Jobs to Avoid When in Scotland

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October 31st 2011
Published: November 23rd 2011
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“Wow, that must have left a mark” was my main thought while reading the plaque describing the burning-at-the-stake episode on February 29, 1528 involving one Patrick Hamilton. What had he done to deserve the roast by his fellow academicians and church leaders? Well, he was convicted of heresy for teaching the ‘wrong’ theology – Reformed that is. This of course was only one in a long line of tits-for-tats between those of the Roman Catholic persuasion, and the other scoundrels belonging to the Lutheran clan. Neither camp was remiss in avoiding a good torture by say, drawing and quartering (don’t ask because you really don’t want to know) or the rack. Neither did they shy away from the good times to be had at a really uplifting execution, maybe by decapitation or, in Patrick H’s case, barbeque. They embraced the heck out of such fun interludes.

As Tom and I stared at the exact spot on the sidewalk, marked by a stylized ‘PH’, where Hamilton was martyred, it came to me that this was one of the job ads – ‘Needed: Person Willing to be Burned at Stake; Catholics Need Not Apply’ – that one would do best to avoid in Scotland.

Tom and I were wandering around the rainy streets of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland in the environs now famous (to Anglophile Yanks at least) as the birthplace of William and Kate’s romance. But, I was finding the walk most instructive in terms of employment opportunities that would not be good to pursue. The next example, after Hamilton’s poor choice, became apparent as we stared at the glass-fronted display case housing the nearly 600-year time line of the university. Here, marked by the year 1470, was the reminder that university administrators could have a pretty awful time while attempting to herd cats. In this particular encounter, students and faculty gave the Dean a 21-arrow salute. This episode was not, as you might expect, followed by arrests and convictions, but rather apparently by the rather mild punishment of expulsion from the university. Hmmm, I wonder what would happen if I organized a similar occasion for…?

The Hebdomadar is “5. To call the regents to him at five o’clock on Sundays, and lay before them what fault he has observed in any class or student, that it may be corrected by the master; and, if the interference of the principal be necessary, to give intimation of it to him; so that, by the advice of all the masters, any injury which the university might sustain from bad example may be speedily corrected.” (Alexander Bower; 1817; The History of the University of Edinburgh; Chiefly Compiled from Original Papers and Records, Never Before Published Volume I; pg. 160).

The above torturous passage reflects only one of the onerous tasks given to the faculty member of a Scottish university whose unlucky lot it was to be named Hebdomadar. When I queried Tom about the duties of this office, he replied that the Hebdomadar’s main job was to go around town each evening, collecting all the drunken students, making certain that they made it back inside the university before the gates and doors were locked tight. Seemingly, the only thing worse than being given the job of corralling drunken, rowdy Scots was the thought of having to do this indefinitely, hence the fact that one was only Hebdomadar for a week at a time, then it was some other poor sod's turn.

O.K., so maybe the position of martyr is looking more attractive after all.


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