Willie Fisher was an elder of the church at Mauchline and a fornicating, thieving hypocrite. The Reverend “Daddy Auld” despised Fisher’s hidden lifestyle but tolerated him, as he was adept at seeking out “backsliders”.
Close friends of Robert Burns - Robert Aiken and Gavin Hamilton - both fell foul of the Kirk almost exclusively at Fisher’s doing. In both cases, they were formally exonerated. Fisher was apoplectic, only to have his rage immortalised by Burns in ‘Holy Willie’s Prayer’.
Things only got worse for poor Willie: in a suspected fit of pique, he stole the “offertory box” from the kirk and got “roarin fou” on the proceeds. On his way home, he hitched a lift on a haywain but fell off and was found next morning, drowned in a ditch.
Holy Willie's Prayer - Peter Howson OBE
Peter Howson is never far from controversy and nowhere more so than in this depiction of Holy Willie. Willie Fisher was NOT a cleric but painting him as such might suggest that those who turn a blind eye to the actions of those who purport to serve them, may find themselves painted with the same brush…
"I bless and praise Thy matchless might, When thousands Thou hast left in night,
That I am here afore Thy sight, For gifts an' grace, A burning and a shining light, To a' this place."