The cathedral of the Borders

The Story of Robert Hope-Scott

The origin of Our Lady & St Andrew – affectionately known as the ‘Cathedral of the Borders’ – is found in the family of Sir Walter Scott.

His granddaughter, Charlotte Lochart Scott, married James Robert Hope, an English Member of Parliament. Born in 1812, Hope was himself the grandson of the Earl of Hopetoun. Upon marrying Charlotte, he took on the name Scott, becoming Robert Hope- Scott. The marriage would produce three children.

Their first child, Mary Hope-Scott, was born on the October 2 1852 as the heiress of Abbotsford.

In London, the couple developed a friendship with St John Henry Newman. At the time an Anglican priest, New- man’s eventual journey to the Faith would lead Robert and Charlotte to join him in converting to Catholicism.

Afterwards, the pair took up resi- dency in the Scottish Borders.

Before 1853, Galashiels was without a place of worship; the Catholic population was tended to by Fr Taggart, who came from Hawick once a month to celebrate Mass in a private house and later an assembly room.

Robert saw to it that a chapel was constructed in the town, paying for the land and the materials.

From 1853 until 1863 the order of Oblates of Mary Immaculate were the first resident priests of the Mission Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary with Fr Cooper being appointed supervisor.

Their mission spread across the Scottish Borders, as far south as Berwick-Upon-Tweed. Robert purchased the ad- joining property to use as a presbytery for the mission – still in use today.

The booming tweed industry and rail- way saw Galashiels thrive and the Catholic population grow. When the chapel was too small, Robert saw to the construction of another church, paying for it as he had done for the previous one.

This second church, dedicated to Our Lady & St Andrew, has remained in continuous operation since.

In part because of its size and beauty, but perhaps also because Robert hoped it would act as a hub from which smaller missions would sprout, the church is affectionately known as the ‘Cathedral of the Borders’.

Robert, however, did not live to see its opening. He died in 1873, just three months before the opening, aged 61. St John Henry Newman preached at his funeral.

The church was officially opened on Sunday August 8 1873. At 11 o’clock, the blessing of the church took place, preceding a Solemn High Mass.

Mary Hope-Scott, now Laird of Abbotsford, was in attendance.

The music was performed by a choir of 34 voices from the Jesuit Church of the Sacred Heart, Edinburgh, and as- sisted by a full orchestra. The Mass ended with Beethoven’s Alleluia.

The sermon was preached by Fr Thomas Williams SJ, who called on the congregation to show their love by deeds as well as words. He concluded with a eulogy on Robert, to whom they owed the magnificent place of worship where they were gathered.

As you enter the church, to your right, a pillar bears an inscription urging the faithful to pray for his soul.


Today, the parish still punches above its weight like the missions more than 100 years ago. For two years in a row, the parish has hosted an ordination: Fr Bobby Taylor last year, and Fr Joshua Moir last month.

Fr Andrew Kingham, the parish priest of Our Lady & St Andrew, noted that many of the Borders vocations have come from the good examples of priests who have come and gone – an observation that reminds him of the importance of helping the laity to explore their vocations.

Fr Kingham arrived two years ago at the height of the pandemic. There’s no roadmap to how churches will function post-Covid, he said. But he added he is sure the response to declining numbers will have to be in part a more active involvement in towns and cities.

While his approach has been cautious because of the pandemic, he has made a point of house blessings, in part to get to know his parish community.

“Parishes today need to think beyond their buildings,” he said.

“We need to be Catholic in our communities. That can be frightening for a lot of Catholics because we have to ask: why am I Catholic? What does my Faith mean? How do I share my Faith, not only with my family but people at my work place and my neighbourhood?

“Am I prepared to be known as a follower of Jesus Christ?”

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