Home  >  Features  >  Looking Back: Scots Kirk Madeira

Looking Back

Image: archives-pic_cropped.jpg

Friday January 18 2019

Looking Back: Robert Reid Kalley and Scots Kirk, Madeira

An account of a visit celebrating the centenary of the Scots Kirk in Funchal, on the Portuguese island of Madeira, and the missionary doctor who founded it. Published in January 1939.

Robert Reid Kalley, pictured between 1840-1850

The Legacy of a Scots Physician

Celebrations in Madeira


THE “dustless house” is yet to be invented, but the nearest approach to it is, I believe, to be found in Madeira, that beautiful isle in the North Atlantic. Here also is the paradise of the lover of flowers. Everywhere are signs of luxuriant growth and brilliant colouring. Great masses of rich creepers overwhelm you, smaller clumps of plants woo and entrance, the fascination of the pink-tipped lilies is uncanny.

The Scottish Doctor

But it was not the climate that called me across the stormy seas in the beginning of October. The Scots Church, child of the Colonial Committee, was celebrating its centenary, for on 12th October 1838, Dr. Robert Reid Kalley set foot on the island, and a Mr. Barrie of the United Secession church began services in a hired hall. Scotland has many little-known heroes and heroines, but at least in Madeira in the hall adjoining the Scots Kirk is now set a memorial stone in honour of this evangelical doctor.

To turn from work among the British and to care for the poor among the native Portuguese, that was his glory. In 1841 the Municipality of Funchal set down in their records a glowing appreciation of his services. Crowds gathered to his meetings even more than to his hospital. Tradition has it that not seldom one and two thousand people were present; on one occasion it is said there were five thousand. Schools were begun in scattered cottages among the people; Bibles were distributed and studied.

Persecution and Dispersion

Unhappily the religious authorities became increasingly hostile. Their alarm issued in threats and disturbances, so that Kalley must needs flee the island, taken down to a ship disguised as a sick old woman. Looking back, like Lot’s wife, he saw his house in flames.

Persecution followed. Many Portuguese fled to Trinidad, and their descendants form the nucleus of the prosperous Church of Scotland at St. Ann’s. Others went to America. Kalley himself, after four years in Malta and Palestine, found a home once more across the Atlantic in Brazil. Landing in Rio de Janeiro on the 10th May 1855, he founded churches, won recognition as doctor and surgeon, was honoured by visits from many distinguished people including the Emperor of Brazil, wrote books on Christian doctrine, translated into Portuguese Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress and The Holy War, and contributed with his wife to the volume of Psalms and Hymns used among Evangelical Portuguese all the world over.

After a Hundred Years

A hundred years had passed and the legacy of the Scots physician was not exhausted. Indeed, it was my privilege to see how this spiritual investment of faith and character continued to enrich the life of the island. The Scots community in Madeira may not be large, but at the reception and at the morning service the friendly feeling toward it was manifest by the representative character of the gatherings. It was evident that the Rev. Mr. and Mrs. Calderwood enjoy the esteem and respect of all.

First in our Centenary programme came an excursion by bus and motor to some of the villages associated with the Scots physician, especially Santo Antonio da Serra. There, among the ravines of those volcanic peaks, amid drifting mist reminiscent of the Scots moors, a conventicle was held in honour of the past and devotion to the future. In the evening the Scots and the Portuguese flags were drawn aside to reveal the Memorial stone to Dr. Kalley.

A “Festa” and a Holy Supper

The close of the week brought the children of the schools connected with the Church to present a “Festa”- a programme of national dances and songs, with lighting and stage effects and a guitar orchestra, one of the happiest displays I have seen. Saturday continued the week-end spirit, for in the lovely grounds of a lady long resident in the island, a garden-party was held.

Sunday marked the conclusion of the celebration. From the Scots service we passed to the Sacrament of the Table in the church at Louros erected by the Portuguese themselves. Thirty-two new members were admitted, while later eight baptisms, both adult and children, took place. A united service in the evening enabled greetings of friendship to be sent from all the groups of the Portuguese Church to the Mother Church.

The Unforgotten Scot

Seated as “The Golden Gate” next morning, reviewing the week’s proceedings, one marvelled at the continuing and increasing influence of the Scots physician.

The volcanic fires that heaved this island out of the ocean-bed have cooled. The spiritual fires that brought into being the Scots and the Portuguese Churches have been kindled afresh after one hundred years, and their light shines far.

The Rev John Alexander Calderwood was minister at Fuchal until his death in 1954. According to this travel article from 2013, the Church is now used by Portuguese Protestants, Ukrainian Orthodox and German Lutherans.

More about Robert Reid Kalley on Wikipedia.

Previous: Life and Work, issue one

Looking Back menu