St Fillan

Historic Scenes of Perthshire

Published Originally in 1880 by a Perthshire Minister

(Marshall, 1880)

"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 .



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