Thursday, February 29, 2024

Today, on the Christian History Almanac, we remember the Scottish martyr Patrick Hamilton.

It is the 29th of February 2024. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac, brought to you by 1517 at; I’m Dan van Voorhis.


What a day for an almanac. The leap year gives us this: the 29th of February every four years (well, most of them, I’ll leave that math for another time). The earth takes 365.242190 days to orbit the sun. This means every year, we are about 44 minutes off, and so every four years, we do a one-day adjustment to keep the seasons in the right place. 

You have a .068 percent chance of being born today, and if you were, you share a birthday with bandleader Jimmy Dorsey, Serial Killer Eileen Wournous, and motivational speaker Tony Robbins.

If you were to die on this day, you would join Pope Hilarius, the Monkeys Davy Jones, and the Scottish martyr Patrick Hamilton, a man mentioned on this show before, an early name in the Scottish Reformation and a name known well to all alumni of the University of St. Andrews.

If you were to see a gaggle of students walking up North Street during exam time in December or May, you might see them part like the Red Sea in front of St. Salvator’s Cathedral, being careful not to step on the initials PH in cobblestone- this, where the 24-year-old was put to death by the Cardinal is said to, somewhat glibly, imply that you will fail your exams.

So, who was this young man put to death on this day in 1528? Patrick Hamilton was born in Glasgow, likely in 1504. His family was of noble stock; his mother, Catherine Stewart, was a relative of King James II of Scotland. He would receive the title of Abbot, and the subsequent salary was enough to send him off to the University of Paris, where he took a Master's Degree in 1520 and heard the rumblings of reformation coming out of Germany.

In 1523, he would become a member of St. Leonard’s College at the University of St. Andrews, then the center of Scottish Catholicism with the cathedral at the north end of the town.

He openly taught some of Luther’s Reformation doctrines until the Cardinal, who lived in the Castle in town, demanded he be tried. Not yet ready to be a martyr, Hamilton fled for Germany, where he met like-minded Reformers, read more of Luther and especially Melanchthon, and then, later in that year, returned to St. Andrews to teach as long as they’d allow him. He was arranged to preach in St. Salvator’s church so that he would out himself as pro-Reformation, which he did. But in that time, he was able to convince many of the locals of the corrupt state of the church and the need for reform. On account of these allies and those on account of his mother’s relations to King James, the Cardinal gave him up to secular authorities, who then decided to burn him at the stake. Remember that secular authorities could see heresy as a dangerous social ill and thus do what the church might want to but can’t for various reasons.

And so Patrick Hamilton became the first martyr of the Scottish Reformation on this, the 29th of February in 1528. He was tied to a stake at noon on this day and set ablaze, and his body would remain until evening.

One initial response was that of George Wishart, an itinerant preacher who taught reformation doctrines and was put to death in St. Andrews under the instigation of the same Cardinal. This would lead to the Cardinal being killed by locals in an intricate plot involving tunneling under the castle walls a la Bugs Bunny. Among the perpetrators of this plot was John Knox, who would be arrested for his role and later travel to Geneva and eventually bring the Reform of Calvin to St. Andrews and then throughout Scotland.

The only work by Hamilton was a collection of “commonplaces” or “loci” of dogmatic theology in the manner of Melanchthon. Were I not such a silly 23-year-old when I began grad school, I would have seen the remarkable lack of texts on Hamilton and written on him instead of some German guy. We remember Patrick Hamilton and his death at the stake on the 29th of February in 1528.


The last word for today is from the daily lectionary from 1 Peter- a good word:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.


This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 29th of February 2024, brought to you by 1517 at

The show is produced by a man curious if Pope Hilarious knew any good jokes- he is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man who knows that Eileen Wournos and The Night Stalker were both born on the 29th… weird. I’m Dan van Voorhis.

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.

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