It was my distinct priveledge to be asked to design the special commemorative tartan for the Scottish Catholic bishops in honor of the official state visit of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom in 2010.
Pope Benedict XVI flew into Edinburgh, Scotland, on Sept. 16 where he was greeted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Sept. 16 is the feast day of St. Ninian, the first Christian missionary in Scotland. To honor the papal visit, the Scottish Catholic Church arranged a celebretory St. Ninian's Day parade, and presented the Holy Father with the specially designed St. Ninian's Day tartan.
I designed this tartan on behalf of the Scottish Tartans Authority, who was asked by the Scottish Catholic Church to create a special new tartan for the occasion. This particular tartan is rich with symbolism (see "Design Rationale" below).
I am pleased to be able to offer my kilts made from this very special tartan. This 16 oz heavy weight worsted wool is woven in Selkirk, Scotland, by Anthony Haines woolen mill, for Ingles Buchan of Glasgow. Ingles Buchan is the manufacturer of the cloth, ties, scarves and other gifts in the St. Ninian tartan presented to the Pope, visiting dignitaries, and Members of Scottish Parliament in September 2010.
This heavy kilt weight material is woven in slightly darker shades than the vibrant colors of the light weight gift items. It is also woven with a traditional kilting selvage, making the cloth perfectly suited to be made into the highest quality kilt.
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The theme of this papal visitation was Cor ad Cor Loquitor, “Heart Speaks to Heart.” A major event of the Pope’s itinerary was the beatification of John Henry Cardinal Newman, prominent nineteenth century British theologian. Cardinal Newman chose those words as the motto for his Coat of Arms.
Keeping these facts in mind, colors were chosen to be reflective of the significance of this event. The livery colors of Cardinal Newman’s arms are red and white. White is also a color very much associated with the papacy.
St. Ninian is intimately associated with the church at Whithorn, the earliest Christian church in Scotland. Whithorn derives its name from the Anglo-Saxon Hwit aern, meaning, “white house.” The Venerable Bede identifies the church as Candida Casa, or “white house,” referring to its whitewashed stone walls.
Whithorn would grow to become one of the most important centers of Christianity in Scotland. During the reign of David I a priory was established there for the Norbertines, who are colloquially referred to as the “White Canons” due to the color of their habits.
Therefore the color white in the St. Ninian tartan is saturated with multiple layers of meaning.
The color white is used for both pivots. The white line on the blue field calls to mind Scotland’s national colors. The same white line is accompanied by a pair of red lines, reflecting the Cor ad Cor Loquitor theme.
The white line on the green contains exactly eight threads, one for each Roman Catholic diocese in Scotland. There are 452 threads in the design from pivot to pivot, representing the current number of Catholic parishes in Scotland.
This tartan utilizes two shades of green, giving the design a subtle distinction. The greens reflect the lichens growing on the stones of Whithorn. The thin yellow lines in the tartan, together with the white, reflect the colors of the Vatican.
This design was created with tradition in mind. This tartan would not appear out of place in an eighteenth century weaver’s croft or a twenty-first century tartan shop. Continuity with the traditions of the past is very much a theme both of Cardinal Newman’s theological writings and of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, and the traditions of Scottish tartan weaving are honored in this design.
Left: Detail of the St. Ninian tartan in heavy kilt weight. A portion of all sales of St. Ninian tartan is given to the Scottish Catholic Church for use in their charities. For more information, and to purchase other gifts in the St. Ninian tartan, follow the link below.
Scottish Tartans Authority