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Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs
Chapter III - Saints and Springs


Columba's Miracle—His Wells—Deer—Drostan's Springs—His Relics—His Fairs—His Connection with Caithness—Urquhart — Adamnan — His Wells —Tom Eunan — Feil Columcille — Adamnan's Visit to Northumbria--His Church Dedications—Kieran—His Cave—Campbeltown—Book of the Gospels—Kieran's Church at Errigall—Keroge—His Wells—Bridget—Her Legend—Bridewell—Bridget's Wells—Abernethy—Torranain —Ninian—His Influence—His Cave—Candida Casa—Ninian and Martin—Ninian's Springs—St. Martin's Well—Martinmas —Martin of Bullion's Day–Bullion Well—Kentigern—Fergus—Arbores Sancti Kentigerni—His Wells—Thanet Well—St. Enoch's Well--Cuthbert—His Wells and Bath—His Career—Palladius—His Miracle—Paldy's Well and Paldy's Fair—His Chapel—Ternan—His Wells—Church of Arbuthnot—Brendan —Bute—Kilbrandon Sound—Well at Barra—Boyndie and Cullen—Machar—His Cathedral and Well—Tobar—Mhachar—Constantine—Govan—Kilchouslan Church—St. Cowstan's Well —Serf--Area of his Influence.

THE annals of hagiology are full of the connection between saints and springs. On one occasion a child was brought to Columba for baptism, but there was no water at hand for the performance of the rite. The saint knelt in prayer opposite a neighbouring rock, and rising, blessed the face of the rock. Water immediately gushed forth, and with it the child was baptised. Adamnan, who tells the story, says that the child was Lugucencalad, whose parents were from Artdaib-muirchol (Ardnamurchan), where there is seen even to this day a well called by the name of St. Columba. There are many wells in Scotland named after him. As might be expected, one of these is in Iona. Almost all are along the west coast and in the Hebrides. The name of Kirkcolm, in Wigtownshire, signifies the Church of Columba. The parish contains a fountain dedicated to him, known as Corswell or Crosswell, from which the castle headland and lighthouse of Corsewall have derived their name. A certain amount of sanctity still clings to the fountain. Macaulay, in his "History of St. Kilda" published in 1764, describes a spring there called by the inhabitants Toberi-Clerich, the cleric in question being, according to him, Columba. "This welI," he says, "is below the village, . . . and gushes out like a torrent from the face of a rock. At every full tide the sea overflows it, but how soon that ebbs away, nothing can be fresher or sweeter than the water. It was natural enough for the St. Kildians to imagine that so extraordinary a phenomenon must have been the effect of some supernatural cause, and one of their teachers would have probably assured them that Columba, the great saint of their island and a mighty worker of miracles, had destroyed the influence which, according to the established laws of nature, the sea should have had on that water," This spring resembles one in the parish of Tain, in Ross-shire, known as St. Mary's Well. The latter is covered several hours each day by the sea, but when the tide retires its fresh, sweet water gushes forth again.

According to an old tradition, Drostan, a nephew of Columba, accompanied the latter when on a journey from Iona to Deer in Buchan, about the year 580, and was the first abbot of the monastery established there. The name of the place, according to the "Book of Deer," was derived from the tears (in Gaelic, der or deur, a tear), shed by Drostan on the departure of his uncle. In reality, the name comes from the Gaelic dair, signifying an oak. There are five springs dedicated to Drostan. They are all in the east country, between Edzell and New Aberdour. At the latter place his relics were preserved, and miracles of healing were wrought at his tomb. The spring near Invermark Castle is popularly known as Droustie's Well. A market, called St. Drostan's Fair, is still held annually at Old Deer in December. Insch, in Aberdeenshire, has also a St. Drostan's Fair. Drostan was reverenced in Caithness, where he was tutelar saint of the parishes of Halkirk and Canisbay. In "The Early Scottish Church" the Rev. Dr. M'Lauchlan mentions that Urquhart in Inverness-shire, was called Urchudain, Maith Dhrostan, i.e., St. Drostan's Urquhart.

Adamnan, Columba's biographer, became abbot of Iona in 679, and died there in 704. There are wells to him at Dull, in Perthshire, and at Forglen in Bauffshire. His name occurs in Scottish topography, but shortened, and under various disguises. In the form of St. Oyne he has a well in Rathen parish, Aberdeenshire, where there is a mound—probably an ancient fortified site—also called St. Oyne's. About six miles north-east of Kingussie, in Inverness-shire, is the church of the quoad . sacra parish of Inch, on a knoll projecting into the loch of the same name. The. knoll is called Tom Eunan, i.e., the hill of Adamnan, to whom the church was dedicated. Within the building is still to be seen a fine specimen of the four-cornered bronze bell used in the early Celtic church. According to a local tradition it was once carried off, but kept calling out, "Tom Eunan! Tom Eunan!" till brought back to its home. We find that Adamnan and Columba were associated together in the district. An annual gathering, at one time held there in honour of the latter, was named Feil Columcille, i.e., Columba's Fair, and was much resorted to. Women usually appeared on the occasion in white dresses in token of baptism. An old woman, who died in 1882, at the age of ninety, was in the habit of showing the white dress worn by her in her young days at the fair. It finally served her as a shroud. Adamnan visited the Northumbrian court when Egfrid was king. His errand was one of peace-making; for he went to procure the release of certain Irish captives who had been made prisoners by Egfrid, During his stay in Northumbria he became a convert to the Roman view as against the Celtic in the two burning questions of that age, viz., the time for holding Easter, and the nature of the tonsure. Though he did not get his friends in Scotland to see eye to eye with him on these points, he seems to have been generally popular north of the Tweed. Eight churches at least were dedicated to him, mainly in the east country between Forvie, in Aberdeenshire, and Dalmeny, in West Lothian. One of these dedications was at Aboyne. Skeulan Well there contains Adamnan's name in a corrupted form.

Kieran, belonging like Columba to the sixth century, was also like him from Ireland. He selected a cave some four miles from Campbeltown as his dwelling-place, and there led the life of an ascetic. He died in 543 in his thirty-fourth year. Pennant thus describes the cave:—"It is in the form of a cross, with three fine Gothic porticoes for entrances, . . . had formerly a wall at the entrance, a second about the middle, and a third far up, forming different apartments. On the floor is the capital of a cross and a round basin cut out of the rock, full of fine water, the beverage of the saint in old times, and of sailors in the present, who often land, to dress their victuals beneath this shelter." This basin is more minutely described by Captain T. P. White in his "Archceological Sketches in Scotland." He says, "There is a small basin, nearly oval in shape, neatly scooped out of a block, two feet long by one and a half wide, which exactly underlies a drip of water from the roof of the cave. The water supply is said never to have failed and always to keep the little basin full. Tradition calls it the saint's font or holy well." Kieran is commemorated in Kinloch-Kilkerran, the ancient name of the parish of Campbeltown. The word means literally the head of the loch of Kieran's cell. On one occasion Kieran dropped his book of the Gospels into a lake. Sometime after it was recovered in an uninjured state through the instrumentality of a cow. The cow went into the water to cool itself, and brought out the volume attached to its hoof. Another bovine association is connected with the building of St. Kieran's Church on a hill at Errigall-keroge, in County Tyrone, Ireland. The saint had an ox which, during the day, drew the materials for the building, and in the evening was slaughtered to feed the workmen. The bones were thrown each evening into a well at the foot of the hill, and, morning by morning, the accommodating animal appeared ready for the day's work. The well is still held to be miraculous. There is a spring dedicated to Kieran at Drumlithie, in Glenbervie parish, Kincardineshire, and another at Stonehaven, in the same county. There is one in Troqueer parish, Kirkcudbrightshire, locally known as St. Jergon's or St. Querdon's Well, these names being simply an altered form of Kieran.

Bridget or Bride, an Irish saint, was popular in Scotland. She received baptism from Patrick, and died in 525 after a life of great sanctity. She was celebrated as a worker of miracles. She made a cow supply an enormous quantity of milk to satisfy the wants of three thirsty bishops who came to visit her. She also cured diseases. On one occasion two men suffering from leprosy came to her to be healed. She made the sign of the cross over water, and told them to wash in it. One of the two did so and was instantly restored to health; but, refusing to help the other, he at once became leprous again, while his companion was as suddenly made whole. On another occasion she used the sign of the cross to stay a company bent on the capture of a maiden who had sought refuge in the saint's nunnery. Perhaps her most wonderful miracle was the hanging of her gown on a sunbeam, a somewhat unusual cloak-peg, and one that, from the nature of the case, had not to be sought in a dark press. Her principal monastery was at Kildare, so named after the oak (dair) under whose shade her cell was built. Adjoining St. Bride's Churchyard in London is a spring dedicated to the saint, and popularly styled Bride's Well. The palace built in the immediate neighbourhood went by the name of Bridewell. It was handed over by Edward VI. to the city of London as a workhouse and place of correction. At a later date the name became associated with other houses used for a similar purpose. "Hence it has arisen," remarks Chambers in his "Book of Days," "that the pure and innocent Bridget, the first of Irish nuns, is now inextricably connected in our ordinary national parlance with a class of beings of the most opposite description." There are fully a dozen wells in Scotland bearing her name. These are chiefly to be found in the counties of Wigtown, Dumfries, Peebles, Lanark, Renfrew, Dumbarton, Perth, Fife, and Aberdeen. A monastery was founded in Bridget's honour at Abernethy, in Perthshire, probably in the eighth century, and she had churches on the mainland and among the Western Islands. A curious superstition connected with Bridget has survived to the present time, at least in one of these islands. It has to do with a certain magical flower styled torranain, that must be plucked during the influx of the tide, and is of virtue to protect cows from the evil eye, and to make them give a plentiful supply of milk. The Rev. Dr. Stewart, in his "Twixt Ben Nevis and Glencoe," quotes the incantation associated with it forwarded to him by a correspondent in Uist. The following is one of the stanzas:-

"Let me pluck thee, Torranain?
With all thy blessedness and all thy virtue.
The nine blessings came with the nine parts.
By the virtue of the Torranain.
The hand of St. Bride with me
I am now to pluck thee."

A saint who could give efficacy to a spell was quite the sort of person to be entrusted with the custody of springs.

Ninian, popularly called Ringan, devoted his life mainly to missionary work among the Picts of Galloway, although he extended his influence as far north as the Tay. He seems to have been honoured in Aberdeenshire, if we may judge by a fresco, representing him, discovered about thirty years ago in the pre-Reformation Church of Turriff, and regard was had for him as far north as the Shetland Isles. Even the Scot abroad did not forget him. Chalmers, in his "Caledonia," says that, "in the church of the Carmelite Friars of Bruges in Flanders, the Scottish nation founded an altar to St. Ninian, and endowed a chaplain who officiated at it." A cave by the sea in the parish of Glasserton, in Wigtownshire, was his favourite retreat. This cave was explored about ten years ago, and several stones, marked with incised crosses, were discovered. Ninian brought masons from France, and at Whithorn built Candida Casa—the first stone church in Scotland. It was in course of construction in the year 397. Ninian then heard of the death of Martin of Tours, and to the latter the new church was dedicated. These two saints are found side by side in the matter of church dedications. Thus, Martin was patron of Ulbster, in Caithness: not far off was a church to Ninian. Strathmartin, in Forfarshire, was united in 1799 to the parish of Mains, the latter claiming Ninian as its tutelar saint. Sinavey Spring, in Mains parish, near the site of the ancient Castle of Fintry, is believed to represent St. Ninian's name in a corrupted form. His springs are numerous, and have a wide range from the counties of Wigtown and Kirkcudbright to those of Forfar and Kincardine. There is a well to him near Dunnottar Castle, in the last-mentioned county. In the island of Sanda, off the Kintyre coast, is a spring named after him. It had a considerable local celebrity in former times. St. Ninian's Well in Stirling is a familiar spot in the district. There is a well sacred to Martin in the Aberdeenshire parish of Cairnie. Martinmas (November 11th) came long ago into our land as a church festival. It still remains with us as a familiar term-day.

An incident in Martin's biography has a bearing on our subject, through the connection between the name of the festival commemorating it and certain of our place-names. In Scotland, the fourth of July used to be known as Martin of Bullion's Day, in honour of the translation of the saint's body to a shrine in the cathedral of Tours. There is some uncertainty about the origin of the term Bullion, though, according to the likeliest etymology, it is derived from the French bouiller, to boil, in allusion to the heat of the weather at that time of the year. There is an old proverb that if the deer rise up dry and lie down dry on Martin of Bullion's Day, there will be a good gose-harvest, i.e., an early and plentiful one. An annual fair was appointed to be held at Selkirk and in Dyce parish, Aberdeenshire, in connection with the festival. There are traces of both Martin and Bullion in Scottish topography. In Perthshire there is the parish of St. Martin's, containing the estate of St. Martin's Abbey. Some miles to the cast is Strathmartin in Forfarshire, already alluded to, and not far from it in the same county we find Bullionfield in the parish of Liff and Benvie. It is probable that these names are in some way connected together. In Ecclesmachan parish in Linlithgowshire, there is, as far as we know, no trace of Martin in any dedication of chapel or spring; but Bullion is represented. There is a spring of this name issuing from the trap rocks of the Tor Hill. It is a mineral well. The water is slightly impregnated with sulphuretted hydrogen. In former times it was much resorted to by health-seekers, but it is now neglected.

Ninian consecrated a graveyard beside the Molendinar at Cathures, now Glasgow. About a hundred years later Kentigern, otherwise Mungo, bishop of the Strathclyde kingdom, brought to this cemetery from Carnock the body of Fergus, an anchorite, on a cart drawn by two wild bulls. Over the spot where Fergus was buried was built, at a later date, the crypt of what was to have been the south transept of the cathedral, had that portion of the structure ever been reared. The crypt is now popularly called Blackadder's Aisle, though, as Dr. Andrew MacGeorge points out in his "Old Glasgow," it ought to be called Fergus' Isle. It was so named in a minute of the kirk-session in 1648, and an inscription in long Gothic letters on a stone in the roof of the aisle tells the same tale. Kentigern took up his abode on the banks of the Molendinar, and gathered round him a company of monks, each dwelling in a separate hut. In the twelfth century the spot was surrounded by a dense forest, and in 1500 the " Arbores sancti Kentigerni " were landmarks in the district. Kentigern's Well, now in the lower church of the cathedral, must, from the very fact of its inclusion within the building, have been deemed sacred before the cathedral was reared. Other examples of wells within churches are on record, though not in Scotland. There is a spring in St. Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin. The cathedrals of Carlisle, Winchester, and Canterbury, and the minsters of York and Beverley, as well as one or two English parish churches, either now have or once had wells within their walls. The Rev. T. F. Thiselton Dyer gives several examples in his "Church Lore Gleanings," and remarks, " Such wells may have been of special service in Border churches, which, like the cathedral of Carlisle, served as places of refuge for the inhabitants in case of sudden alarm or foray."

Besides his well in the cathedral, Kentigern had another dedicated to him at Glasgow, close to Little St. Mungo's Church, in the immediate neighbourhood of the trees already mentioned. There are fully a dozen wells sacred to him north of the Tweed. As might be expected, these are almost all to be found in the counties south of the Forth and Clyde, and particularly in those to the west of that district. There is one in Kincardineshire, at Kinneff, locally known as Kenty's Well. Under the name of St. Mongah's Well there is a spring dedicated to him in Yorkshire at Copgrove Park four miles from Borough-bridge. A bath close by, supplied with water from this spring, was formerly much frequented by invalids of all ages, who remained immersed for a longer or shorter time in its intensely cold water. Other wells to Kentigern are to be met with in the north of England. The parish of Crossthwaite in Cumberland has its church dedicated to him. The spot was the thwaite or clearing in the wood where he set up his cross. Thanet Well, in Greystoke parish in the same county, is believed to have derived its name from Tanew or Thenew, Kentigern's mother, familiar to the citizens of Glasgow as St. Enoch. St. Enoch's Well, close to St. Enoch's Square in that burgh, used to be a favourite resort of health-seekers. It has now no existence.

Cuthbert, besides a well at St. Boswell's, in Roxburghshire, had a bath in Strath Tay a rock-hewn hollow full of water where he periodically passed several hours in devotion. This famous Northumbrian missionary was born about 635, and spent his early boyhood as a shepherd on the southern slopes of the Larnmermoors. He lived for thirteen years as a monk in the monastery of Old Melrose, situated two miles east from the present Melrose on a piece of land almost surrounded by the Tweed. On the death of Boisil, Cuthbert was appointed prior. He afterwards became bishop of Lindisfarne. During his stay at Melrose he visited the land of the Niduarian Picts, in other words the Picts of Galloway, and left a record of his journey in the name of Kirkcudbright, i.e., the Church of Cuthbert. Various other churches were dedicated to him in the south of Scotland and in the north of England. A well-known Edinburgh parish bears his name. He was honoured as far south as Cornwall. St. Cuby's Well, locally called St. Kilby's, between Duloe and Sandplace in that county is believed to have been dedicated to him.

There is a good deal of uncertainty about the history of Palladius. He is believed to have been a missionary from Rome to the Irish in the fifth century, and to have suffered martyrdom for the faith. It is recorded of him that on one occasion, by removing some turf in the name of the Holy Spirit, he caused a spring to gush forth to supply water for baptism. He is popularly associated with Kincardineshire, though there is reason to believe that he had no personal connection with the district. A spring in Fordoun parish is locally known as Paldy's Well, and an annual market goes by the name of Paldy's or Paddy's Fair. A chapel was dedicated to him there, and received his relics, brought thither by his disciple Terrananus, whose name is still preserved in Banchory-Ternan, and who seems to have belonged to the district. Ternan has a well at BanchoryDevenick, and another at Kirkton-of-Slains, in Buchan. The old church of Arbuthnot was dedicated to him. It was for this church that the Missal, Psalter, and Office of the Virgin, now in the possession of Viscount Arbuthnot, were written and illuminated towards the end of the fifteenth century, these being the only complete set of Service-Books of a Scottish Church that have come down to us from pre-Reformation times.

Brendan of Clonfert in Ireland, visited several of the Western Isles during the first half of the sixth century, and various churches were afterwards dedicated to him there. He is connected also with Bute. The name Brandanes, applied to its inhabitants, came from him, and he bids fair to be remembered in the name of Kilbrandon Sound, between Arran and Kintyre. He was patron of a well in the island of Barra and was tutelar saint of Boyndie and Cullen in Banffshire; but we are not aware that any well at either of these places was called after him.

A curious legend is related to account for the origin of the See of Aberdeen. According to it Machar or Macarius, along with twelve companions, received instructions from Columba to wander over Pictland, and to build his cathedral-church where he found a river making a bend like a bishop's staff. Such a bend was found in the Don at Old Aberdeen. St. Machar's Cathedral, built beside it, keeps alive the saint's memory. In the neighbouring grounds of Seton is St. Machar's Well. Though now neglected, it was honoured in former times, and its water was used at baptisms in the cathedral. Under the name of Mocumma or Mochonna, Macarius appears as one of the followers of Columba on his memorable voyage from Ireland to Iona. He is said to have visited Pope Gregory the Great at Rome, and to have been for a time bishop of Tours. In Strathdon, Aberdeen.. shire, is a well sacred to him called Tobar-Mhaehar, pronounced in the district Tobar-Vacher.

Constantine, known also by his other names of Cowstan, Chouslan, and Cutchou, was a prince of Cornwall in the sixth century, and was acquainted with Columba and Kentigern. He relinquished his throne and crossed over to Ireland, where he turned monk. At a later date he came to the west of Scotland, and founded a monastery at Golvedir, believed to be Govan, near Glasgow, and, according to Fordun, became its abbot. Kilchouslan Church, on the north side of Campbeltown Bay, Kintyre, was built in his honour. In its graveyard there is, or was till quite lately, a round stone about the size of a grinding stone. In the centre is a hole large enough to let the hand pass through. There is a tradition that if a man and woman eloped, and were able to join hands through this hole before being overtaken by their kinsfolk they were free from further pursuit. In the spring of 1892 an interesting find of old coins was made in the same graveyard. These consisted of groats and half-groats, some of English and some of Scottish coinage, the earliest belonging to the reign of Edward II. of England. According to Martin, the well of St. Cowstan at Garrabost, in Lewis, was believed never to boil any kind of meat, though its water was kept over the fire for a whole day. This well is on a steep slope at the shore. Not far off once stood St. Cowstan's Chapel, but its site is now under tillage.

Serf or Servanus, who flourished during the latter half of the seventh century, was connected with the district north of the Firth of Forth, particularly with Culross, and the island named after him in Loch Leven, where he founded a monastery. At Dysart, Serf had a cave, and in it tradition says that he held a discussion with the devil. The name of Dysart indeed, comes from this desertum or retreat. Serf had a cell at Dunning, in Strathearn, where he died in the odour of sanctity. He had also some link with the parish of Monzievaird, where the church was dedicated to him, and where a small loch still goes by the name of St. Serf's Water. There is a well sacred to him at Alva. St. Shear's Well, at Dumbarton, retains his name in an altered form. Early last century this spring was put to a practical purpose, as arrangements were then made to lead its water across the Leven by pipes to supply the burgh.


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