The Reek of Master Patrick Hamilton

Posted on 17th November 2020 under The Rectory Bulletin | Church History


If you go to St Andrews and make your way to the University chapel you will find in the pavement just outside some letters made out in brick. They read “PH” and mark the spot on which a young man was burnt for his faith.

Hamilton was a well born, well connected, well educated and well travelled Scotsman. He had studied in Europe and had come into contact with the newly spreading teachings of one Martin Luther. The truth of what Luther taught had struck the scholar, and he was convinced by this new Reformation thiking. So convinced that when he returned to his native land he began teaching Luther’s views. Which got him into trouble.

The authorities wanted to make an example of him, but it all backfired. Hamilton was given a trial, which simply meant he could set out his beliefs. His Christ-like calm in the face of death - and his kindness even when by the stake - impressed those who saw the martyrdom. Rather then quenching the Reformation in Scotland, it set it aflame.

One person who saw this coming was John Lindsay, a friend of Bishop James Beaton who oversaw the whole sorry affair. Lindsay’s warning to the bishop was strangely prophetic:

My Lord, if you burn any more, except you follow my counsel, you will utterly destroy yourselves. If you will burn them, let them be burnt in your cellars; for the reek of Mister Patrick Hammilton has infected as many as it blew upon".

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