Situated in the southwest of Scotland. It comprises the Counties of Dumfries, Kirkcudbright, and Wigtown and about four-fifths of the County of Ayr, thus embracing a territory of 3347 square miles and a general population of 373,670, of which Catholics form only a small fraction. From an historical point of view, a singular interest attaches to this diocese since it is certainly the most ancient ecclesiastical foundation in Scotland, its founder and first bishop, St. Ninian, being "the first authentic personages that meets us in the succession of Scottish missionaries" (Belleshiem). This illustrious saint, a Briton, born on the Solway shore, educated at Rome and consecrated bishop by St. Siricius, founded his episcopal see at Whithorn and dedicated his cathedral to St. Martin of Tours, in 397; and, having evangelized the country as far north as the Grampian mountains, died about 432. The dates here given are on the authority of the majority of Scottish writers.
The original title of the see was "Whitherne" (Quhitherne), latinized "Witerha" and (more frequently) "Candida Casa", signifying the White House so called, St. Bede tells us, from the structure and appearance of the church erected by St. Ninian "in a style unusual among the Britons". At what precise date the territorial title of "Galloway" came into use is not quite clear. It is obviously improbable that the area of the diocese was at all defined in St. Ninian's time, but from the eighth till the end of the sixteenth century it was limited to the district of Galloway, i.e., the two Counties of Kirkeudbright and Wigtown. The succession of bishops in this see was three times interrupted in the course of its history for periods averaging three hundred years' duration each. The last Catholic bishop in the sixteenth century, Andrew Durie, died in 1558, and the see was vacant three hundred and twenty years.
It was restored, for the third time, by Leo XIII in 1878, and the Right Rev. John McLachlan, D.D., Vicar-General of the Western Vicariate of Scotland, was appointed the first bishop. From the extent of territory it would be perhaps more accurately described as a new diocese, for it was formed out of two outlying portions of the former eastern and western vicariates and has more than double the are it had at either previous restoration. The Catholic population, small in number and thinly dispersed over the whole territory, belonged chiefly to the poorer labouring class and, excepting the larger burghs, such as Ayr, Dumfries, and Kilmarnock, was very inadequately provided for in respect of ordinary religious and educational needs. But the new bishop was a man of great energy and zeal, with a wide missionary and administrative experience, and in a comparatively short time he not only thoroughly organized the diocese but also furnished it abundantly with churches, schools, presbyteries, and an efficient clergy. While engaged in this great work he received generous encouragement and support from many of the wealthier members of his flock, e.g., the third Marquess of Bute ; Rev. Sir David Oswald Hunter-Blair, Baronet; Captain R. D. Barre Cunninghame, and others. Bishop McLachlan died 16 Jan., 1893, and was succeeded by the Right Rev. William Turner, the present bishop ; b. at Aberdeen, 12 Dec., 1844; cons. 25 July, 1893. The diocesan statistics for 1908 show a Catholic population of 17,625 souls, 21 missions, 41 churches or chapels, 30 priests in active work, 28 elementary schools, 10 religious communities (all since 1875), and various educational and charitable institutions. The diocese was a suffragan of York (England) previous to 1472; from that date until 1492 it was subject to St. Andrews; and from then until the extinction of the ancient hierarchy it was transferred to Glasgow. It is now a suffragan of the new Archbishopric of St. Andrews and Edinburgh.
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