St Fillans in yester year
Dunfillan - the hill of Saint Fillan
The ruins if the pre Reformation church of Dundurn
The Saint’s chapel at Strathfillan had a wonderful bell, for which the Strathfillanites had a great regard. It usually lay, untouched and deeply reverenced, on a gravestone in the churchyard. It possessed preternatural healing virtue. It cured patients by being placed, in crown fashion, on their heads. The bell had likewise this marvellous property, or prerogative, or whatever it may be called. It could not be stolen! If an attempt was made to steal it, it jumped out of the thief’s hands, and returned home, ringing his shame, and its own triumph!
St Fillan owed a little of his repute to Robert the Bruce. The MacDougalls of Lorn were perhaps the most relentless and formidable of Bruce’s enemies. In the Battle of Dalree with the Lord of Lorn, Bruce made a very narrow escape. The preservation of his life he ascribed to St Fillan, whose aid he invoked in his extremity, and who therefore became his favourite saint.”
Parish of Killin
The proper season for dipping was the first day of the quarter year, old Style, after sunset, and before sunrise next morning. The patients were directed to bring up three stones from the bottom of the Pool.
A cave in the cliff face at Pittenweem in the East Neuk of fife ('The place of the cave') associated with St Fillan, an early Christian missionary from Ireland whose bell and crozier are still preserved in the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. It was perhaps one of these relics that was carried by the Abbot of Inchaffray into the Battle of Bannockburn after which the Scots attributed their victory to the support of St Fillan. Many miracles of healing were attributed to the saint and to Holy wells associated with him. One of these wells is to be found within the cave which was rededicated as a shrine in 1935 by the Bishop of St Andrews and is still a place of worship .
Origins of Saint Fillan
St Fillan was born in Ireland, the son of Feriach and St Kentigerna. Early in the 8th C., Fillan arrived in Scotland with his uncle (later St. Comgan), mother and brothers. They settled at Loch Duich, just east of the Isle of Skye. Fillan later moved south to make his home in Strathfillan, at the head of Glen Dochart, where he built a church. Legend has it that, during the construction, a wolf killed an ox which was being used to carry materials. Fillan is said to have convinced the wolf of the error of its ways and it took the place of the dead ox. Next to the church, near Auchentyre in Strathfillan, was the Holy Pool, which is said to have been blessed by the Saint, and consequently developed healing powers, proving particularly curative for the mentally ill who were attracted in large numbers over succeeding centuries. St. Fillan is closely associated with Killin, where he is said to have built a mill and set up a market. His healing stones are now kept in the Breadalbane Folklore Centre in the village.
Fillan travelled around Scotland; he visited Islay, moved to Luncarty and then Struan (Perthshire). He later visited Forgan (near Pickletillem, Fife), proceeding to St. Andrew's Monastery, before spending time as a hermit in St Fillan's cave at Pittenweem. It is also likely that he travelled to Wigtownshire, because the villages of New Luce and Sorbie both had churches dedicated to St. Fillan.
He died at an old age and was buried in Strathfillan. Much later, his relics were taken to Bannockburn, where they are said to have helped Robert the Bruce win victory. Bruce later founded a Priory in Strathfillan - 2 miles (3 km) SE of Tyndrum - in Fillan's honour. Other relics, including Fillan's staff and bell, were originally kept at the church in Strathfillan. These items were both removed from Scotland, but returned in the late 19th C., when they were deposited in what is now the Museum of Scotland.
The quigrich or pastoral staff of St Fillan
St Fillan came originally from Ireland and arrived at Glendochart around 730 AD. He built a priory near Auchtertyre in Strathfillan. Little is known of his work in Glendochart though he was certainly held in great veneration and summer and winter feasts were held each year in Killin in his honour. When the saint died he left certain relics which, rather unusually, were entrusted not to the monks of his priory but to the custody of laymen living in Glendochart who were given a free grant of land by the king in virtue of their office.
Such men were called deoradh which is Gaelic for stranger. This referred to the fact that the relics were often carried as a ‘stranger’ to other areas as they were considered to possess special powers. The relics of St Fillan were handed down from father to son and in the course of time the families entrusted with the relics were given the surname deoradh or Dewar.
Perhaps the most important relic of all was the quigrich or the pastoral staff of St Fillan. This was often taken to distant places where it was considered to have magical properties in the recovery of stolen goods. The fact that the family having custody of the quigrich should possess such a potent relic was not popular with the Priors of Strathfillan and in 1549 there was an attempt to compel “Malise Doir of Quigrich to deliver and present to the kirkis of Strathphillan certain reliques, and nocht to be taken furth agane without the licence of the said prioure.” Failure to agree was to lead to excommunication. However the Lords of the Council threw out the decree and Malise Doir retained the relic.
The quigrich stayed with the same family in Glendochart for about 900 years, when, because they had fallen on bad times, they sold it to the McDonnells of Glengarry. This breach of trust brought them nothing but trouble and eventually with some difficulty they were able to buy it back. Though it was no longer used to locate stolen property it was believed that water in which the staff had been dipped was most efficacious in curing sick cattle.
No charges were made for this service but the realisation seems to have dawned on the Dewar family that possession of the quigrich did confer certain financial advantages. They found that tourists in Killin were prepared to reward them for a view of the relic. In 1808 Alexander Dewar even took it to Edinburgh where according to the Caledonian Mercury “there is to be seen at the first entry below Covenant Close a most curious antiquity, in the family of the proprietor since before the time of Robert the Bruce. Admittance two shillings.”
Eventually the quigrich passed to Archibald Dewar who in 1818 emigrated from Scotland to Canada taking the crosier with him. That might have been the end of the story had it not been for the efforts of the Rev Eneas McDonnell, a catholic priest in Canada and a descendent of the McDonnells of Glengarry who had possessed the quigrich for a short time. He wrote to Dr Wilson who was secretary of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland and between them efforts were made to secure the return of the staff to Scotland, but without success.
There was to be yet another twist to the story. Dr Wilson was appointed to a chair in the University of Toronto and was able to visit Alexander Dewar, son of Archibald, who now owned the quigrich. By this time Alexander was almost ninety years old and was worried that his own sons would not show the same interest as he had done in preserving St Fillan’s staff. He agreed to part with the staff and on December 30th, a deed was drawn up to surrender the quigrich to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland “there to remain in all time to come for the use, benefit and enjoyment of the Scottish Nation.”
The quigrich was placed and may still be seen in the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh.
Accompanied Kentigerna and Comgan to Scotland in the 8th century. Became a hermit, living some of his life in prayer at Pittenweem near the Saint Andrew monastery. Became Abbot of Saint Andrews and his bell and staff survive to today. Hermit at Glendochart, Perthshire, where he built a church. Legends and large tales naturally grew up around Fillan. For example, a wolf is reported to have killed the ox Fillan employed to work at the church construction site at Glendochart; when the wolf realized whose ox it was, it took the ox's place. For centuries after his death, the mentally ill were reported miraculously cured by being dipped in a fountain in the church, tied up, and left overnight near Fillan's relics; those whose bonds were loosed in the night were cured of their disorders. The victory of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn was attributed to the presence of Fillan's relics at the battlefield.