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Culross and Tulliallan
Chapter II. Early History


THE earliest historical fact connected with the district of Perthshire under consideration is the erection of a line of forts by Agricola, the Roman general, in A.D. 81, across the isthmus between the Firths of Forth and Clyde. Sixty years afterwards, in a.d. 140, in the reign of the Emperor Antoninus Pius, his general, Lollius Urbicus, rebuilt Agricola’s chain of forts, and consolidated them into a wall or rampart known as the Vallum Antonini, or Wall of Antoninus. Abutting on the Forth between Abercorn and Carriden, it stretched gradually upwards along the crest of the high ground which extends like a ridge above the town of Borrowstounness on the one side, and that of Linlithgow on the other. It next, descending a little, followed in a westerly direction the eminence overlooking the Forth behind Kinneil, commanding along the whole line that I have indicated a complete view of the country on the opposite shore, from the sea to the Ochils. Passing then by Polmont, Falkirk, and Castlecary, it disappeared out of view from the Forth, and reaching the watershed between the estuaries, it crossed the valley of the Kelvin, and stretching onwards to the north of Glasgow by Duntocher, reached its termination near Bowling on the Clyde. A fort, supposed to have belonged to it, is still to be seen at Inneravon, opposite Culross; and up to the beginning of the present century at least, there were many fragments of the wall of Antoninus remaining above Borrowstounness and Kin-neil. The Boman troops who manned the forts and guarded the country on the farther side of the wall from the attacks of the northern Caledonians, must have frequently had before their eyes the region on the other side of the Forth now comprised in the parishes of Culross and Tulliallan, and which in all probability then presented an expanse of dense forest.

There can be little doubt that Agricola and his soldiers must have frequently crossed the Firth from the southern shore to explore the unknown country on the opposite side, though it seems pretty certain that they never formed any settlement or left any memorials of themselves in this locality. A fanciful imagination might speculate on the possibility of the engagement with Galgacus and his Caledonians having been really at the foot of the Ochil Hills, considering the uncertainty that prevails as to the actual situation of the Mons Grampius of Tacitus. It is most advisable, certainly, to restrain one’s self within definite and ascertainable limits, though some latitude perhaps will not be refused to conjecture.

That Agricola did cross the Forth, there can be no doubt whatever; and it is quite possible even, that when he marched his troops to the Tay, which we know he also reached, that he embarked them in galleys in the neighbourhood of Borrowstounness, landed them at Culross, and then proceeding in a north-easterly direction, possibly by Camock and Saline, to Cleish and Kinross, he marched onwards to Perth and the Tay over the Wicks of Baiglie.

A more interesting, and in many respects also more satisfactory, investigation is commenced when we come to inquire into the first diffusion of Christianity over Scotland, and the part which Culross and its district plays in connection with this event. The whole subject of the earliest dawn of Christianity in Britain is involved in much obscurity, and it is not till the commencement of the fifth century that we can attain to any chronological precision in reference to its establishment in our country. There can be no doubt of its partial propagation by missionaries at a much earlier date—perhaps even within the first century of our era—and we have the clear and indubitable testimony of the early Christian fathers, including Tertullian and Origen, that at least by the commencement of the third century the truths of the Gospel had been conveyed to and accepted by many of the inhabitants of the British Isles. But it ib not till the ultimate overthrow of paganism, and the final reception by the Roman empire of the new faith, that we hear of any general or abiding conversion to its tenets in Britain, and more especially in Scotland, then known for the most part by the name of Caledonia. In considering the history of this period, it is necessary to bear carefully in mind the true meaning of the terms Scotland and the Scots, as otherwise we may be involved in very serious errors and misapprehensions. The Scots were not in reality the ancient inhabitants of North Britain, but an importation or invading colony from Ireland, who settled in Argyleshire in the beginning of the sixth century, and gradually extending their sway over the adjoining districts, ultimately both made themselves masters of the entire country and gave it their name. When Scotia or Scotland is spoken of by ancient writers, it is to be understood as denoting Ireland, or a large portion of that country inhabited by the Scots, who belonged to the Gaelic, and, as is generally believed, the elder branch of the Celtic race. They are supposed to have migrated from the east to the western parts of Europe, and to have supplanted an aboriginal population of Basques or some cognate race belonging to the Turanian branch of the human family. This last point is still involved in much obscurity; but there can be little doubt that, coeval with the earliest dawn of British history, both Ireland or Scotia, and North Britain or Caledonia, were inhabited by Gaelic-speaking communities,—though with regard to the country now denominated Scotland there was also a large intermixture of the Cymric element, existing in the form of various Welsh-speaking tribes, who may have been found in different parts of the country, but more especially in the tract known by the name of Cumbria and Strathclyde, extending from the Clyde to the Solway, and comprising the whole of the west Lowlands of Scotland, together with the county of Cumberland in England.

The name Caledonia, of Celtic origin, denoting the country of woods and mountains, seems to have been the ancient name given by the natives to Scotland, and was retained by the Roman conquerors of Britain, though they were little acquainted to any extent with the country, and gained almost no footing whatever to the north of the Forth. They gave the inhabitants the name of Picti, or Picts, from their painted bodies—a derivation which, after all the learned disquisitions on the subject, is probably both the real and most natural explanation of the term, which, moreover, is now come to be generally regarded as convertible or synonymous with the ancient Caledonians. These, as we have already stated, seemed to have comprised both branches of the Celtic family, the Erse or Gaelic, and the Cymric or Welsh, the latter and their tongue being frequently spoken of as the ancient Britons and the ancient British language. It has indeed been maintained, on behalf of the Welsh or Cymri, that to them must be assigned the honour of the more ancient branch of the Celtic race in preference to the Gaels —that is to say, that they broke off at an earlier period than the latter from the primitive Aryan stem, and were already settled in Western Europe before the arrival of the Gaelic-speaking Celts. The preponderance of evidence, however, seems to incline the other way; and at all events, the discussion of the question lies beyond the scope of my present inquiries.

Generally speaking, then, the majority of the ancient Caledonians, about the beginning of the fifth century of our era, were a race closely allied in language and race to the modem Highlanders; though in the following century, about A.D. 503, the immigration of the Scots, a Celtic tribe of the same stem from Ireland, caused some very important changes and complications, which were afterwards still further intensified by the colonisation of Scotland south of the Forth by the Saxons and Danes from the north of England. The Picts, a term which may be taken as a common appellation for the ancient Caledonians, whether belonging to the Gaelic or Cymric branches of Celts, comprised generally at this period the whole inhabitants of North Britain; whilst the Scots, who had not yet quitted their seats in Ireland, remained still the proper designation of the inhabitants of that country. After their arrival in Scotland, we find two rival kingdoms within North Britain — the Picts and Scots—contending, through a series of ages, for supremacy,—a contest which ultimately terminated in favour of the Scots, by whom the Picts were absorbed. The very name of the latter at last disappears from history.

To pursue this disquisition further would lead me away from the subject and epoch which I have at present in hand. Suffice it, then, to say, that in the beginning of the fifth century the Picts, or Caledonians, were subdivided into two sections, styled respectively the Northern and Southern Picts; and that Culross and Tulliallan, as lying on the north side of the Forth, fall to be reckoned as belonging to the former of these subdivisions. The conversion of the Northern Picts to Christianity is generally attributed to St Columba, who arrived from Ireland in A.D. 565, and established a religious settlement at Iona; whilst that of the Southern Picts is ascribed to St Ninian, who came to Scotland in the end of the fourth century, and established himself at Whitherne in Galloway, where he is said to have built, in 397, the first stone church in North Britain, entitled “ Candida Casa,” or the White House. He died about a.d. 430.

Though the great apostle of the Northern Picts had not yet made his appearance, there were not wanting, as we shall see, zealous and faithful missionaries to act as his pioneers. In the very year following the death of St Ninian, or as some represent, six years previously, in a.d. 424, Pope Celestine sent Palladius on a mission of conversion to the Scots, by which term, in accordance with what has been already stated, we should understand the inhabitants of Ireland. But the writers of a later age, in referring to this period and the Scots, frequently apply the phrase, as in its modem sense, to the natives of North Britain. At all events, whether Palladius visited Ireland or not, there seems no doubt of his having actually made' a peregrination through Scotland, and in the course of it reaching Culross, where he found, in charge of a small religious community, a holy man, the celebrated St Ser£

This date of a.d. 424-431, or possibly one of some year more or less subsequent, is the first in which we find any historical reference to Culross. We are told that Palladius, in the course of his joumeyings, came to this place, and there found St Serf engaged in his evangelistic work. He gave him his blessing, ordained him as his suffragan bishop over the land of Scotland, or Caledonia, of which Eugenius II. was then king. One principal object of the' mission of Palladius to Britain seems to have been to extirpate the heresy of Pelagius in regard to the corruption of human nature, which the latter had, a short period previously, been actively engaged in diffusing over the West. Some have even identified Palladius with his contemporary St Patrick, the apostle of Ireland; but this is very doubtful. Another dubious statement regarding him is that made by Boece, who says that Palladius, after he had consecrated St Serf bishop, sent him on a mission to the Orkneys to instruct the natives of that remote locality in the faith. We have no further information regarding Palladius beyond that he died at Fordun, in the Mearns, about A.D. 450.

St Servanus, Serf, Serb, and vulgarly Sare—for by all these names he is known—is said to have been a native of Scotland, but of what district is not stated. Much confusion and uncertainty attend his history, and so much is intermingled with it of pure fable and manifest anachronism, that it becomes very difficult to exhume the real man from the mass of absurdity and contradiction in which he has been involved. To clear a pathway through this entanglement, it may be as well to state first that there is little doubt of there having been two St Serfs, the elder of whom founded a religious community at Culross in the fifth century, was visited there and ordained bishop by Palladius, took charge of and brought up St Mungo, and finally died there at an advanced age—about, as is alleged, the year 540. It is probable enough, however, that either this last event must be referred to a somewhat earlier date, or he must have attained a very advanced age indeed, considering the time at which he had been ordained by Palladius. The circumstances, at all events, of his residence and death at Culross, and his having brought up St Mungo there within the sixth century, seem to be established beyond all doubt.

It is on the authority of the Aberdeen Breviary, which contains the offices for various saints’ days, including those of St Mungo and St Serf, that we rest the fact of there having been two saints living at different periods who each bore the name of Serf or Servanus, and whose respective histories, real and legendary, have been frequently in great measure interchanged. The few authentic particulars regarding the elder, or par excellence Scottish St Serf, have just been mentioned. As regards the younger, and in all respects quite as famous, saint of the name, he seems to have come originally from the East; and he is said by the Aberdeen Breviary to have been “an Israelite by nation,” whilst Wynton, in his ‘ Cronykil,’ styles him “ the kynges sone of Ka-naan.” After visiting, first Alexandria, and then Rome, of which he is stated to have occupied the Papal See for seven years, he took solemn leave of the Eternal City, and passing through France and England, arrived, with a select band of companions, at the island of Inchkeith, in the Firth of Forth. Here he was received by the celebrated St Adamnan, the biographer of St Columba, and Abbot of Iona, who flourished about a.d. 680, and died in the beginning of the eighth century. Mixing up his history, then, with that of the elder St Serf, the narrative goes on to say that he visited successively Dysart, Kinneil, and Culross, and establishing himself at the last-named place, built a church there, and brought up St Mungo. Subsequently to this he is stated to have founded a religious house on an island in Loch Leven, which still bears his name, and was made over to him in gift by Brude, king of the Picts. Many miracles of an extraordinary character are ascribed to him; and various interviews and discussions between him and the Enemy of mankind— in which, of course, the saint comes off victorious— are likewise recorded. Finally, he is said to have returned to and died at Culross.

I have thus briefly summarised the histories of the elder and younger St Serf, and shall in due course present them at greater length. But as regards what may be relied on as real and authentic in these, our positive information regarding the earlier or Scottish saint resolves itself, as already mentioned, into little more than the facts of his having lived and died at Culross, and trained up St Mungo, the patron saint of Glasgow; whilst in connection with the later one—the oriental missionary—the only circumstance that can be maintained with any degree of certainty is that of his having established the well-known religious community or priory of St Serf, on the island of that name in Loch Leven. It is quite possible indeed that, like his namesake, he may have had a connection with Culross, which is not twenty miles distant from Loch Leven.

The relations of the elder St Serf with St Mungo, the patron saint of Glasgow, are, as regards details, very much of a legendary character, but yet deserve notice, both from their reference to Culross, and the curious and interesting story which they present. It is, moreover, mainly in consequence of these relations that the history of his life at Culross takes any tangible form: for otherwise we are informed of nothing beyond the circumstances of his having come thither, as the first Christian missionary, to a wild and savage district; of his founding some kind of religious house—doubtless on the site of the subsequent abbey and church; and of his receiving episcopal ordination there from Palladius, on the occasion of the latter’s mission to Scotland. He gathered gradually round him a band of disciples and adherents, by whose ministrations the light of Christianity was gradually diffused over the adjoining country. This is absolutely all we can assert regarding St Serf, before the arrival of St Mungo—or rather, we should say, of St Mungo’s mother, St Thenew.

Our principal information regarding St Mungo, or Kentigern, as he is also termed, is derived from his Life, written in Latin by Jocelyn, a monk of Furness, in Lancashire, who lived in the end of the twelfth century. With much that is fabulous and absurd, it doubtless contains, in its leading incidents, the true history of the saint. Much that is thus recorded is also embodied in the Aberdeen Breviary, which, in the office for St Mungo’s Day (13th January), and likewise in that for St Thenew’s Day (18th July), gives, in the lessons for each of these services, a summary of the principal events in the lives of St Mungo and his mother.

St Mungo, we are told, was the son of a British prince, who is variously named Eugenius, Eufuren, or Ewen, and was sovereign of the kingdom of Cumbria, or Strathclyde. His mother was Thenew, daughter of Loth, king of Lothian, who, having formed an illicit connection with Eugenius, found herself exposed to disgrace and the furious indignation of her father. A strange story was invented on her behalf by subsequent monkish chroniclers, and is gravely recorded, that, having been converted to Christianity, but not yet baptised, she conceived the idea of emulating the Blessed Virgin, and, like her, became pregnant without any loss of chastity. Another account represents her as having suffered violence at the hands of Eugenius. Notwithstanding her rank and protestations of innocence, her father ordered her to be put to death, by being placed in a waggon and hurled down a precipitous descent, from the top of Dunpelder Law, in East Lothian. But the sainted princess was found at the bottom of the hill quite uninjured; and the cruel wrath of her pagan father being not yet appeased, she was placed in an old rotten boat, and driven out to sea from the port of Aberlady. Solitary and destitute, without the aid of either oars or rudder, but followed from the shore by the lamentations of many persons of both sexes, she was first carried by the wind and waves to the Isle of May, and from thence in a westerly direction up the Firth of Forth. A wondrous shoal of fishes, great and small, accompanied her on her voyage, which terminated at laat in her frail bark coming to shore at Culross, at a spot which became afterwards hallowed as the landing-place of St Thenew, and birthplace of St Mungo. Weary and exhausted, she stepped on shore, and found a nearly extinguished fire, which had been lighted by some shepherds, and which she managed to rekindle. She found now the pangs of labour coming on, the night being already far advanced, and with the first dawn of morning she gave birth to a son. Meantime the venerable St Serf, being engaged, in his religious retreat on the summit of the hill above, with his morning devotions, heard suddenly the chanting VOL. I. D of angelic voices, and rushing forth with his disciples, found St Thenew on the sea-shore, with her newly born son lying beside her near the blazing fire. We are told that shepherds were at the same time watching their flocks in the neighbourhood; and there is evidently here a clumsy and revolting imitation of the narrative of the events connected with the birth of our Saviour. On seeing the mother and child, the chronicler proceeds to inform us that “ St Serf exclaimed, in the vernacular tongue, *Mo-chohe! Mochohe!" which in Latin is rendered, ‘ My dear, my dear! ’ adding, *Blessed art thou who comest in the name of the Lord.’" The word in question is evidently another form of the Gaelic Mo ghaol, or “My love,” sometimes explained also as “ Dear friend,” which was subsequently still further transformed into Mungo—the name by which Thenew’s son became ultimately best known. On the occasion, however, of his baptism by St Serf, who administered the rite both to the infant and his mother, he bestowed on the former that of Kenti-gem, or head chief (from Gaelic ceann, head, and tigheam, chief or lord), and on the latter that of Thenew.

The infant boy who was thus heralded into the world under such extraordinary auspices, was carefully and affectionately brought up by his mother Thenew, who afterwards became a sharer of his renown. His education was, however, conducted by St Serf, who maintained a sort of training-college for clergymen and missionaries, and Kentigem or Mungo became his favourite pupil. The favour of Heaven, and the high objects for which the young man was destined, were foreshadowed by the numerous miracles which he was enabled to perform. The first of these recorded is that in connection with a favourite robin-redbreast of his master St Serf. The pupils of the latter had been amusing themselves tossing it about from one to another, and in this process it had been killed. Kentigem restored the bird to life by laying its head to his bosom, making the sign of the cross- over it, and offering up a prayer. On another occasion his fellow-pupils, who had no good feeling towards him from the favour in which he stood with St Serf, mischievously extinguished one night all the fires in the monastery and neighbourhood. It was the duty of each of them in turn to attend to the lighting of the church lamps for morning service; and it being now Kentigem’s turn, he found to .his dismay, on rising at cockcrow to perform this office, that no light could be procured. But the want was soon supplied. The youth pulled a branch of hazel, prayed, and the twig burst forth into a brilliant flame, illuminating the whole country round, and afterwards becoming miraculously extinguished as soon as it had served its purpose in supplying light for the church lamps. As a perpetuation of the miracle, it is alleged that the tree from which the branch had been taken increased into a grove, and if at any time a twig were pulled from it and breathed on, it burst into a flame through the merits of the saint. “And this,” says Jocelyn, St Mungo’s biographer, “the natives of the country assert to be the peculiarity of the grove in question to the present day.” Then in time of harvest, when the cook of the monastery had suddenly died, and St Serf had called on his disciple either to get dinner ready for the reapers or resuscitate the cook, Kentigem prayed, and an angel having appeared to assure him that his petition was granted, the dead man was restored to life.

But the same angel who had thus appeared to St Mungo now informed him that he must leave Culross and his beloved master, and that a great work of conversion was destined for him in the west country. He accordingly started on his journey without any warning or leave-taking; and having travelled up the bank of the Forth for a considerable way, arrived at last near the spot where it is now joined by the Teith—a stream which in those days, instead of falling into the river, flowed by a separate course into the estuary. The junction of the two streams was now miraculously effected for all future time. St Serf was not long in discovering the absence of Mungo, and setting out in pursuit of him. He overtook the fugitive just as he had managed to effect a passage over the Forth, by its waters, like those of the Red Sea, being collected in a heap on the right hand and the left, so as to leave a dry passage between. The waters returned to their place as soon as Mungo had crossed over, and then St Serf called piteously to him from the other side, reproaching him for quitting Culross in so unceremonious a fashion, and begging him at least to intercede for the performance of an additional miracle—that the waters of the Forth might again be divided to enable him (St Serf), old as he was, to join his former pupil as a humble disciple. But Mungo or Kentigem desired the old man to return to the place from which he came, invoking at the same time blessings on his head, and declaring that as regarded himself he must travel on to fulfil the great work which God had destined him for from his mother’s womb. They then parted, St Serf returning to Culross, where he soon afterwards died, and Mungo proceeding on his journey.

The next stage in his expedition which Mungo is recorded to have reached was a place named Kemach (perhaps Camock is meant, a locality between Stirling and Glasgow), and here he found an aged saint named Fergus, who was at the point of death, and expired in his arms. He procured somehow two bulls, yoked them to a waggon, and then placing the dead body thereon, allowed the animals to follow what course they pleased. They took the direction of the locality where Glasgow now stands, and there, in a cemetery formerly consecrated by St Ninian, the apostle of the Southern Picts, Kentigem deposited the body of the old man Fergus. Settling himself down in the same quarter, beside the Molenriinar bum, he founded a church and established a religious community, which thus was the origin of the great see of Glasgow. He himself was ere long elected bishop of Cumbria or Strathclyde, and it is said that the enclosure which he formed and the trees which he planted were to be seen as late as the beginning of the sixteenth century, or at least were still then known by his name.

The period generally assigned to St Mungo’s birth is a.d. 514, and we may therefore place his settlement in Glasgow somewhere about the middle of the sixth century. A great lapse from Cliristianity into paganism seems to have been made a short time before by the inhabitants of the country, who had. thus Mien away from the instruction imparted to them by St Ninian. St Mungo set himself vigorously to the task of re-establishing the faith throughout the western Lowlands of Scotland, and his labours were attended with great success. But he had a great struggle for a long while to maintain, being thwarted pertinaciously by the pagan king of Strathclyde, whose opposition was so formidable that for a time St Mungo deemed it advisable to retire from the country altogether, and take refuge in Wales. Here he laboured with great success, built a splendid monastery at Elgu, now Elwy, and made several journeys to Borne, receiving on the last of these occasions the parting blessing of Pope Gregory. Warned at last by an angel, and a pressing message having been sent him by King Rederech to return to Glasgow, he resolved to comply with the invitation, and finally quitted Wales, leaving St Asaph as his successor. His reappearance in the north was hailed with great enthusiasm and joy, and henceforward he prosecuted his pious labours without the least interference, rendering the Christian faith triumphant, and gaining extended renown both for the sanctity of his life and the miracles which he wrought. Special notice is taken of a visit paid him by St Columba, the celebrated bishop of Iona, and apostle of the Northern Picts. On this occasion we are informed that as St Mungo advanced to meet his illustrious guest a halo shone round his head, and enabled him at once to be recognised among the surrounding crowd by St Columba. After a long life of piety and usefulness, St Mungo ended his days at Glasgow in 601; and according to another account, in 612. About all the dates of this period great uncertainty prevails, and an approximation to the truth is the utmost that can be attained.

St Mungo was interred within his own church or sacred enclosure at Glasgow, where the present majestic cathedral was erected in the twelfth century by Bishop Jocelyn, and in the crypt of which the tomb of the patron saint of the western metropolis is still to be seen. Many miracles were said to have been wrought at it after his death; and of those performed by the saint in his lifetime several have acquired great notoriety from the memorials of them being preserved on the arms of the city of Glasgow. The well-known device consists of a tree, with a bell suspended from one of the boughs, and a bird perched on another of the branches. There is also the representation of a fish with a ring in its mouth. The popular rhyme thus refers to the whole:—

“This is the tree that never grew;
This is the bird that never flew;
This is the bell that never rang;
This is the fish that never swam.”

The tree is explained to be the hazel-bush which was miraculously kindled to supply St Mungo with light for the church lamps of Culross monastery. The bird is the robin-redbreast which the saint restored to life again, to flutter round and caress its master, St Serf, the patron saint of Culross. The bell suspended on the tree was specially brought by St Mungo from Rome, and used by him for summoning his faithful adherents to their devotions. The fish, or “drunken salmon” as it is sometimes termed in a variation of the popular ditty, has connected with it a specially piquant legend of its own. The queen of Cadzow, a district in the Middle Ward of Lanarkshire, though a wedded wife, had been so ill advised as to cast eyes of affection on a certain knight, and to give him a ring which her own husband had presented her with as a sacred token of affection. The scandal came to be bruited abroad; and the king hearing of it, invited his wife’s paramour to hunt with him, and then, taking advantage of an opportunity when the knight was asleep, withdrew the ring from his finger and cast it into the Clyde. Returning home, he demanded the ring from the queen, threatening her with death in the event of her not producing it. She sent at once to the knight to crave its return, and not receiving it, was reduced to the utmost despair. In her distress she had recourse to St Kentigem, professing the greatest contrition, and promising that she would never misconduct herself again if he would help her to recover the ring. The good-natured saint took compassion on the fair penitent; and sending one of his disciples to the river, ordered him to cast his rod and line, and bring alive to his master the first fish that he caught. He did so; and lo! on opening the fish’s mouth, here was the identical ring which the queen had given away and the king cast into the Clyde! St Kentigem returned it to the lady, who thus escaped the fate with which she had been threatened.

Another of St Mungo’s Glasgow miracles is recorded in connection with his return from Wales, when King Rederech, or Redrath, went forth with a vast crowd of people to welcome him. The saint being desirous of addressing the people, felt an inconvenience from the nature of the ground in making himself seen and heard. But this obstacle was soon removed by the earth on which he stood rising up into a little hillock, and he and his audience were thus both accommodated. Again, he inflicted a signal rebuke and punishment on a certain King Morken, whose avaricious disposition had led him to hoard up during a dearth an immense store of com. St Mungo caused a great flood to carry the grain from the royal bams down the Clyde and up the Molendinar bum to the saint’s feet, where it landed wholly dry and intact. And a rather frivolous exercise of his miraculous powers is recorded in his having produced a fresh dish of mulberries in winter, to bestow upon a foolish fellow who had demanded this present of the king.

St Mungo was noted for his asceticism and self-denial. It is said that after coming to years of discretion he never either ate flesh or drank wine— that he wore a hair shirt, and slept on the ground with a stone for his pillow. We are also told, what must in those days have perhaps appeared the greatest penance of all, that he would seat himself on a stone in cold water and sing psalms, before meeting his brethren at matins in the church. And yet, notwithstanding all this severity of life, he is asserted to have reached the patriarchal age of one hundred and eighty-five. Setting aside, however, all dubious or spurious virtues, and likewise all the absurd incidents which have been associated with him, there remains little reason to doubt that St Kentigem or Mungo was a man both of sterling worth and ability. A strong testimony to the excellence of his character is mentioned by Bishop Forbes as current to a late period in Aberdeenshire,—“It’s like St Mungo’s work, which was never done”—that is to say, that he found no rest but in doing good.

Besides the grand cathedral of Glasgow, of which city he is par excellence the patron saint, there are numerous churches dedicated to St Mungo, as well as places which bear his name. A parish in Dumfriesshire is so called, and so is an island in the Argyleshire Loch Leven, near Ballachulish, noteworthy as the ancient burial-place of the Macdonalds of Glencoe. The spot on the sea-shore of Culross where St Thenew, his mother, landed and gave him birth, had a chapel in honour of St Mungo erected on it, probably at a very early period.1 A subsequent one, the ruins of which still remain, was erected on the same site by Archbishop Blackadder in 1503. I shall have occasion to refer to it at a future stage.

The name of Kentigem, though it is the designation generally applied to this saint by hagiologists and foreigners, is rarely used by St Mungo’s countrymen. A female saint named Kentigema, the recluse of the island of Inch Cailleach in Loch Lomond, and the mother of St Fillan, seems to have borne no relationship to him, and must not be identified with his mother, St Thenew, who is said to have survived the period of her son’s reaching manhood, and to have afterwards joined him in Glasgow, where she died. A chapel was erected in honour of St Thenew or Thanewke, not far from the modem Broomielaw at Glasgow; and by a curious but very natural corruption, the church which in late times was raised near the site of this building received the designation of St Enoch—a saint who, however worthy he is of being commemorated, has no place assigned him in any calendar. There was also a sacred well in the neighbourhood of Glasgow which was dedicated to St Thenew.

The Aberdeen Breviary, in recording the fact of there being another St Serf besides the suffragan of Palladius and master of St Mungo, states that this younger St Serf was “an Israelite” by nation, and lived in the time of St Adamnan in the island of “Petmook,” and that many extraordinary miracles were wrought by him, as recorded at length in his Life. What Life is here referred to cannot be stated with certainty, but the only biography now known to be in existence of St Serf is by an unknown hand, and full of anachronisms and absurdities. A considerable number of details, however, are preserved in the account of St Serf given in Wynton’s ‘Chronicle’; and as Wynton was prior in the early part of the fifteenth century of the religious community on St Serfs Island in Loch Leven, we would be apt to conclude that as holder of such an office he would be well acquainted with all the traditional history of the founder of this establishment. But whatever weight we give to this consideration, it is impossible that we can regard the individual whose adventures he records as identical with the St Serf who received Palladius, and gave shelter to St Thenew and her infant child. Nothing seems to be more clearly established than that the mission of Palladius took place in the fifth century, and that the birth of St Mungo is to be referred to the early part of the sixth. Now Wynton represents his St Serf as travelling from the land of Canaan through Alexandria and Constantinople to Rome, and there being elected Pope on the death of John III. in a.d. 573.

Then after a while, going northward to Britain, he lands at Inchkeith in the Firth of Forth, and there is received by St Adamnan, the Abbot of Iona, who lived in the end of the seventh century. The latter recommends him to settle in the district; and in compliance with this advice St Serf first crosses over to DyBart, then sails up the Firth to Kinneil near Borrowstounness, and lastly crosses over to Culross, where he resolved to settle, and, as Wynton informs us—

“Begowth to red a ground,
Quhare that he thoucht a kyrk to found.”

But Brude, then king of the Picts, had no relish for so saintly a colonist, and in the bitterness of his enmity despatched a company of men to slay St Serf and his followers. The purpose was frustrated by a sudden fit of sore sickness which overtook the king, and for the cure of which he was indebted to the saint. The monarch was converted, and in testimony of grateful devotion made over the whole country around Culross to the Christian missionary, who thenceforward resided here in peace and honour. Referring to Wynton again, we are told :—

“And thare he browcht up Saynt Mongowe,
That syne wes Byschape of Glasgowe.
Syne fra Culros he paat ewyn
To the Inche of Lowch Lewyn.
The King Brud of devotyowne
Made til Saynct Serf donatyowne
Of that Inche, and he duelt thare
Til sewyne yhere oure-passed were.”

Then follows the record of more miracles wrought by him; but as these seem rather to belong to the younger St Serf, whose history is here intermingled with that of his predecessor, I shall defer notice of them for the present. Wynton’s work is a poem or metrical chronicle, commencing with the creation of the world, and can have no claim to be regarded as authentic history; but in endeavouring to deduce from it something that may be accepted as real and trustworthy, it is at least allowable to form some conclusion by contrasting his statements with what admittedly belongs to the category of historical events. Thus, from a chronological point of view, it is quite impossible that the same St Serf could have been the guardian of St Mungo and the contemporary of St Adamnan. I accordingly conceive that I am justified in receiving, as stated in the Aberdeen Breviary, the existence of two St Serfs as an historical fact, and in connecting with the elder saint, as the leading circumstance of his life, the education of St Mungo, and with the younger one the establishment of the religious community at Loch Leven.

The “island of Petmook” referred to in the Aberdeen Breviary is unquestionably the island in Loch Leven now known as St Serf’s Island—Petmook or Portmoak being the name of the adjoining parish on the east side of the loch. The miracles which this St Serf of Portmoak is reported to have performed are thus related by Wynton, though ascribed to the elder saint:—

“ In Twlybothy ane il SpyTyte
A Crystyn man that tyme taryit.
Of that spyryte he wes than
Delyveryd throuch that haly man.
In Twlycultry, til a wyfe
Twa sunnys he rasyd fra dede to lyf.
This haly man had a ram,
That he had fed up of a lame,
And oysyd hym to folow ay,
Quhare-ewyre he passyd in his way.
A thefe this schepe in Athren stall,
And ete hym up in pesis all.
Quhen Saynct Serf hys ram had myet,
Quha that it stall, wes few that wyst:
On presumptyowne nevyrtheles,
He that it stall arestyd wes:
And til Saynt Serfe syne wes he broucht.
That schepe, he sayd, that he stall noucht,
And tharetil for to swere an athe,
He sayd, that he wald noucht be lathe.
Bot sone he worthyd8 rede for schame:
The schepe thare bletyd in his wame.
Swa was he tayntyd schamfully,
And at Saynt Serf askyd mercy.
In Dovyn of devotyoune,
And prayene he slwe a fell dragowne.
Quhare he wes slayne, that plas wes ay
The dragownys den calit to this day.”

After these somewhat extraordinary exercises of miraculous powers grave and whimsical, we are told—

“Quhil Saynt Serfe in-til a stede
Lay eftyre maytynis in hys bede,
The devil come, in full intent
For til fund hym wytht argument.”

The devil propounds various theological questions to St Serf, with the view of puzzling and worsting him in argument. But his satanic majesty is utterly discomfited:—

“Than saw the devyl that he cowde nocht,
Wyth all the wylis that he soucht,
Ourecum Saynct Serf, he sayd than,
He kend hym for a wys man,
For-thi he thare gave hym qwyte,
For he wan at hym na profyte.
Saynct Serf sayd, thou wrech ga
Fra this stede, and noy na ma
In to this stede, I byd the.*
Suddenly theyne passyd he.
Fra that stede he held hym away,
And nevyr wes sene thare til this day.”

And here is the end of the Prior of Loch Leven’s story of St Serf:—

“Eftyre all this Saynct Serfe past
West on til Culros als fast.
And he hys state quhen that he knewe,
That til hys endyng nere he drewe,
The wrechyd warld he for-suke.
Hys Sacramentis thare all he tuke,
With schryfte and full contrityoune;
He yhald wyth gud devotyowne,
His cors til halouyd sepulture,
And hys saule til the Creature.”

In his ‘Kalendar of Scottish Saints,’ Bishop Forbes says that the remains of St Serf were at Culross in 1530. He also states that the saint died at Dunning (the place where he is reported to have killed the dragon), and his body was conveyed to Culross. It is quite possible, indeed, that the body of the younger St Serf may have been carried thither and deposited beside that of his namesake, whose reputation had been greatly enhanced by his connection with St Mungo, the celebrated bishop of Strathclyde, who then had not been long dead. The circumstance, too, of the elder and the younger St Serf being both interred at Culross, may account for their histories having been blended together.

St Serf is regarded as the patron saint of Culross, and its Abbey Church is dedicated to him and the Virgin. His festival day is the 1st of July, which up to the Reformation and even beyond it was observed with great ceremony, the inhabitants walking in procession and carrying branches of trees. Frequent references are also made to it as a legal term in ancient documents connected with the locality.

In the notes appended by Macpherson to Wynton’s ‘Chronicle,’ he remarks in reference to the saint now under consideration: “The era here assigned to Serf rather disagrees with the legendary story, which makes his disciple St Mungo (or Kentigem) contemporary with Columba, who died in 597. But the later saintologists had a rage for burying all their great saints together. St Serf was perhaps a clergyman of Strath-Cluyd or Dalrieta taken in war by the Picts, and consequently a slave or serf, whose superior knowledge and sanctity raised him to consequence and veneration among a rude people.” It is possible enough that this hypothesis may have a foundation in fact.

Wynton’s chronology regarding St Mungo tallies more closely with the period generally ascribed to him, than with that attributed to his master St Serf. The patron saint of Glasgow is represented as contemporary with St Augustin, who in a.d. 597 was sent by Pope Gregory to Britain to convert the men of Kent:—

“Saynct Acostyne gert thame of Ingland
The Eeule of Pask welle understand,
That befor thai had in Were,
Quhill he thare-of made knawlage clere.
And in his tyme Saynct Mungowe
Wes Byschap lyrand of Glasgowe.”

In concluding this chapter and the history of the first epoch connected with Culross, it may be as well to take notice of the condition of the Church at this period, and the body of ecclesiastics to which St Serf and St Mungo belonged. There can be no doubt of the fact that in those days the corruptions of the Church had by no means developed themselves to such an extent as they afterwards attained. Her system of doctrine and service was still comparatively pure—though the theory which has been maintained by many, of her still exhibiting in the remote regions of Western Europe an example of primitive apostolic simplicity, must be rejected as a fond imagination. It has been supposed that St Serf and St Mungo, St Columba and St Adamnan, professed a simple faith, nearly according with the fundamental doctrines of Christianity, as originally propounded by their Founder and His disciples, and far removed from the cumbered and corrupt system gradually built up by the Church of Rome. They are asserted to have preserved for centuries in these Northern retreats the original purity of the faith, and to have even assimilated their ecclesiastical polity to something resembling the Presbyterian model. After bearing faithful testimony to the truth for a long period of years, it is alleged that they were gradually overpowered by the growing influence of Rome, and by the end of the twelfth century their system had entirely disappeared. The name and rule of the Culdees, to which these primitive ecclesiastics belonged, is often spoken of as denoting a sort of golden age in the history of the early Scottish Church.

It may be pleasant to contemplate such a picture as is here presented, but it is one for which there appears to be no historical foundation. Bede and other ancient writers, in referring to the early British Church, make no statement of its having departed from the Christian faith as expounded at Rome, and speak only of its clergy wearing a different tonsure, and celebrating Easter at a different period from that observed by the faithful. From the way in which Bede reiterates this statement in regard to different communities, it seems dear that he had no other allegation to make against them on the score of heresy. He indeed seems to regard these two differences in the mode of shaving the head and the time of celebrating Easter as rather weighty matters; but the fact of his confining his remarks to these alone, would seem to indicate that no other discrepancy existed.

By those who would claim for the early Scottish Church a Presbyterian or at least Protestant character, the term Culdees has been generally understood as denoting a peculiar Order or sect of ecclesiastics. But for this conclusion no ground can be produced. The word simply means servants or friends of God, and was used as the common vernacular epithet in those days for the clergy wherever Celtic was spoken. It is derived from the Celtic G6le-D6 (servants of God), and is the same with the Gaelic gille, a servant, and D6, the genitive of Dia, God. There is also a Gaelic word, Ceile, denoting spouse, husband, or servant, which would form a similar compound with D6. The Celtic term C6le-D6 has been Latinised into Keledei or Colidei, which being explained as CultoresDei (worshippers of God), the word with its modem English form Culdees has been erroneously ascribed to a Latin origin. It seems to have been imported from Ireland into Scotland, and to have been employed in many different ways. But there is no evidence whatever to show that it denoted a particular order of clergy holding tenets alien to those of the Romish Church.

The earliest reference to the Scottish Culdees occurs in Jocelyn's ‘Life of St Kentigem/ and is quoted by Dr Reeves from a MS. preserved in Primate Marsh's library in Dublin, which differs slightly from that edited by Pinkerton. Speaking of St Serf, Jocelyn says:—

“Vir Dei itaque perplures ut diximus discipulos adun-averat. Quos divinse legis sacris literis erudiens, verbo et exemplo ad vitae sanctitatem instituit. De quibus co-oper-arios in messam dominicam destinare proposuerat. Hi omnes emulabantur Dei emulatione vitam et doctrinam ejus, jejuniis et vigiliis saevis assueti, psalmis et orationibus, et divinae legis meditationem intenti, labore manuali certis tem-poribus et horis occupafci. More namque primitivae ecclesiae sub apostolis et eorum successoribus, nihil proprium possi-dentes, satis sobrie juste et pie et continentissime viventes, in singulis tamen casulis ex quo setate et sapientia maturaverant, sicut et ipse sanctus Kentigernus, commorabantur. Unde et singulares clerici a vulgo Calledei nuncupabantur.”

“The man of God [St Serf] had accordingly assembled together, as we have said, several disciples, whom he instructed in the sacred letters of the divine law, and moulded by precept and example to holiness of life. They all, with a holy emulation, imitated his life and doctrine, being inured to severe fastings and watchings, with psalms and prayers; and whilst intent on the meditation of the divine law, were at certain times and hours occupied in manual labour. For, possessing nothing of their own, after the manner of the primitive Church in the times of the apostles and their successors, they passed a life of the highest sobriety, righteousness, piety, and continence; and from the period that they arrived at full age and discretion, they each occupied a little separate dwelling, as did also St Kentigem himself. Hence these solitary ecclesiastics received from the common people the designation of Cattedeu"

Jocelyn speaks here in a somewhat confused fashion, as if the Calledei or Culdees were so called from their solitary mode of life; and possibly this statement of his may have given rise to the derivation of the term, urged by some, as from cill, a cell or church. But the origin already indicated seems to be far the preferable one, as denoting the appellation which the common people would naturally bestow on these men as servants of the Lord; and Jocelyn living at such a distance of time from its first introduction, might be as puzzled to account for it as antiquarians of a much more recent date.

At this early period of the Church’s history, celibacy, though highly recommended, was not actually imperative on the clergy, and for a long time subsequent to this the priests both in England and Scotland seem to have been allowed to marry. In both countries the tenet was gradually established —not without great opposition in South Britain at all events, as we learn from the chronicles of the Saxon age. Jocelyn, in bearing testimony in the above passage to the righteousness and purity of life among the Culdee clergy, leaves us to infer that celibacy was strictly practised. But it is questionable whether this was the case at a later period of their history.

The early Christian missionaries evinced a great partiality for settling in remote and exposed situations, and more especially on islands. Thus St Columba established himself on the remote island of Iona, and in the course of his peregrinations seems to have tarried for a while in and given his name to the island of Inchcolm, in the Firth of Forth. At a subsequent period his biographer, St Adamnan, is reported to have resided on Inchkeith, and there received the younger St Serf on his arrival in Scotland from Rome; whilst we find the Bass tenanted by St Baldred, the apostle of the Lothians; and St Ebba or Abb gives her name to the bleak headland at the north-east extremity of Berwickshire, where the ruins of her cell are still to be seen. It would almost seem as if some idea of asceticism or self-discipline had induced those persons to settle on such dreary situations, which certainly afforded them no security, as was demonstrated in many instances, from the attacks of pagan hordes both by land and sea. As regards St Serf, though his successors the monks converted his settlement at Culross into a pleasant spot, it was in all probability in the first instance but a dreary and lonely abode.

Culross and the island in Loch Leven have often been credited as having been the places where the tenets ascribed to the Culdees were respectively developed and matured. This notion is equally erroneous with the more generally diffused one of the Culdees having formed a special order of their own, distinct from the ordinary Romish clergy of the day. The elder and younger St Serf were doubtless both men of an exalted character, who accomplished each a good work. Their histories are blended together, and it is difficult to distinguish them. With one or both the district of Culross and the region between the Ochil Hills and the Firth of Forth are closely connected. [The churches of Culross, Alva, Clackmannan, and Dunning are dedicated to St Serf, and there is a singular old bridge in Glen Devon which bears his name—to say nothing of St Serfs Isle in Loch Leven, with the ruins on it of the old priory.]


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