We must begin this chapter by a short summary of what we have already tried, if inadequately, to tell of the part played by Shenval in the history of Highland Catholics. For Shenval, is so little known, that few even of those whose lives are spent among these hills realise that, in spite of the rigours of the climate and the terrors of the penal laws, the light of the faith was never extinguished in the district of Mortlach and the Cabrach ; nor do they appreciate the cost at which the light was kept alive by the devoted labours of the missionary priests who had taken up their abode in the Shenval.
When the ancient church at Mortlach had been desecrated and turned to alien purposes by the followers of Knox, when it was no longer possible for Catholics to worship there after the manners of their forefathers, then did the tiny chapel at Shenval become the precarious refuge of the Holy Mystery ; and there the priests, in fear and seclusion, like the Apostles of old, dwealt with It under the
same roof, and there they continued to preach the doctrine and to practice the rites of the unchanging faith. Thence they issued forth to tend the remnant of their scattered flock, and to minister to their spiritual needs.
Shenval continued to be the centre of Catholic life and activity in these parts, form 1728 to 1793-the last priest to live there being the Rev. Mr Farquharson.
The little chapel, when bereft of a resident pastor, fell rapidly into decay, and the stones were utilised for the construction of a farm house and steading, which was built on an adjacent site.
The interested visitor to the Shenval may trace the boundary wall which formerly enclosed the priest's small domain. He will see the rough heaps of debris overgrown with grass and moss, which alone remain to mark the site of the church and dwelling-house, and he will notice that here and there a stray stone or a crumbling bit of wall protrude their ragged edges from the ground. No other visible link remains to connect this bleak and deserted hillock with the past, except a solitary rowan tree, grown old and battered by the winds, which stands in the plot of ground where was once the garden. One cannot visit this lonely spot and be unmoved by its hallowed memories, and by the knowledge
that here the Catholic faith was preserved during the terrible years which preceded the Act of Emancipation.
By this act, passed 3rd June 1793, Catholics were allowed "to hold and enjoy property of all kinds without molestation. The bill was proposed in the House of Commons by the Lord Advocate in an able speech, which reflected much honour on the Catholics of Scotland ; not a member in the House but applauded it. Lord Kellie, in the House of Lords, acknowledged that he was happy in having the honour of assisting to emancipate from shameful laws such valuable subjects".*
Now that Catholics were at last free to enjoy property of all kinds, there was no further need to seek the seclusion of a Shenval, and as the Cabrach was being rapidly depopulated it was decided to open a new mission in a less isolated position. Before describing these later developments, it seems fitting to give here some short account of the minor stations in the vicinity, which were visited and served by the priests from the Shenval.
* Memoirs of Scottish Catholics, Vol. II., p. 391.