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 Triduana | 7th or 8th Century?
St Triduna has been in the past associated with St Rule who had in the 4th Century brought over from Patmos relics of St Andrew. In a previous post I talked about how there is convincing evidence that Scotland’s association with St Andrew had more to do with the Bishop of Hexham in the 8th Century and not St Rule. By dating Triduana with St Rule, it would put her deeper into the 4th century, however; most other sources put her closer to the 8th century.
Our Saint is first associated with Forfarshire - living a solitary life to God she came to the attention of a local Royal who pursued her with unwanted attention - her eyes it seems were of particular beauty. In an effort to finally end this Royal’s advances she plucked them out and sent them to him. It was after this that it was said she could heal people of problems to do with their eyes.
She was a very popular Scottish Saint with her sites being a locus for great pilgrimages, and no less and perhaps most importantly, her place of repose - Restalrig in Edinburgh. The Church here that housed her relics was one of the most important in Edinburgh which meant it was a prime target for the Scottish Protestants during the Reformation. Her shrine and relics were desecrated and afterwards a Presbyterian church took hold of the buildings. There the story may have ended but in 1907 a chapel was rediscovered that within had steps that lead to a well which was the Saint’s well. The hexagonal building you see below had been filled with soil and rubbish and one side of it had earth mounded against it.
There remains a two storey Royal Chapel built over the well by King James III who had built what was named St Triduana’s Aisle. It has once again become an important place of pilgrimage and is looked after by Historic Scotland.
St Triduana had other places of veneration including an important site on Papa Westray in Orkney that long after the Reformation was a place people went to seek healing for their eyes.
Her veneration in other parts of Scotland included near Golspie in Sutherland - Kintradwell and of course in Forfar at Rescobie. Her name has undergone many changes that can make pinpointing sites of veneration difficult but do include names or root names such as ‘Traddles, Tredwell, Tradwell, Trallew, Trallen, Trodline and, in Old Norse, Trollhaena’.
Trollhaena was sought by the Bishop of Caithness, Jon, in the 13th Century who as it was recorded in the Orkney Sagas, had his eyes and tongue cut out by Earl Harold Maddadson of Orkney. He went to the resting place of St Trollhaena and was restored of his sight and speech.
In conclusion then who was she? Is it possible to say she came with the Bishop of Hexham and hence became amalgamated into the story of St Andrew’s relics? Was she a Saintly Pict who later found herself rebranded due to the politics of later times? It is also interesting to note the Norse connection though that may well be because of Orkney and not the other way round. We may never truly know but for my part I do believe there was a real woman who was saintly and holy and many sought her example and advocacy before God.
St Kenneth/Coinneach, A.D 599.
Feast Day 11th October
St Kenneth was Irish and was a very popular Saint in Scotland. A child of poor parents, he became a Monk under St Cadoc in Wales and was known for his perfect obedience to the Saint. He was ordained in Rome and after spending some time in Ireland with the likes of St Comgall and then left for Scotland where he was supposed to have started a monastery in St Andrews. He also spent time at Iona and went with St Columba to Inverness to speak with King Brude. It was said he did the Sign of the Cross that made King Brudes hand wither. The Saint has many dedications to himself up and down the country including one in Laggan near Inverness. St Kenneth returned to Ireland and began another Monastery at Aghaboe, remaining there to his death.
St Comgan or Congan, 8th Century
Feast Day 13th October
St Comgan was of noble Irish descent, Brother of St Kentigerna and Uncle to St Fillan. He was a Prince of Leinster and ruled the province for a time. He ruled Leinster as a Christian Prince should but the neighbouring Chiefs were not so Christian and in the face of bloody conflict had to flee Ireland, taking with him St Kentigerna and St Fillan. They initially settled in Lochalsh were he was able to speak with the locals and became a ‘douloi Christi’ - servant of Christ. This Royal Prince lived out his days in great austerity and when he died was taken to Iona by St Fillan. Many Churches bear his dedication including in Lochalsh itself which was built by St Fillan. There is also a story that St Comgan moved to Turrif and built a Church and missionary activity there. Other places of dedication include in Ross and Cromarty (kilchowan in Kiltearn), St Coan in Strath, Skye, and Kilchoan in Knoydart. In Turrif a fair was held in his name - Cowan Fair. A hospital, St Congan's, was founded in Turiff by the Earl of Buchan in 1272 and was further endowed by King Robert the Bruce.
Prayer from the Aberdeen Breviary:
O God, who adorned the pious shepherd Saint Comgan, your confessor and abbot, with his shining miracles: grant, we pray, that supported by his merits and protection we may be worthy to reach eternal joys. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
St Fyndoca (and St Fyncana)
Nothing is known of her life other than she was a virgin and martyr associated with two areas in Scotland - the island of Inishail on Loch Awe, the ruined Chapel of Fyndoca and Perth-shire in Findocask with a following also in nearby Dunblane. In addition it is possible St Fink just North East of Blairgowrie has a dedication to her. She is often paired with St Fyncana, who like the latter we know almost nothing about.
In 345AD, Patras in western Greece a Bishop has a dream instructing him to take the relics of St Andrew away before Emperor Constantine does. Leaving by ship with some followers, this holy band headed west, passing through the Gates of Hercules and then turning North following the sea routes that would take them to the land on the edge of the Atlantic. Eventually the winds take them and then dump them at a Pictish settlement called Kilrymont on the east coast of Scotland; welcomed by the local King they start a Church dedicated to St Andrew. This is the origins story of St Andrews, a place that became the most important ecclesial centre in Scotland and our oldest University.
This story in particular is quite interesting because it goes to not only the foundation of an important town but the origin story of Scotland itself. At the battle of Athelstaneford in 832AD, the Pictish King, Oengus, being chased by the Northumbrian King made his final stand near the village named after this Northumbrian in East Lothian. It was here that as King Oengus prayed for deliverance a white cross appeared in the sky. From then on King Oengus vowed to make St Andrew his patron and of course they won the battle beating the Northumbrians and the Saltire was born.
However there is another account of the origins of St Andrews - in 732AD Bishop St Acca of Hexham left his See under a cloud and came North taking up residence for a time at a Church dedicated to St Rule/Regulus - St Rule thought to be of Irish origin and a contemporary of St kenneth. There is a tower in the grounds of the now ruined St Andrews cathedral still called St Rules. Hexham had a strong devotion to St Andrew and it is thought that Bishop St Acca brought some of St Andrew’s relics North with him turning Kilrymont into a major centre of pilgrimage.
St Rule was venerated around Aberdeenshire, Forfarshire and into Kincardenshire.
St Munnu 6th Century
St Munnu or Mund as he is known in Argyllshire was the great Irish Saint Fintan-Munnu. His life is almost totally associated with his monastery in Taghmon Wexford however he was a very popular Saint in Argyll having spent some time here. His greatest foundation in Scotland was at Kilmun in Cowal near Dunoon but there are other sites nearby with his name attached to them. It is also possible Holy Loch got its name from his presence.
St Munnu had left Ireland in 597AD to join the rule of St Columba at Iona but upon arriving he had just missed the death of the Saint and met his successor - Baithene. St Baithene then read aloud the will of St Columba saying:
“Baithene, remember my words. Straight after my repose a brother called Fintan, son of Talchan, who is now living in great piety and brilliantly versed in the Holy Scriptures, will come here from Ireland. He will ask you for permission to join our brethren, but it is against God’s will. For, the Lord has preordained that he become not a simple monk, but an abbot, a spiritual father and teacher of numerous monks. That is why you will not let him stay in our islands, but instruct him to return to his native Ireland with peace, so that he can found there a monastery in Leinster not far from the sea and labour for the salvation of many souls”
St Munnu sailed back to Ireland after this establishing his great monastery. His life was marked with various sicknesses, including possibly Leprosy but was known for his great holiness and perseverance in the faith until the end.
There is also a poem about him in the Martyrology of Oengus which is dated to the 9th Century:
Splendid flame with the fervour of the Father's
Fintan, true and tested gold,
Telchan's son, strong, abstinent,
a battle-soldier, trustful,
St Bean, 11th Century
St Bean is a bit tricky to ascertain or track down. One story speaks of him being installed as Bishop of Mortlach in Banffshire in the 11th Century and another as an Irish missionary of a much earlier date. No doubt we are seeing the entangling of two Beans here but the question is which places are associated with which Bean? In Mortlach it is said he lived at Balvanie, near Mortlach (Bal-beni-mor which means 'the dwelling of Bean the Great’). We know nothing of this 11th Century Saint. But then we see his name crop up in western Inverness-shire near Kiltarlity. We also see him in Perthshire and in Kilbride. Certainly the Aberdeen Breviary accords this date as his feast. Other than that he or they are a bit of an unknown.
St Eata, 686AD,
St Eata was not widely venerated in Scotland even though he was the first Abbot of Old Melrose Abbey after been a pupil of St Aidan on Lindisfarne. He would himself have St Boisil and St Cuthbert as his pupils. Strangely however, there is a chapel and Well at Alvie in the Cairngorms near Loch Insh venerated to him. The connection, as suggested by the authors of the University of Glasgow Saintsandplaces site is that St Eata had been Bishop of Hexham following some re-organisation of the Church in Northumbria in the 7th Century just when a Northumbrian King tried an invasion of Pictish lands:
If this is the bishop of Hexham and Lindisfarne (basically Bernicia, therefore) who died in 686, he was the bishop therefore when Ecgfrith led his ill-fated invasion of Pictland inn 685 and when he and his army were slaughtered at *Dun Nechtain. Eve Boyle (HES, pers. comm) has suggested that the battle was fought near Torr Alvie, on the summit of which is a large pre-historic fort (NH876088) which might be the dún in question. This background - or modern antiquarian speculation about it - might explain the otherwise strange dedication to Eata here. Click here for the citation.
Nothing is known of this Saint other than his connection with the small Ayrshire town of Stevenson. A charter of 1189 mentions a fayre to his name being celebrated here, which by 1851 was still a feature of the towns calendar.
St Talocran, 8th Century