Tokens of Grace: Cape Breton’s Open-air Communion Tradition

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Beginning in the 17th-century Scotland, when Covenanters met in open defiance of religious repression, open-air communion, the Sàcramaid, evolved to become the social and spiritual highlight of the year. Primarily a mixture of prayer and religious and kinship feasting, open-air communions were an expression of core communal values and basic kin and religious loyalties.

Particularly between 1840 and 1890, but well into the 20th century as well, the sacramental season and its open-air communions was a dominant symbol in the lives of Cape Breton’s Scots Presbyterians. Whole communities, numbering in the thousands, converged for this great religious occasion, taking part in as many as five days of exhaustive preparatory self-examination.