Doctor Ross and the Sackcloth

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Dr. Ross dodges the humiliation of appearing before the congregation of Tain in a Sackcloth.

Doctor Alexander Ross of Tain was said to have been a popular physician in the town and also a ‘good scholar’ who loved nothing better than a good debate on metaphysics or theology. In 1721 his enthusiasm during one such debate led to him being dragged before the Church Courts at Tain and charged with heresy and blasphemy. These were serious charges that could have potentially led to the death penalty, so the doctor would have had every right to be alarmed.

Although he denied both the charges of blasphemy and heresy, the doctor did apologise for not regularly attending Church. After the evidence of several Witnesses was heard Dr. Ross was found guilty of ‘profaning the Lord’s day’ and arguing against the being of God and the Scripture. The Church Court ordered him to appear "in sackcloth before the congregation of Tain on certain days mentioned, and make a full confession of his faith” as penance.

The doctor never refused the Church Court orders, for fear of being excommunicated but as will be shown, he had no intention of going through with the humiliating experience; as whenever the appointed Lord’s day arrived, and just as he was about to don the Sackcloth, the doctor’s servant—Rorie Roy— would come panting up to the church, and in a breathless state called out;

"Lady Clyne has broken her leg, and wants the Dochter,” or “Donald Ross, Edderton is very baad, bewitched or poisoned, and wants the Dochter,” or “David Munro, Tarbat, has fallen out of his booat and is drowned, and wants the Dochter."
Thus matters went on for several years. The minister and Kirk-Session of Tain continued the hunt, and Dr Ross with native shrewdness managed to foil them. At length, the doctor retired to Dornoch and died there in 1724, much lamented and widely respected by a large circle of friends.