Saint Fillan And His Cures For Sundry Ailments

Let  me commence  this blog  by an extract  from a superbly informative  book written  by a Presbyterian Minister , one William Marshall DD from Coupar Angus . The book " Historic Scenes of Perthshire"   was  written in 1880 and although perhaps  tainted  by a somewhat myopic  view  of  other Christian faiths , it does contain  some  real gems  and is  superbly researched . 

St Fillans in yester year 

Dunfillan - the hill of Saint Fillan 

The ruins  if the pre Reformation church of Dundurn

"As we approach Loch Earn, we come to a scene consecrated by its connection with the famous St Fillan, who evangelised the country here and in the wilds of Breadalbane, and whose arm did such wonders on the field of Bannockburn. The beautiful hill covered with verdure to the top, and the green of which contrasts so strikingly with the brown and the grey of the adjacent heights, is Dunfillan, the hill of St Fillan. The rock on the top of it was the Saint’s Chair. The spring, now days at the foot of the it, was the Saint’s Well. It was originally on the top of the hill; but, disgusted with the Reformation from Popery, which, like Archbishop Laud, it regarded as rather the “ Deformation “, it removed to the foot of the hill. St Fillan drank of the waters of this Well, and blessed them. The consequence was that they were endowed with miraculous healing powers; and, till even a late date, crowds resorted to them for cures, more especially on the first day of May and the first day of August. They walked, or, if unable to walk, they were carried around the well three times from east to west, in the direction of the sun; and they drank of it and were bathed in it. Then, as now, rheumatism was a peculiarly obstinate malady; and for a cure, rheumatic patients had to a ascend the hill, sit in the Saint’s Chair, lie down on their backs, and be pulled by the legs down to the foot of the hill. The Well was an infallible remedy for most of the diseases, which flesh, is heir to. It was especially efficacious for barrenness, for which it was most frequented.  When it was at the hilltop, the Saint most considerately and kindly spared certain patients the labour of climbing to it. He made a basin, which he placed at the foot of the hill, inn that there was generally some water even in the driest weather; and those afflicted with sore eyes had only to wash them three times in the basin, and they were made whole.

The erection of three chapels in the parish is ascribed to St Fillan. One of the three was at Dundurn, in the immediate neighbourhood of the pretty modern village of St Fillans; another was in Strathfillan; and a third was at Killin. The Saint died at Dundurn in 649. His worshippers about it would fain have buried him there; but the people of the other two places claimed his remains. They transported them through Glen Ogle, till they arrived at appoint within two miles of Killin, where the road branches of to Strathfillan. There the funeral train stopped, and a violent dispute ensued as to which road to take. Swords were drawn, and blood began to flow freely, when, low! – Instead of one coffin with which they had started from Dundurn, two coffins, exactly alike, were seen before them! Each party seized one of the coffins, and took its own way with it; and hence it is to his day a question whether Killin or Strathfillan has the relics of the Saint, or whether he is divided between them.

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

Strathfillan took its name from the famous St Fillan. The Strath was the scene of his residence and his labours in the latter part of his life .We wrote of him when at Comrie, and told of his wonderful Well at Dunfillan.  Here was a pool, called the Holy Pool, which the Saint had endowed with like miraculous healing powers. Among other wonders ascribed to it, it cured madness. The insane were dipped in it. 

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.

On the bank of the Pool were three Cairns. Around each of these the patients walked three times, and put a stone on each cairn . They were then taken to the ruins of St Fillan’s Chapel  , and in a corner of it  , called St Fillan’s Bed they were laid on their back , and left tied for the residue of the night . If they were found loose in the morning, the cure was perfect , and thanks were duly returned to the Saint  . We read in New Statistical Account , written as lately as 1843 : - “The Pool is still visited , not by parishioners , for they have no faith in its virtue , but by people from other and distant localities .We have not heard of any being cured ; but the prospect of the ceremony , especially in a cold winter evening , might be a good test for persons pretending insanity “ .

Of the wonderful bell belonging to St Fillan’s Chapel , this statist says that it was stolen by an English antiquarian  about the beginning of this century , and carried to England ; and that it has not come back  , either because it has lost its marvellous power of returning home , ringing all the way , or because it preferred England as a more congenial home to the wilds of Breadalbane . He adds :- “At the Mill of Killin there was along kept a stone called Fillan’s Chair  , and several small round stones that had been consecrated by the Saint , and endowed with the power  of curing diseases. Each of them had its peculiar merit . They got a fresh bed every Christmas Eve from the straw and the weeds cast ashore by the river . Five of hem are still preserved at the mill , where they may be examined by the curious “ .

The first Chapel here was built by King Robert the Bruce in honour of St Fillan, to whose patronage and intercession he attributed the victory at Bannockburn  ; and in the tenth year of his reign , he gave the Chapel to the Abbey of Inchaffray , on condition that one of the canons of Inchaffray should regularly officiate in it . It will be remembered that Maurice , Abbot of Inchaffray carried with him the arm of St Fillan to that battlefield  , on which Bruce vindicated so gloriously  the freedom and independence of Scotland . In after times the chapel rose to the dignity of a Priory . Its ruins are still to be seen, measuring 1230 feet long and 22 feet broad  . At the dissolution of Religious Houses at the Reformation , this Priory with its revenues and superiorities , was given to Campbell of Glenorchy  , ancestor of the Earl of Breadalbane  , in whose possession it still remains . Near its ruins is the Presbyterian Chapel raised by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge  and which now forms the church of the quoad sacra parish of Strathfillan , erected in 1836 .

St Fillan's Cave

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.

Miscellaneous Musings about St Fillan

Little is known of St. Fillan's ministry at Breadalbane but he has left behind him here an imperishable and gracious tradition. His memory has given a peculiar charm to every part of the long and romantic glen between Killin and Tyndrum. His mill and healing stones are at Killin; his seat where he meditated and taught, is at Suie; while the broad strath with its beautiful stream from Crianlarich to Carndroma bears his name, Strathfillan. Legend tells us that St. Fillan was born with a stone in his mouth and that his father threw the child into a lake but that angels watched over him until he was found by Bishop Ibar, who brought him up as his own child. He instructed St Fillan in the Christian faith.

Breadalbane, until the dawning of the 8th century, had been neglected by Christianity so it fell to St. Fillan to enlighten the people. He is said to have received the monastic habit from St. Mundu, who was one of St. Columba's companions and the founder of a monastery at Kilmun (in Argyllshire).

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.

Some Facts About Saint Fillan

He was also known as Fhaolain , Foellan, Foilan,  Foelan , Foillan or Fulan . He was the son of Feriach and Saint Kentigerna, and related to Saint Comgan. Became a monk, taking the habit at Saint Fintan Munnu Monastery

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.

Saint Fillan is the patron saint of insanity, mental disorders, mental illnes and the mentally ill .


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