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Friday, July 22, 2005

Clergy Tartan

It seems that suddenly I am having a number of different people asking me about the Clergy tartan. Who can wear it? Why are there different versions? Where did it come from?

After researching it a bit, I thought it might be of interest to post my findings here. First of all, so that we know what we are talking about, this is the Clergy tartan that most people are used to seeing.

There is a green version, as well, that you will sometimes see. But of the different versions of the Clergy tartan on record, these are the only two commonly woven.

The Clergy tartan is often said to be the only tartan intended for use by an occupation, and not a clan, family, district, corporation, etc. There is long standing and oft-repeated statement that the Highland clergy wore Highland garb, but were told to eschew the brighter colors. Now, I've never been able to determine if this was indeed true, but have no reason to doubt it. James Scarlett, who knows as much about tartan as anyone living, is of the opinion that the Highland clergy wore whatever tartan the local hand weavers were producing, just like anyone else.

Anyway, when we start getting into the nineteenth century, with industrial weaving and set named patterns and the like, we find the first record of a tartan named "Priest." Wilsons of Bannockburn, the primary producer of tartan cloth at the time, and the first mill we have record of that named their tartan patterns, has a record of a tartan by this name -- our best guess is that they simply thought "Priest" a suitable name for a muted tartan. Theirs was a tartan that was black, lavendar, and light blue. (No. 246 in the International Tartan Index, or ITI).

James Logan apparantly got hold of the design, and reproduced it in his The Scottish Gael, published in 1831, under the name "Clergy." But his design was a bit different. He seems to have gotten one of the pivots wrong, and changed light blue and lavendar to white and grey. (No. 1823).

William and Andrew Smith published The Authenticated Tartans of the Clans and Families of Scotland in 1850, and included the Clergy tartan, as well. They attempted to reproduce the tartan as given by Logan, but with the original lavendar and blue colors. They used a color that would pass for lavendar, but they sometimes mistakenly used it for two or three stripes that should have been black. Also, the light blue in some copies of their book turned out a greenish grey. Variations occurred from one edition to the next, and sometimes between copies of the same edition, so this caused a lot of confusion later on. (Nos. 39 and 111 are both from the Smiths' work).

The next time the tartan was illustrated was by James Grant in 1886, in The Tartans of the Clans and Septs of Scotland. He illustrated the light blue lines right, but the lavendar in the original had turned into a clear blue, and he used it for two lines that should have been black, apparantly copying the error from one of the Smiths' books. But in the text for his book, he says that the Clergy tartan was white, black and grey. This seems to indicate that he intended to illustrate the tartan from Logan's work, but the publisher substituted a different illustration. In later editions of his book, the text described the tartan as dark blue, light blue, and black, but in the illustration this time light blue was rendered as green! This is probably where tartan 701 fits in.

Lastly, in the first edition of The Setts of the Scottish Tartans D. C. Stewart attempted to make a compromise between the original Wilson sett and Logan's sett, but this had the undesired effect of creating yet another variation on the market, so in later editions this was amended.

The connection with the Clark tartan is due to the fact that both the surname "Clark" and the word "Clergy" have the same root in the Latin word clericus from which we get "cleric" and "clerk." The Clergy tartan seems to have been used by the Clark family for that reason. In fact, in many of the nineteenth century works I cited, the tartan is called both names. The practice today of producing the Clark family tartan in different shades than the Clergy tartan is probably just to allow for distinction between someone wearing the tartan because they belong to the Clark family, and someone wearing the tartan because they are a minister.

So then, who can wear the Clergy tartan? Well, as I have said before, there is no such thing as an "entitlement" or a "right" to wear a tartan. There are no laws where this is concerned. But just because you can wear any tartan, does not mean that you should wear any tartan. In today's culture, tartan is generally understood to be representative. When you wear a tartan, you are identifying yourself with what that tartan represents. Why you may choose to wear a particular tartan is completely up to you -- but you don't need to be able to present a pedigree to prove your "right" to do so.

In the case of the Clergy tartan, wearing this will imply to people that you are involved in ministry. Out of respect for those who actually are ordained clergy, most people would consider it very innapropriate for a non-minister to wear this tartan.

But for those in the ministry, any Clergy tartan will do. Just wear the one you like the best (though you will find that if you want anything other than the blue Clergy tartan, you may have to have the cloth woven.

I have heard it said that certain variations of the Clergy tartan are for Catholics and others are for Protestants. This is unfounded. To my knowledge, the Clergy tartan has never been restricted for members of one particular sect or denomination. Of course the two main religious bodies in Scotland are the Presbyterians (Church of Scotland), and Catholics, followed third by Anglicans (Church of England).

The only denomination-specific tartan that I know of is the Episcopal Clergy tartan, designed (according to the notes in the ITI) "by Rev. John B. Pahls, 1966, to honor the clergy of the Scottish Episcopal church and of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America and to commemorate the bicentenary of the death of the Right Reverend Samuel Seabury, first American bishop."

So, if you are Episcopal Clergy, you might want to wear that tartan, or the other Clergy tartans. But other than that, the Clergy tartan can be worn by any man of the cloth! Not that members of the clergy have to wear Clergy tartan. I know many ministers and priests who wear their clan tartans. I have often thought that a solid black kilt would look stunning with clerical dress. And I have sold one "Dark Douglas" kilt (Lochcarron's black on black version of House of Edgar's "Dark Isle" tartan) to an Anglican minister, who wanted a solid black kilt, but also wanted a tartan.


Glenn McDavid said...

Small, but not trivial, historical point: You referred to "Anglicans (Church of England}". This is not really fair to the Scottish Episcopal Church, which, while part of the Anglican Communion, is definitely not C of E.

When James VII/II was overthrown by William and Mary, the clergy of the established churches in both England and Scotland were required to swear loyalty to the new sovereigns. Most, though not all, of the C of E bishops did so. In Scotland Episcopacy had been restored with Charles II in 1662. However, in 1689 none of the Scottish bishops were willing to take the oath to the new monarchs--they felt that would violate their earlier oath to James. So William threw out the Bishops and reestablished Presbyterian government in the Church of Scotland. The Scottish Bishops, however, did not just go home--they split from the established church in what is known to Anglicans as the "non-jurors" schism.

With their obvious Jacobite sympathies they were not highly regarded by the Scottish authorities. The Episcopal Church was well represented in the '45 and consequently severely repressed afterwards, even though they were theologically more akin to the C of E than the Presbyterians.

Jim Lovelace said...

Our Presbyterian Church has an Annual Kirk'in Service, one of the associate ministers wore a Blue Clergy Tartan Kilt with a Black Argyll Jacket at the service.

Our Sr. Pastor regularly wears A Blue Clergy Tartan Tie. He wears a Hunting Fraser Tartan Kilt (his clan)at the service.

Todd W. said...

Matt, enjoyed your article. One question that I have would be the status of "lay clergy" -- in the Episcopal & Anglican traditions (my own, so I'm using them as the example), members of the laity are commissioned by the local Bishop to serve as Chalice Bearers, Lay Eucharistic Ministers, and Sub-Deacons -- "lay clergy". Would these individuals be "entitled" to the Clergy tartan?

Matthew Newsome, FSA Scot, GTS said...


I replied to this point in your email, but I thought I'd post it publically here.

In my own Catholic religion, we have Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion that are laity. I am guessing they serve much the same purpose as what you describe in the Anglican Church. But they are laity, and not clergy, and so I would not recommend they wear a tartan that identifies them as clergy.

I think the defining factor would be are you considered clergy in your own faith tradition/denomination. If not, I would steer clear of the clergy tartan.

Thanks for the historic information! Well done.


Fr Peter Edwards OSJ said...


If one is in the habit, so to speak, of wearing a cassock most of the time; would anyone have any suggestions how one could wear tartan at Scottish occassions viz St Andrew's Day Dinner? [Our parish held a traditional & very ceremonial dinner this Wednesday evening - with Piper, Haggis & Claymores, Scottish Country Dancing - "Dashing White Sergeants" with "Gay Gordons" (sounds a bit like today's Episcopalian Church USA!) - and rousing singing of Scottish songs, with a dram or two of some Grants - in short, we had a hoot!]

An associate priest of our parish, Fr Lawrie Stevenson, Scottish born, and raised in the Isles & a kinsman of R.L.Stevenson the writer, wears his kilt habitually, with black clerical stock and Prince Charlie jacket - his picture in full Scots gala is online at -

Being a married priest it is quite acceptable to bare one's naked knees to the public gaze - however in my case, as a priest-monk, my knees ought not to be ogled, gnarled and knobbly though they may be.

I jest of course, it is merely out of common decency that I not expose my arthritic 'housemaids' knees - possibly scaring the congregation, and frightening the parishoners' children.

Thus I would be thankful if anyone could proffer suggestions or advice, as to how to wear tartan with a soutane without appearing daft or gormless.

With thanks,
Peter Edwards OSJ, priest

Anonymous said...

I find it difficult to believe that the Episcopal Clergy tartan was designed "by Rev. John B. Pahls, 1966, to ... commemorate the bicentenary of the death of the Right Reverend Samuel Seabury, first American bishop", considering Bishop Seabury didn't die until 1796. I suppose Rev. Pahls was getting a 30-year jump on the celebration.

Roberta in Toledo, Ohio said...

I am in the Commissioned Lay Pastor program of the Presbyterian Church (USA), and, upon completion of the program, will conduct the same types of tasks as an ordained pastor. Having just completed a Liturgy and Sacrament course with a professor and ordained clergy considered to be an expert in the matter, I was told that we lay pastors (we're known as CLPS) would be considered qualified to wear the Clergy Tartan.

Best to you.

Bro Cyp said...

To answer Fr Peter's question about combining tartan and cassock, I just had a thought that may or may not work.

What if one did the fly plaid (you know, the sash with the big brooch that goes over the left shoulder) with a matching tartan belt of some sort. I know that tartan belts are made, since we had them when I was in the military (we wore them with our combat clothing).

Just a thought.

K.Blood said...

This creates an issue because we mean no offense, but i'm marrying a Clarkson and the family wears the Clark tartan (ancient) which has white in it- we just ordered his kilt for the wedding in this tartan. Are we being unwittingly inappropriate as he's not clergy?