The click-clack-click of wooden practice swords crashing against each other echoed across the gym of Broadmoor Presbyterian Church.
Members of the Caledonian Claymore Club, a sub-group of the Caledonian Society of Baton Rouge, were honing their skills in the martial art of broadsword fighting - something they do at the church every other Tuesday evening.
Broadsword fighting and such other historic Scottish traditions as country dancing and bagpipe music continue today in some modern American Presbyterian Churches.
“We use rattan practice swords, because if we used real swords, even if they are not sharpened, they’ll shatter a bone on impact,” said James Mungall, 25, Claymore Club instructor, Scottish culture student, Caledonian Society secretary and high school teacher.
The Scottish broadsword, also known as the claymore, is known for its keen double-edged blade and basket-shaped hilt lined with red velvet.
In the hand of a skilled and rebellious highlander, the blade was feared by English soldiers occupying Scotland in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Rarely used for actual fighting these days, it is more often worn by kilt-clad men marching in parades and partici-pating in Scottish and religious cere-monies such as the ?Kirking of the Tartans’ or traditional country dances.
“Kirking,” in Scottish, or “churching” in English, of the tartans, is a uniquely Scottish-American worship service most often held in Presbyterian churches.
First Presbyterian Church, home to several families involved in the Caledonian Society, holds a “Kirking of the Tartans” service in October, said the Rev. Dick Gates, associate pastor of missions and pastoral care. The church also hosts the society’s Pipes and Drums band for practice each Thursday evening.
“It was the Scotch Presbyterians who came to America and were extremely influential in developing the Presbyterian form of government - to do things decently and in order - in the colonies,” Gates said.
“The Church of Scotland is where our roots are,” Gates said. The Scotland church traces its roots back to John Calvin, a major figure in the Reformation of the 1500s.
First Presbyterian in Hammond holds a Kirking of the Tartans service in March and Broadmoor Presbyterian usually hosts a Kirking of the Tartans service in late November, around the time of St. Andrew’s Day, the patron saint of the Scottish people.
Andrew, one of the original disciples of Jesus, was, according to tradition, crucified by the Romans on a diagonal, or X-shaped cross. His bones were buried in Scotland on orders of Emperor Constantine in the 4th century.
The national flag of Scotland features a white X cross of St. Andrew on a “bonnie-blue” or sky-blue background.
“Scotland and Christianity are inextricably woven together ever since,” said Tom Mungall, president of the Caledonian Society of Baton Rouge and James Mungall’s father. “St. Ninian was a missionary to the pagan Picts (of Scotland and England) in the 4th century. St. Patrick is better known as the Irish saint, but he was born in Scotland and was kidnapped by the pagan Irish. He kept his faith and was led by God to be a missionary to Ireland.”
The Kirking of the Tartans is a worship service that follows the usual order of service but adds a few elements, James Mungall said. Bagpipers and drummers will play during the processional and recessional, usually closing with “Amazing Grace.”
Flag bearers and sword-bearers, holding their swords like crosses in front of them, will march forward and a representational selection of tartans of area clans will be presented for a pastoral blessing, Mungall said.
The tartan is woven from Scottish sheep’s wool in Scotland into hundreds of plaid patterns to signify individual clan colors, according to Scottish informational sources. It is worn in many ways, including as a blanket draped over the shoulders, in kilts for men and skirts for women and a wide variety of clothing.
“The Calling of the Clans is performed in which the clans’ names are recited and those present will stand for a blessing,” James Mungall said. Often a knowledgeable speaker will explain the actual history of the ceremony and the myths that surround it as well.
“The roll call of the clans is a way of saying family is important,” said the Rev. Hawley Logan Wolfe, Broadmoor’s senior pastor and a member of the Caledonian Society. “And in our highly individualized society, a sense of connectedness to family is very valuable.
“I would say that cultural preservation is fun. Bagpipes and kilts and claymore fighting and Scottish country dancing, they are very colorful.”
Such websites as those at http://www.scotland-calling.com, http://www.tartans.scotland.net and http://churchmousec.wordpress.com and describe the Scottish history and its connection with American Presbyterianism.
The English Duke of Cumberland defeated the highlanders’ Jacobite Rebellion in the 1746 battle of Culloden, and brutally suppressed the Scottish culture. His “Act of Proscription” criminalized the wearing of tartans, the carrying of swords and dirks, and the playing of bagpipes.
The Act was repealed in 1782, and the Scottish people could once again openly display their clan tartans and play the bagpipes. They reportedly celebrated with a ?kirk’ or church worship service, but according to the ?Scottish Clans Blog from Scotland,’ that 1782 kirking is a myth and never occurred in Scotland.
Persecution continued, however, and by 1785, the “Clearances” were under way where many highland families were forcibly removed from their lands. Some were sent to Ireland, while others fled to Colonial America to begin a new life in freedom.
“The history of the Scottish people is a history of struggle against domination by their powerful neighbors to the south, the English,” Wolfe said. “The story of Robert Bruce and William Wallace is very inspiring - the love of freedom and the willingness to sacrifice to achieve that freedom.”
In 1941, the Rev. Peter Marshall, pastor of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington D.C., devised the first American ?kirking’ ceremony to recall the Scottish exile.
It is held annually in Washington (Episcopalian) Cathedral as well as in some local Presbyterian churches.
The Caledonian Society of Baton Rouge, formed in 1976, is a group of 50 to 60 families of Scottish descent who regularly participate in cultural and educational activities, Tom Mungall said. The society will celebrate its 35th year this year with a variety of activities.
The society sponsors the Caledonian Pipe and Drums, which performs at many public events and funerals, and the Scottish Country Dancers. The dancers regularly practice in Broadmoor’s gym, where the American Stars and Stripes hangs next to the flag of Scotland.
Stan Masinter, 58, is a member of both the Claymore Club and the Pipes and Drums, where he serves as a Pipe Major. When he is not wearing his official Royal Highland Regiment “Black Watch” kilt and playing his bagpipes or practicing with his broadsword, he is a clinical social worker.
“Swordplay is great exercise and great discipline,” Minter said. “I like all the tradition surrounding the sword and pipes.
“Even though violence is not a Christian tenet, sometimes, as in the case of the highlanders, it became a political necessity to fight for their freedom,” James Mungall said as he showed the others how to “cut” and “block” an opponent’s “cut.”
“It gives me confidence and improves my self-defense skills,” Masinter added. “It’s exercise and sword-fighting; what’s not to like about that?”
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