The History of Leith

November 16, 2011


It was in connection with the examination of the people which has been referred to that the Church instituted fast days. Fasts have always been a form of religious observance, and we read of them of course in the Old and New Testaments. They were frequent in pre-Reformation days in theory if not in fact, and although the Reformed Church strove to be different from the Church it had displaced, our Records show that fasts were appointed for special occasions. The first mention of a fast occurs on 5th October 1614, when the Session thought it meet” seing Gods judgment approching
that yair sould a fast begine upon Thursday.” Apparently this Thursday was to see the end of the world, but in this gloomy expectation our pious predecessors were doomed to disappointment. Another fast mentioned in the Minute of 1st September 1642 followed upon an Act of General Assembly and the various causes are enumerated, one being the relief of distressed Protestant kirks, another
the breach of the covenant, and a third for a blessing on the affairs in England ” to pray God for ye King to lead him in ye richt way ; to pray God for ye affaires in Ireland; and for ane good harvest.” Another example may be given from 7th September 1665, when there was a general fast for a blessing from Heaven that the country might have ” a fair and seasonable harvest that the fruits of the ground may be reapit for the comfort and maintenance of the people.”
The first mention of fasts in connection with the communion occurs in a Minute of the Meeting House on 28th September 1688, when the simple statement is made that there should be a fast day on the Thursday before the sacrament. A more precise statement is made on 20th September 1694 in a Minute which ” appoints intimation to be made Sabath next that such as have a mind to communicat although they get tockens yet if they be found in any manifest breach of ye fast day the elders are appointed to keep them back from the tables.”
These fast days are still with us, although their original purpose has been forgotten and they have become holidays merely, the same sort of thing as happened in pre-Reformation times. In country towns they are still called fast days, while in Edinburgh they have become the Spring and Autumn Holidays. The fast day was meant as a day of preparation, when pious people withdrew themselves from the world and prepared for the sacrament in their closets and chambers. Some wrote down and renewed year by year their -Self dedications or ” trysts ” with God taking the objects about them to testify to these vows. One worthy man took the several quarters of his wooden bed to witness that he ” has gone under a covenant of blood.” Another relates how he covenanted away himself his bairns and theirs to all generations and ” took the place I was sitting in and the trees and the heavens and angels and God himself that knew my heart as witnesses.”
There is no record of any of these pious testaments in Leith, but doubtless they did exist, for the flame of devotion has burned as brightly here as elsewhere in Scotland.

source-South Leith Records

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