Today is Commemoration Day, an annual celebration of the foundation of the University in 1451, where thanks are given to the many benefactors whose gifts have supported the development of the University. Sadly due to Covid-19 this year’s celebrations have been postponed and the next Commemoration Day will take place on Wednesday 16 June 2021.
One hundred years ago in 1920, the University was celebrating the reinstatement of Commemoration Day after a 5-year break as it had not taken place since the outbreak of World War One. This press clipping below (click to enlarge) from our Records of the Publicity Services notes that the event was unusually interesting because of this reinstatement but also because it marked the jubilee of the University’s move to Gilmorehill in 1870. The Commemorative Address was given by Professor Rait, then Historiographer Royal for Scotland and Professor of Scottish History & Literature and later Principal of the University from 1929 until 1936. Professor Rait’s address reflected on ‘the building of the three houses’ of the University and part of it can be read in the clipping.
The article also covered the behaviour of the students during the ceremony who “were bent upon making the proceedings as lively as possible”.
Commemoration became an official event in the late seventeenth century and some early documents in the archive enable us to trace the tradition of giving thanks to the University’s benefactors, with the ‘Report of the Commissioners of Visitation’ in 1690, recommending:
“that at all yearlie laureations … there be honourable mention made of the founders and benefactors by publick recital” (GUA 26637, p53)
In 1903, the General Council urged an annual Commemoration day on the day following the annual graduation, “in order to maintain the connection of the graduates with their University”. The first was held in April 1904 and the current form of celebrations has been followed for over a century but its roots go back to the annual May banquet held first in 1492 at which was born the toast “Resurgat in Gloria Alma Mater”.
The events of the day include a service for the Commemoration of Benefactors in the University Chapel; the conferring of honorary degrees by the Chancellor; and the Commemoration Day lunch. Find out more about the history of Commemoration Day on our University Story site.
Categories: Archives and Special Collections