John Duns Scotus festival to raise the philospher’s profile

Medieval philospher John Duns Scotus
Medieval philospher John Duns Scotus

A festival to celebrate John Duns Scotus, born in Duns 750 years ago is planned for the autumn.

John Duns Scotus was a leading philosopher of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages. However, his views were later so criticised (Scotists, the children of darkness or John Scot of Duns, one of the most egregious blockheads in the world) that the word ‘dunce’ came to stand for a stupid, ignorant person.

Writing in 1826 Sir Walter Scott said that many a clever boy is flogged into a ‘dunce’ and the symbol of the dunce is the dunce’s cap, immortalised in many comics and cartoons.

This view changed and in 1993 John Duns Scotus was beatified by Pope John Paul and he is now a widely respected medieval philosopher and his teachings are studied throughout the world.

Duns Library and Dunse History Society are joining forces to bring home the international importance of John Duns Scotus and draw attention to the birthplace of this significant figure, who died in Cologne in 1308.

One of the main events of the festival will be a study day on October 15, which has attracted speakers from Germany, the Netherlands and California, as well as Britain.

An exhibition in Duns Library will link the life and work of John to his home town and the south east of Scotland, while a series of concerts will allow the opportunity to celebrate his life. The notorious dunce’s cap will be rescued by a specially written play, and the work of a local milliner and guided walks will take participants to sites traditionally associated with John.

Dunse History Society are organising two lectures, the first on September 17, and an award winning film of his life, made in Italy, will be shown, the festival ending with a special mass on November 8.

Further details available at