Discover Scotland's Saints, some are well known, but most of the rest will not be. Piecing together the lives of these early Catholics in Scotland is not easy and is beset by legend, poor translations and often quite scant information. However, there is much to learn, not least it tells us something about the people who venerated these men and women.
St Fillian, 8th Century
St Fillan was the son of St Kentigern and took up the Monastic habit in Wexford. He then travelled to Scotland where he stayed with his uncle, St Comgan at Killilan, Lochalsh, which took the name of the Saint. After this St Fillian took his mission to Perthshire in the area that became known as Strathfillan. The arm of the Saint was believed to have helped the Scots at Bannockburn and his Crozier and Coigreach is exhibited in the National Museum of Scotland.
St Modan, 503AD, Abbot and Confessor
Another missionary from the Emerald Isle, St Modan travelled to preach the faith in the West of Scotland establishing his first Oratory near Loch Etive called Balmodhan. He was said to have travelled East as far Falkirk and Stirling before retiring at Rosneath in Western Dumbartonshire where he died. He was known for his great austerity.
St Ronan has wells, churches and Isles that have been given his name from Peebles to Perthshire, Dumbartonshire, Bute, Lismore, Iona and Lewis. On Lewis there was a tradition at the Church of St Moluag that to be healed you marched around the building seven times before having water from St Ronan’s well sprinkled onto you.
The most entertaining story and modern is near Peebles in a place called Innerleithen. There a well, mill, lodge and a famous book named after him. Innerleithen was popularised by Sir Walter Scott in his book, Saint Ronan's Well, a part of his Waverley novels. It seems to have spawned the Cleikum Festival that celebrates the ancient story of when St Ronan arrived in the Innerleithen valley and faced the Deil (Devil) ‘cleikin im’ from the land. Cleikum describes a shepherd's crook catching something by the hind leg. Another famous Scot - poet James Hogg, initated St Ronan’s Games in 1827 (Scotts novel was published in 1823) that eventually lead to a full-on festival and re-enactment of the Saints dealing with the Deil in 1901 and is still celebrated today.
In addition to all this we have a famous Irish St Ronan involved in the controversy surrounding the date of Easter, a St Ronan on the Isle of Man and another famous St Ronan of Irish origin who was known as St Ronan the Silent. This St Ronan may have been silent but his example helped spread the faith in Devon, Cornwall and then Brittany in the 6th Century.
There seem a lot of St Ronan’s around and I think we can safely suggest we are dealing with more than one Saint with some mixing up of Saints along the way. What is interesting is how many of these sites suggest solitude and an escape from the world. Is it possible this points to one of the attributes of the real St Ronan, at least in the Western Isles? It should also be noted that, as in many other cases, a place that venerates a Saint through naming does not necessarily mean the Saint was there; but it shows the people in that place felt their lives were impacted by this person. It is a lesson in the Communion of the Saints. Finally, regardless of the origins of the festival at Innerleithen, it is wonderful to see a town celebrating our Christian past acting as a witness to the reality of a God who is active and present in our world.
St Finan, 661 AD
St Finan (or Finnan) was an Irish monk who trained under the great St Columba at Iona Abbey.
St Finan was known as prudent, zealous for prayer and for following Gods will no matter what. He followed the model of all holy Bishops with his love of poverty, disdain for the world and a zeal to preach the gospel. When St Aiden of Lindisfarne died, St Finan became his successor and second Bishop of that Isle. In his time there he enjoyed positive relations with the King of Northumbria and had the delight of welcoming two other nearby Kings into the Catholic faith - King Siegbert of the East Saxons and King Peada of the Mercians. These conversions lead to missionaries being received into their respective Kingdoms. Saint Finan was also involved in the controversy surrounding the dating of Easter. Prior to the 7th Century the British/ Irish Church had followed a different dating to that of Rome. Evidence suggests he was open to the dates suggested by Rome but as it had not come down definitively at that time on a date he continued with the tradition already present in the British and Irish Churches. St Finan died ten years after becoming Bishop at Lindisfarne and was laid to rest next to St Aiden.
St Colman, AD 676
St Colman or Colmoc and the many derivatives make this a difficult Saint to pin down. There is indeed a St Colman of Tyrone who we in Scotland celebrate on this day, but in Ireland is August 6th. That St Colman led the Monks at Lindisfarne at the time of the famous Whitby Synod that decided on what date Easter would be followed - the Roman computation or how the British/Irish churches had been following it. St Colman then leaves Lindisfarne and begins a new monastery in Co. Mayo which was for Saxon monks. There is however mentioned in Scottish sources a St Colmoc of Moray who is celebrated on this day, little is known about him but it seems he had established a Church at Tarbet in Eastern Ross-shire. Was this a different Saint, who had a similar name and due to the gaelization of the Scottish Church became conflated with the Irish St Colman? The other possibility is that the St Colmoc of Moray is really just a derivative of St Columba, which is a common feature of the hagiographies of Saints in Scotland with a similar name to Columba. This particular Saint shows yet again the difficulties historians and researchers have when analyzing the varying sources regarding the Saints of Scotland and the British Isles. On this day though if you like to pray along with the Saints of our past, I would seek St Colman of Tyrone to pray for the health and vitality of the Church.
St Boisil, AD664
St Boisil was a pupil of St Aidan, alongside St Eata who had been Abbot at Melrose Abbey when St Boisil was Prior. St Boisil was known for his great holiness, learning and desire to help all come to the faith. His example was such that a young St Cuthbert would divert from going to Lindisfarne and take orders under Boisil. St Boisil's affection toward God was evident in how often he would have the name of Jesus cross his lips with loving phrases such as, “how good a Jesus have we!”. His prophetic gift would not only show him his own death but how St Cuthbert would rise to become a servant of God and would not die of the plague going around that part of Scotland. St Boisil's final days were spent with Cuthbert taking seven days to read the Gospel of St John - not to debate but to grow in love. In fact, as St Bede narrated, St Johns Gospel was Boisil's favourite and would read a portion each day eventually coming up with a system that divided John into seven parts. This seemed to make an indelible impression on St Cuthbert who was buried with a Latin copy of this gospel. St Boisil was remembered for encouraging his students and disciples:
“That they would never cease giving thanks to God for the gift of their religious vocation; that they would always watch over themselves against self-love and all attachment to their own will and private judgment, as against their capital enemy; that they would converse assiduously with God by interior prayer, and labour continually to attain to the most perfect purity of heart, this being the true and short road to the perfection of Christian virtue.”
After his death he would eventually be translated to reside near to St Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral but dead or not, St Boisil was not done with this part of Northumbria for he appeared twice to one of his disciples assuring him of success in reaching the Germanic peoples for evangelisation.
St Cummin the Fair (White)
There are a few St Cummin's around, mostly seems to be of Irish descent - there is an association with him on Eigg, Ardclach in Nairnshire, Fort Augustus by the Tarff River, Glenelg and Iona. It appear's this Cummin was seventh Abbot of Iona who wrote a vita of St Columba which is said St Adomnan incorportated into his more famous 'Life'. He was also involved in the controversial Synod of Whitby. The town of Fort Augustus prior to the more recent naming was known as Cille Chuimein with a place near Tarff called 'Sui-Chuiman, or Cummins's resting-place'. This can also be translated 'return' instead of rest.