St Ogilvie’s memorial in Glasgow on its way

St Ogilvie's statue at the National Shrine in Glasgow. Copyright: 2015 Jesuit Institute London
St Ogilvie's statue at the National Shrine in Glasgow. Copyright: 2015 Jesuit Institute London

St John Ogilvie is finally to be given a public memorial more than 400 years after he was hanged at Glasgow Cross. A plaque telling his story will be unveiled on the martyred saint’s feast day on 10th March, and will be the first in a series forming a new Glasgow City Council City Heritage Trail.

The news arrives on time for today's special remembrance, as on this date in 1976 the martyr was canonised by Pope Paul VI.

An anonymous benefactor is ready to make a substantial donation that will help to pay for the statue of the saint, and council sources have indicated that the application for its placement would be considered favourably.

The Knights of St Columba in Scotland have pressed for quite a long time with their campaign to mark the spot where St John Ogilvie SJ was executed in 1615 with a permanent memorial.

Tony McCartney, a member of the Knights of St Columba, and chairman of the St John Ogilvie Campaign Committee, said: “This is wonderful news – and the latest step on a long road to have our saint recognised but at the same time we are realistic enough to know that it is, as they say, a marathon not a sprint.”

Councillor Franny Scally, who has been closely involved with campaigning groups, said: “We’ve been working with the group from the Archdiocese about some kind of commemoration to St John Ogilvie and I can now confirm we will be unveiling a memorial on his feast day, March 10th.Peter Howson's painting of St John Ogilvie SJ in St Andrew's Cathedral, Glasgow

“People might ask why we are commemorating someone who was executed on religious grounds 400 years ago. Well, the High Street, from the Cathedral to the Clyde, is the medieval heart of our city and its place in our history is something we want to recapture. The Reformation was one of the most significant events in Scots history and the execution of St John Ogilvie was a major event during it. For people of all faiths and none, St John Ogilvie is an important historic figure.

“As a boy at St Gregory’s Primary in Maryhill during the 1970s we prayed for the canonisation of John Ogilvie. So there’s a real personal satisfaction at something which was part of my own past, the city’s past, play a part in its present and future.”

One idea already pitched as a site for the statue is an existing empty niche of the Tontine building, a former bank, directly above the site at the Tolbooth where the saint met his death in 1615. Permission for such a memorial to be installed, though, can be a lengthy process.

St John Ogilvie is officially recognised as Scotland's only Catholic martyr. As a Jesuit priest, he preached at a time when being a Catholic was outlawed. While Catholicism was not necessarily punishable by death, Ogilvie refused to pledge allegiance to King James VI during his trial. He was sentenced to be hanged at Glasgow Cross for treason and disembowelled on 10 March 1615, at the age of 36. There is no record of where his body was subsequently moved to and interred.

In 2015, the Jesuits in Britain marked the 400th anniversary of the martyrdom of St John Ogilvie with a series of events, including ecumenical vespers at St Aloysius' Church in Glasgow where there is a national shrine to the saint, and Mass at St Andrew's Cathedral, a few hundred yards away from Glasgow Cross.

In his homily during last year’s celebration on the saint’s feast day, Archbishop Philip Tartaglia said "John Ogilvie was a Scot from Banffshire. He was a Jesuit priest. He died here in our city. He is an honorary Glaswegian. He belongs to Glasgow. And above all, his blood was shed for Christ here in Glasgow. We have the national shrine at St Aloysius' … and we have the renowned painting of our martyr which is displayed in this Cathedral. These tangible things help us to claim St John Ogilvie as our saint, to love him and to keep his memory alive."