipers.

Earlier this month, a leading Free Church theologian accused the Scottish Government of "airbrushing" the Reformation out of history, while celebrating the Pope's visit. Professor Donald Macleod, former principal of the Free Church College in Edinburgh, said the SNP administration was in "Knox denial". Critical of the cost involved in the Pope's visit at a time of public-service cutbacks, he also questioned if Scots were "suckers for funny costumes, and love to see old men dressed in ancient Roman togas?".

Historian Professor Tom Devine, a Catholic, has described the lack of recognition of the 450th anniversary as "scandalous".

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First Minister Alex Salmond has said requests to the government for support in marking the anniversary would be considered.

Knox on Catholicism

"The tyranny which the pope himself has for so many ages exercised over the church, the very antichrist and son of perdition, of whom Paul speaks."

"The iniquity of your bishops is more than manifest; their filthy lives infect the air; the innocent blood which they shed cries (for] vengeance in the ears of our God; the idolatry and abomination, which they commit openly, and without punishment maintain, does corrupt and defile the whole land."

"Yea, we doubt not to prove the kingdom of the pope to be the kingdom and power of antichrist."

"When the bishops of Rome, the very antichrists, had (partly by fraud and partly by violence) usurped the superiority of some places in Italy, and most unjustly had spoiled the emperors of their rents and possessions, and had also murdered some of their officers (as histories do witness), then began pope after pope to practise and devise how they should be exempted from judgment of princes, and from the equity of laws."


IN the history of Christianity and the Catholic Church in Scotland, it is hard to bypass John Knox, writes Dr Harry Schnitker.

He had as much impact on Catholic history as he did on Protestant history and to analyse Catholicism in Scotland without making mention of him is ludicrous.

The sharpness of the division in the wake of the Reformation was subservient to the idea of a wider sense of community. Also, for the past 100 years or so, everyone has been trying to get a little bit closer. At the end of the day, all Christian churches in Britain have been losing members, and the more strong Christian voices there are, the better.

Dr Harry Schnitker is director of ecclesiastical history at the Maryvale Institute, Birmingham, and was involved in planning the St Ninian's Day parade.