Prophet Peden and his mask
This mask could come straight from a horror film, originally it even had false teeth stitched into it’s mouth. It’s made of leather and the hair is all real human hair.
This mask was first discovered in the 1840s in a cottage near Cumnock. Along with the wig and a sword it had just been handed down from generation to generation as a family heirloom. This grim mask dates from around 1660-1670 and was made to disguise the identity of Alexander Peden “The Prophet of the Covenant”. Also known simply as “Sandy”.
Born in 1626 at the north end of Sorn village in Ayrshire, Peden was well educated. He was a scholar of Glasgow University then worked as a teacher at Tarbolton. His teaching life was dogged by controversy, being accused by an unmarried woman of having fathered her child outside of wedlock. His name was later cleared when the real father eventually came forward, the Mother herself later committed suicide. This scar may have been the reason he never married.
In 1659 Peden went on to seek ordination into the church and no less than five times appeared before the Presbytery of Lanark and Biggar before his licence was granted. He was ordained and appointed to the parish of New Luce in Galloway but his stay was brief as in 1663 along with so many other ministers, he was forced to leave the church. He could not preach from his pulpit anymore as he was a covenanting minister. Without a pulpit Peden refused to give up and for the next twenty three years wandered the hills and moors of South West Scotland from the Clyde, through Renfrewshire, his homeland of Ayrshire into the depths of Dumfries and Galloway, and across the Irish Sea in Ulster where he preached at Kells and Glenwherry, Co Antrim between 1679 and 1681 and made later visits in 1682 and 1684. He was now what was called a ‘Field Preacher’. Attendance at these sermons became treasonable and preaching at them, a capital offence. The authorities were concerned that these were becoming a hot-bed of revolutionary ideas.
Over 300 Ministers had been forced to leave their churches after the restoration of Charles II. Covenanters were a movement of Scottish Presbyterians, they believed there was one head of the Kirk, Jesus Christ and refused to accept the King in this role, hence their stand led to almost a century of persecution. The covenant had been torn up by the King and he decreed that he was head of the church. Covenanting Preachers had massive influence and were a threat to the King. Scotland and England at this time were at constant civil unrest. This was a grim period of religious persecution which witnessed the bloodiest crimes of the nation’s history, many committed by Scots against Scots. This time was to be aptly named ‘The Killing Times’.
Peden was a colourful and enigmatic speaker and he soon his reputation spread, he was credited with almost supernatural powers because he managed to not get caught. As the stories spread, his influence grew. Stories were told of how he escaped the soldiers seeking him out, disappearing into the mists. Peden would also tell prophecies of what will come, he once told a woman who was laughing ‘rudely’ while watching the Sabbath worship that she would not laugh much longer … then later she was blown of a cliff into the sea. He also foretold the death of Charles II and the dethronement and exile of Charles’s sucessor James II. Peden also said there would be no more Stuart Kings and this turned out to be true.
Peden quickly became on of the most wanted men in the British Isles.
Peden started wearing a mask when he was travelling about so that the soldiers wouldn’t recognise him.
Soon after the Battle of Bothwell Bridge Peden downhearted went to Ireland saying that people can go to their prayers but he could not preach ‘for our fiends are fallen and fled before the enemy’. He stayed less than a year and returned to Scotland, but soon for the sake of safety fled back to Ireland. He stayed a few years in Ireland and began to preach again, he was still at grave risk and wore many disguises.
King Charles II had died and Peden longed to be back in Scotland. So he returned to Scotland from Ireland, commenting that he was going from “one bloody land to the other bloody land”. Worried he would be arrested he landed by himself in a small boat. It was a 1685.
In 1673 Peden and Forty other Covenanters were rounded up arrested and spent the next four years imprisoned on the Bass Rock with forty other Covenanters.
Peden continued preaching. His pilgrimage finally took him back to his native parish of Sorn. By now Peden was old and in very ill health On January 6th 1686 he had been visiting his brother`s home at Ten Shilling Side, Auchinleck. His brother and his wife had begged him to stay with them as he was so ill and weak but he refused and chose to stay in a nearby cave. He would be putting them in even more danger if he stayed with them. So wearily he returned to the cave, unfortunately he had been seen and within three hours the troopers came for him, they found the cave but not Peden who hidden himself in a pile of straw.
After the soldiers had gone away Peden was nearing death he told his friends to bury him where they would, and prophesied he would be lifted again. Within a few hours Peden had died.
As he had foretold, there was no peace for him in death as the government continued to hound him. The Boswell family were so concerned for his body that they had it re interred secretly in their family vault. But some forty days after he had died, and despite protests of the Boswell family and the Countess of Dumfries, soldiers took the body to the place of execution, a hill above Cumnock , and hung it on the gibbet.
Eventually they cut down his body and it was buried again, this time at the foot of the gibbet as if a common criminal. Time has been a great healer for little by little the local people buried their loved ones alongside Alexander Peden thus creating a new and hallowed graveyard.
The inscription on Peden’s Grave
In Memory of ALEXANDER PEDEN [ A native of Sorn ]
THAT FAITHFUL MINISTER OF CHRIST,WHO. FOR HIS UNFLINCHING ADHERENCE TO THE
COVENANTED REFORMATION IN SCOTLAND,WAS EXPELLED BY TYRANT RULERS FROM HIS PARISH OF NEW LUCE, IMPRISONED FOR YEARS ON THE BASS ROCK BY HIS PERSECUTORS,AND HUNTED FOR HIS LIFE ON THE SURROUNDING MOUNTAINS AND MOORS, TILL HIS DEATH ON 26TH JANUARY 1686* IN THE 60TH YEAR OF HIS AGE, AND HERE AT LAST , HIS DUST REPOSES IN PEACE,AWAITING THE RESURRECTION OF THE JUST SUCH WERE THE MEN THESE HILLS WHO TRODE STRONG IN THE LOVE AND FEAR OF GOD DEFYING THROUGH THE LONG DARK HOUR, ALIKE THE CRAFT AND RAGE OF POWER.
ERECTED IN 1891.
Places associated with Peden’s Preaching
There are places all over Scotland that have been associated with Peden and the places he preached or hid.
Cleuch Glen in Sorn.
Peden’s Cove: along the River Ayr, where Alexander Peden preached clandestine sermons to his Covenanter followers.
The Peden Stone: Near Mid Linthills is a stone which is thought to mark the place that Peden preached, although there is not historical evidence for this. It is known at The Pedent Stone.
Various Peden’s Pulpits