Food and Drink

The most obvious kinds of food and drink involved at the communion services were the elements, as they are called, of bread and wine. One of the earliest local records concerning them comes from Muiravonside in 1686 when the heritors, the major landowners in the parish, refused to pay for the elements. The costs, particularly that of the wine, could be considerable.  In that same parish in 1725 :

“John Scot, treasurer, produced a discharge to the session for twenty nine pound and four shilling Scots given for the bread and wine at the Sacrament.” 

At this time the Scots pound was worth a twelfth of a pound sterling or 1s/8d.  Fuller detail on costs and quantities can be found from Bo’ness in 1709:

“The Session appoints fiftieth and seven pound four shilling Scots money to be payed to Magnus Morton for twentieth and six pints of wine at fourtieth and four shillings per pint. Also to Robert Fairbairn nine pound twelve shilling Scots money for four dozen of Loaves at four shillings per piece. That whereas this year the Expense of the Elements is six pound six shillings Scots above five pounds sterling, our Ordinarie allowances, the session appoints the Eleemosynar [the elder in charge of charitable payments within the parish] to pay the said six pounds sixteen shillings Scots. The expenses of the Elements not amounting to five pound sterling in several former occasions.” 

(It should be pointed out that at this time the Scots pint was equivalent to just over one and a half litres.)

Costs of wine varied. In 1710, during the War of the Spanish Succession against France, when trade was no doubt disrupted, Bo’ness session found the cost had risen sharply “by reason of the Dearth of ye Wine.” There is only one indication in the kirk session records as to what type of wine was purchased: in 1726 at Slamannan we have,

“Jennet Mak given £4 for elements and port.”

Some parishes often relied on donations of money from a sponsor among the heritors or one of the neighbouring aristocrats to defray the expenses of purchasing the elements. At Airth, for instance, the laird of Airth donated “twenty merks” for the elements but in 1664 it was found to be inadequate and a further “sixteen pounds six shillings eight pennies” had to be paid out over and above it.  Bo’ness also had trouble in getting money from a landed sponsor.  In 1707 the records tell that:

“the Minister representing that he had received a precept from the Dutches [sic] of Hamilton upon Daniel Hamilton late Chamberlain of Kinneil for his paying five pound Sterline [sic] for defraying the charges for the Communion Elements and he not having the money presently to give as he saith the Session appoints the precept to be given to their Eleemosiner and he upon it to advance the said money and give it to the Minister that persons who purveyed the Elements may be payed.”  

In 1701 the heritors of Muiravonside yet again refused to contribute and the session had to find the money from their own number:

“The session finding that the Heritours were averse from paying of the Communion eliments [sic] and not judgeing that a ground sufficient to alter their former resolution they therefore appoint William Walker and Stephen Mitchell to buy deals and trees for the Communion tables which they order William Livingstone to make as also they appoint Manwellmilne and David Scot to provide the Communion Elements.”

Some parishes, such as Slamannan in 1721, set up a fund to cover their expenses for communion;

“500 Marks to be a fund for buying of the Communion elements.”

An additional cost that had to taken into consideration when purchasing the communion elements was carriage of goods from outwith the parish. In 1662 the session at Airth paid four shillings

“for carrying the communion bread from ffalkirk.” 

In 1730 Slamannan session :

“ordered bread from Linlithgow for the aliments [sic].”  Two years later “Robert Ure is appointed to go to Linlithgow and order the baxter to bring ten loaves of bread to the Manse and also order 12 pints of wine and to order delivery to the Manse.”

As well as laying out money for the communion elements the kirk sessions would in many cases also provide something of a feast for those attending the four days of the communion service. Burns indicates that intending communicants also took their own provisions with them:

“The lasses, skelpinbarefit, thrang,
In silks an’ scarlets glitter,
Wi sweet-milk cheese in mony a whang,
An farls bak’dwi butter,
Fu crump that day.”

The Denny Session records provide the fullest example of the nature of foodstuffs purchased for the feasting, perhaps an echo of the ‘agape’ or love-feast that followed communion in the Early Church. In 1766, for example, they were paying out for “wines flesh brandie and others used at the Sacrament” at a cost of £43.10.0.  Among the ‘others’ were bread, ale, aqua vitae, a lamb, cheese and a sheep.  This would seem to suggest that Burns was not exaggerating in his admittedly satirical poem, ‘The Holy Fair.’

“How monie hearts this day converts
O’ sinners and o’ lasses
Their hearts o’ stane, gin night aregane
As saft as ony flesh is.
There’s some are fou o’ love divine,
There’s some are fu’ o’ brandy;
An’ monie jobs that day begin,
May end in houghmagandie
Some ither day.”

Two kirk session entries show that there was truth in what he wrote.  At Muiravonside in 1701:

“John Robert having been appointed to be wairned from Falkirk was called and compearing he confessed that he was drunk all the Celebration of the Sacrament heire [sic] being tempted by Parkend to continue in the Ale house drinking from the time that Mister Burnet began to preach until the sermons were ended which was about two or three hours [sic] tyme [sic].”  

And sex reared its head in the Denny records:

“Depones that she heard that Janet Cuthell was unseemly with a married man in Denny Kirk on Sacrament Monday when sermon was in the tent.”

Allan Ronald, 2021

See Collections to continue reading about the administration of Communion.