A Religious Heritage exhibition was held in the Helensburgh District from August 15 until September 12 1998 and was a multicentre project.
It started in Cove Church hall — very appropriately, as St Modan brought Christianity to that part of the area in the beginning. The other two churches were St. Columba Church in Helensburgh and Cardross Parish Church.
The exhibition used maps, charts, photographs, art work and text to tell the dramatic story of the development of religious groups in the Helensburgh and Lomond area from the earliest times until the present day, describing the people and their religious conflicts over a period of more than fourteen hundred years.
Since the close of the exhibition there have been requests from various quarters, including two schools, to put it up on their premises for a day or two. As part of the Millennium celebrations a short version of the exhibition was displayed in the Congregational Church (now the United Reformed Church) in West Princes Street, Helensburgh.
From the booklet of the exhibition, the story of religion in the district:
This exhibition tells the dramatic story of the development of religious groups in the Helensburgh and Lomond area from the earliest times until the present day, describing the people and their religious conflicts over a period of more than fourteen hundred years.
The Religious Heritage of this part of Scotland is a story of violence and dissension, friction between Church and State, strong personalities, rigidity and prejudice, breaking away of groups, re-uniting of groups and, despite all, much kindness and many good works done by men and women of strong faith. This exhibition seeks to give an honest and accurate portrayal of this vital part of our history.
The pre-Christian history of the area is obscure and although there are Iron and Stone age remains in the Rosneath Peninsula and elsewhere, nothing is known about religious groups associated with them. The burial site, now almost obliterated, at Kilcreggan (Portkil) probably dates from 500B.C. and there was a tradition that it was sacred ground, people bringing their dead there for burial well into the Christian period.
In the 6th Century A.D. (or possibly later) St Modan and his companions preached and taught in the "Isle of Rosneath", founding Christian Communities before travelling on. Around this time St Kessog was also active on Loch Lomondside and is said to have died a martyr’s death at Bandry, south of Luss in 520 or 560 A.D.
St Modan came back to Rosneath to die and a simple chapel was built "to house his most sacred relics". An early church was also built at Kilcreggan ("Church of the Rock") but no signs remain. In the 12th Century a Christian monastery was established in Paisley and from there monks travelled to the Rosneath Peninsula with authority to appropriate the Church of Rosneath, receive all the revenue and employ a curate.
The Parish system dates back to Roman days and was adopted by the early Christian Church. Rosneath and Cardross Parishes shared between them a huge area which became unmanageable.
Rosneath Parish was under the jurisdiction of Paisley Abbey and Cardross Parish was a Prebend of Glasgow Cathedral. In 1648, after much argument, the Parish of Row was created, taking North Garelochside from Rosneath and the lands of Camis Eskan to Loch Long and Glen Fruin from Cardross.
The Reformation arrived in Scotland in 1560 and the Church was ruled according the Calvinistic principles of John Knox. Congregations were organised, each having a qualified minister, with representative elders of the people, deacons to administer finance, and a school.
Sadly, much of the cultural heritage was lost. Organs were smashed, beauty destroyed and bleak barn-like churches built.
There was strife and fighting in the post-Reformation period when the General Assembly defied royal authority, refusing to accept episcopacy. A tale of rebellion and broken pledges unfolded until 1688 with the abdication of James V11 and the arrival of William of Orange.
The Church settled down for a while and played a major part in the community, teaching the young and speaking authoritatively on moral issues. In 1843, however, following a period of unrest, 451 ministers left the Church of Scotland and throughout the area new congregations were formed and new churches built. This was the Disruption!
In the Peninsula, where there had been one church, now there were seven. In Rhu Parish, Shandon Free Church was built and, later, a Free Church was built in Garelochhead.
In Helensburgh the Kirk in the Square congregation left the Established Church en masse and the church became the Free Church (later to become the West Free Church). A church was built on the seafront for those staying with the Establishment and this was later joined by the West Church, known subsequently as St Bride's Church. Park Church was built to accommodate the Free Kirk overflow. Mrs. Henry Bell and a group of seceders built St Columba’s United Presbyterian Church. In Cardross a Free Kirk was also built.
In 1900 the Free and United Presbyterian Churches united to form the United Free Church and, in 1929, the United Free Churches of the entire area joined with the Church of Scotland. The only Parish left untouched by the Disruption was that of Luss.
The Tabernacle, later the Congregational Church, Helensburgh’s first place of worship, opened in 1803. The Roman Catholic Church built St Joseph’s Church in 1880 and St Gilda’s Church in Rosneath in 1967. St Mahew Chapel in Cardross dates from the 15th Century and was restored and opened for worship in 1955.
The Baptist Church was built in 1886 and the Christian Scientists built a church in 1959. St Michael’s and All Angels, the Scottish Episcopal Church, was built in 1843.
There is a group of Buddhists in the town and there are a number of Asian families who subscribe to the Islamic faith, but attempts to set up a meeting place in Dumbarton were not successful for a long time and their nearest place of worship was the Mosque in Glasgow. In 2001, however, a hall was found in Dumbarton and a priest travels from Glasgow.