A tartan designed by WCU’s Catholic campus minister attracts attention around the world


Matthew Newsome ’99 wasn’t expecting a deluge of publicity when he was asked to design a tartan to commemorate last September’s visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Scotland. But when the pontiff paraded down an Edinburgh street wearing a scarf in Newsome’s tartan design, WCU’s Catholic campus minister was suddenly hot news from the British Broadcasting Corp. all the way to the Los Angeles Times.

Matthew Newsome ’99 (second from left) explains the
symbolism of the St. Ninian tartan to Scottish leaders, including
Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the top Catholic official in Scotland
(third from left).

A native of Charlotte who holds a master’s degree in theology, Newsome “fell in love” with the culture of Scotland after experiencing the Highland Games at Grandfather Mountain as a teenager. That passion continued over the years as Newsome’s family moved to Sylva and he enrolled at WCU and began working part time at the Scottish Tartans Museum in Franklin. He is now museum director. “My job there connected me with tartan experts and manufacturers of tartan cloth in Scotland, and put me in a position to learn even more about the history and tradition of tartans,” Newsome said.

Newsome designed his first tartan (a cloth with a pattern of interlocking stripes and a symbol of traditional Scottish culture) around 1999, when he produced WCU’s official tartan. He now has about 30 designs to his credit, including tartans for Emory University, the University of Georgia and Virginia Tech.

As a member of the board of governors of the Scottish Tartans Authority, Newsome was contacted about designing a tartan to mark the fall papal visit. With the pontiff’s arrival in Scotland falling on the traditional feast day of St. Ninian, the first Christian missionary to enter Scotland, Catholic officials wanted a special St. Ninian tartan to present to the pope. Newsome came up with the design on his home computer in Jackson County’s Savannah community and was flown to Scotland by the Catholic Church to be present at the launching of the tartan before the Scottish Parliament one week before the pope’s arrival.

As the pope entered the “popemobile” for a parade on Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile on Sept. 16, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, the top Catholic official in Scotland, draped a St. Ninian tartan, in the form of a scarf, over his shoulders. “The Holy Father and Cardinal O’Brien wore scarves with the St. Ninian design throughout the entire parade,” Newsome said. News accounts around the world included information about Newsome’s role in creating the design. That day was Newsome’s last one in Scotland, and although he didn’t meet the pope, he was present as the pontiff celebrated Mass with 70,000 worshipers in Glasgow.

The tartan Newsome created is rich with symbolism, including a white line on a blue field to represent Scotland’s national colors and green to reflect the color of lichens at the point where St. Ninian landed. Items in the St. Ninian tartan design are woven at woolen mills in Scotland.

Items in the St. Ninian tartan design are available for purchase, with a percentage of the proceeds going to charity, at