John Craig

If you visit St Giles in Edinburgh, have a look for the plaque to one of Scotland’s forgotten Reformers, John Craig. It is thanks to him, and an incident in his life, that you can bring your dog inside the Cathedral with you if you like. On the brass plaque is an engraving of the dog and the words “My All."

John Craig was born in Scotland and after studying at St Andrews University joined the Dominican order, but early on he was suspected of heresy and put in prison. Being cleared he went to England, then to France, and eventually Rome. He was received among the Dominicans of Bologna, and later was made rector of the school where he had access to the libraries of the Inquisition, where heretics (Protestants) books were kept. There he came into contact with the Institutions of John Calvin and was converted to Protestantism. He began speaking of his new faith and was arrested and taken to Rome, where he was examined then imprisoned for nine months and sentenced to be burnt at the stake on the 19th August 1559. The night before his execution however Pope Paul the Fourth died. He was an unpopular pope and a riot ensued in the city, the mob pulled down his statue. During the rioting all the prisons were broken open and the prisoners set free, among then John Craig. 

On his journey back to Scotland two incredible events happened to John Craig. Firstly he was stopped by a group of bandits but one of them recognised him and took him aside and asked if he had been at any time in Bologna, to which John Craig said that he had. It turned out one of the bandits was a former soldier who had been injured and was helped and looked after by John Craig. Because of this act of kindness he was allowed to go freely on his way.The other incident is truly remarkable. Keeping to the back roads and forests to avoid capture, he stopped exhausted at the side of a little stream in the middle of the woods. Unsure of his location and not knowing how he was going to continue his journey he was approached by a dog which incredibly had a purse of money in it’s mouth. It dropped it next to John Craig who after seeing no-one was chasing the dog, picked it up and was able to continue on his way ending up at Vienna. (It is because of this incident you can still nowadays take your dog into St Giles Cathedral.)

At Vienna he was brought to preach before Maximilian the Second, who after recieving letters from the new pope to return John Craig, gave him a pass of safe conduct and allowed him to slip out the country. After travelling through Germany he came to England, and being there informed of the Reformation in Scotland returned home to offer his service to the new Protestant Church there. But having been abroad for over 24 years and speaking another language, his own was a little rusty at first, so he preached in Latin in Magdalen Chapel at Edinburgh, and in the year 1561, after he had recovered the language, was appointed minister at Holyrood. The next year he became the assistant minister with John Knox At St Giles. In 1579 he was called to be King James VI’s minister, and was the author of the King’s Confession, a Covenant signed by the King and the people of Scotland in 1581. In it they promised before God that they would accept the true religion and oppose Roman Catholicism. The covenant ended with a promise to defend the king, the gospel and the country. This covenant became the first part of the National Covenant of 1638. 

Having laboured hard all his life, John Craig died peacefully in Edinburgh on the 12th December 1600 at the ripe old age of 88