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Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs
Chapter IV - More Saints and Springs


Ronan--Dow Well—Influence on Topography—Ronan's SpringsPol Ronan and Feill Ronan—Fergus—His Well in Bauffshire—Glamia—His Relics—His Wells at Montrose and Wick—Helen—St. Helen's Kirk—Her Springs—Her connection with Britain — Her Wells and Churches in England — Welsh Traditions—St. Abb's Well—Ebba—Aidan—His Wells—Boisil —His Springs-St. Boswell's Fair—Bathan—Abbey St. Bathan's —His Well there—Boniface—His Well and Fair at Rosemarkie —Catherine of Alexandria—Her Legend—Her Wells—Various other Dedications—Lawrence—His Wells—St. Lawrence's Fair —His Church Dedications — Laurencekirk --- Margaret— Her connection with Queensferry and Forfar—Ier Wells at Edinburgh—Her Cave and Spring at Dunfermline—Wells dedicated to various Characters in Sacred Story.

IN any notice of early saints Ronan must not be forgotten, especially when we remember that perhaps no spring, thanks to Sir Walter Scott, is so familiar to the general reader as St. Ronan's Well. It has been commonly identified with the mineral well at Innerleithen, in Peeblesshire for long held in much favour in cases of eye and skin complaints, and also for the cure of dyspepsia. The spring is situated a short distance above the town on the skirt of Lee Pen. The writer of the article on Innerleithen parish in the "New Statistical Account of Scotland" says that this spring " was formerly called the `Dow-well' from the circumstance that, long before the healing virtues of the water were discovered, pigeons from the neighbouring country resorted to it." The name, however, is more probably derived from the Gaelic dhu or dubh, signifying black. This is all the more likely when we remember that the ground around was wet and miry before the spring was put into order, and the present pump-room built, in 1826. We find marks of Ronan in Scottish topography. In Dumbartonshire is Kilmaronock, meaning, literally, the Church of my little Ronan; Kilmaronog near Loch Etive has the same signification. Dr. Skene refers to these two dedications, and adds, " Ronan appears to have carried his mission to the Isles. He has left his trace in Iona, where one of the harbours is Port Ronan. The church, afterwards the parish church, was dedicated to him, and is called Teampull Ronaig, and its burying-ground, Cladh Ronan. Then we find him at Rona, in the Sound of Skye, and another Rona, off the coast of Lewis; and, finally, his death is recorded in 737 as Ronan, abbot of Cinngaradh or Kingarth, in Bute." Ronan is patron of various springs. There is one sacred to him near Kilmaronock, another in the Aberdeenshire parish of Strathdon, and another, already referred to, beside Teampull Mar, in the Butt of Lewis. The parish of Strowan, now joined to that of 14Monzievaird, has a well to the saint. This was to be expected, since the name of the parish is merely an altered form of St. Rowan or Ronan. About a hundred yards above the bridge of Strowan, there is a deep pool in the river Earn, called Pol-Ronan, and a piece of ground hard by was formerly the site of the yearly gathering known as Feill-Ronan or St. Ronan's Fair.

The parish of St. Fergus, in Buchan, known till the year 1616 a Langley, commemorates an Irish missionary of the eighth century, who led a roving life, if we can believe the tradition, that he evangelised Caithness, Buchan, Strathearn, and Forfar-shire, as well as attended an Ecclesiastical Council at Rome. The legend that his well in Kirkmichael parish, Banffshire, was at one time in Italy may be connected with his visit to Rome. Concerning this spring, the Rev. Dr. Gregor gives the following particulars:—"Fergan Well is situated on the southeast side of Knock-Fergan, a hill of considerable height on the west side of the river Avon, opposite the manse of Kirkmichael. The first Sunday of May and Easter Sunday were the principal Sundays for visiting it, and many from the surrounding parishes, who were affected with skin diseases or running sores, came to drink of its water, and to wash in it. The hour of arrival was twelve o'clock at night, and the drinking of the water and the washing of the diseased part took place before or at sunrise. A quantity of the water was carried home for future use. Pilgrimages were made up to the end of September, by which time the healing virtues of the water had become less. Such after-visits seem to have begun in later times." Fergus died at Glamis, and his relics soon bean to work cures. His head was carried off to the monastery of Scone, and was so much esteemed in later times that, by order of James IV., a silver case was made for it. His cave and well are to be seen at Glamis. There is a spring dedicated to him near Montrose, and there is another at Wick.

Various other saintly personages have left traces of their names in holy wells. Chalmers, in his "Caledonia," mentions that the ancient church of Aldeamus, in Cockburnspath parish, Berwickshire, was dedicated to Helen, mother of Constantine, and that its ruins were known as St. Helen's Kirk. A portion of the building still stands. To the north of it is a burying-ground; but, curiously enough, as Mr. Muir points out in his "Ancient Churches of Scotland," the spot does not appear ever to have been used for purposes of sepulture. We do not know surely of any spring to Helen in the immediate neighbourhood, but there is one at Darnick, near Melrose. Another is in Kirkpatrick-Fleming parish, Dumfriesshire. Perhaps the best known is St. Helen's Well, beside the highway from Maybolo to Ayr, about two-and-a-half miles from the former town. It was much resorted to on May Day for the cure of sickly children. On Timothy Pont's map, of date 1654, there is a "Helen's Loch" marked a little to the south-west of Camelon, in Stirlingshire. Some writers have attempted to claim Helen as a native of Britain, and Colchester and York have, for different reasons, been fixed on as her birth-place. The circumstance that Constantine was proclaimed Emperor at the latter town, on the death there of his father, Constantius Chlorus, probably gave rise to the tradition. Anyhow, Helen seems to have been held in high honour in England. In an article in the "Archceological Journal" for December, 1891, Mr. Edward Peacock mentions that there are at least fifteen wells named after her south of the Tweed. He adds, "there are many churches dedicated to the honour of St. Helen in England, but they are very irregularly distributed. None seems to occur in Cumberland, Westmoreland, or Essex. The rest of the English shires, for -which we have authentic information, give the following results :—Devonshire, three; Durham, two; Kent, one; Lincolnshire, twenty-eight ; Northumberland, three ; Nottinghamshire, fifteen; Yorkshire, thirty-two." Helen's name occurs in Welsh legends; but, as Mr. Peacock observes, "early history is so much distorted in them, that, if we did not know of her from more authentic sources, we might well believe Helen to have been a mere creation of the fervid Keltic imagination." As far as is known there are neither wells nor church dedications to her in the Principality.

At Ayton, in Berwickshire, we find St. Abb's Well, recalling Abb or Æbbs, who, in the seventh century, presided over a monastery on the headland still bearing her name, and in whose honour the priory at Coldingham was founded by Edgar, son of Malcolm Canmore, some four centuries and a half later. Her monastery on the headland was founded by Aidan, who was sent from Iona to the North of England in response to a request from King Oswald, of Bernicia, for a missionary to preach Christianity to his pagan subjects. This was about the year 635. Aidan made the island of Lindisfarne, off the coast of Northumberland, his head-quarters. It is still known as Holy Island. Aidan has not been forgotten in the matter of wells. There are four to him, viz., at Menmuir and at Fearn, in Forfarshire; at Balmerino, in Fife; and at Cambusnethan, in Lanarkshire. This last, called St. Iten's Well, was noted for the cure of asthma and skin-disease.

Boisil, abbot of the monastery of Old Melrose, about the middle of the seventh century, still lives in the name of the Roxburghshire village and parish of St. Boswell's. There is a spring in the parish bearing the name of The Well-brae Wall. Boswell's own spring is popularly styled the Hare-well. Not far from both is St. Boswell's Burn, a tributary of the Tweed. The local fair held on July 18th, in honour of the saint, used to be a notable one in the border counties, and was frequented by large numbers of gipsies who set up booths for the sale of their wares.

Bathan, who flourished in the early seventh century, had to do with Shetland, and with the region aboutthe Whittadder, in Berwickshire. Abbey St. Bathans, in the latter county, is named after him. His well is on one of the haughs beside the river, not far from the ruined nunnery. Its water is believed never to freeze.

Boniface belonged to the same century. He is said to have preached Christianity at Gowrie, in Pictavia, and afterwards at Rosemarkie, in the Black Isle, where he died at the age of eighty, and was buried in the church of St. Peter. A well and a fair at Roseinarkie still keep alive his memory.

The fame of Catherine of Alexandria travelled to Scotland at a comparatively early period. This holy maiden was noted for her learning, Indeed she was so wise that Maxentius the Emperor called her a "second Plato." The Emperor's compliments, however, stopped there, for he ordered her to be executed on account of her contempt for paganism. The wheel, her usual attribute in art, was not the instrument of her martyrdom, as it was miraculously destroyed. She met her death by being beheaded, and, immediately thereafter, her body was carried by angels to Mount Sinai. These and other legendary incidents must have conduced to make the saint popular. St. Catherine's Balm-well, at Liberton, Mid-Lothian, had a high reputation for curing skin-disease. Martin speaks of a well to St. Catherine on the south coast of Eigg, reckoned by the islanders a specific in all kinds of disease. He gives the following account of its dedication by Father Hugh, a priest, and of the respect paid to the spring in consequence:—"He (the priest) obliged all the inhabitants to come to this well, and then employed them to bring together a great heap of stones at the head of the spring by way of penance. This being done, he said Mass at the well, and then consecrated it; he gave each of the inhabitants a piece of wax candle, which they lighted, and all of them made the Dessil,—of going round the well sun-ways, the priest leading them ; and from that time it was accounted unlawful to boil any meat with the water of this well." In the south-west of Scotland, Catherine has, or had, three wells, viz., at Stoneykirk, at Low Drumore, and at Old Luce, opposite the Abbey. In the north-east there are three, viz., at Fyvie, Aberdeenshire; and in Alvah parish, Banffshire; and at Banff itself. At Shotts, in Lanarkshire, the fountain by the roadside immediately below the parish church is, or at least was, locally known as Cat's or Kate's Well—a contraction of the Saint's name--reminding one of the Kate Kennedy celebration at St. Andrews University, which originated in connection with the gift of a bell by Bishop Kennedy in honour of the saint. The ruins of Caibeal Cairine, i.e., Catherine's Chapel, are in Southend parish, Kintyre, and two farms called North and South Carine are in the immediate neighbourhood. Captain White, when exploring the district, sought for St. Catherine's Well in the adjoining glen, but failed to find it. A chapel to the saint once stood in the quondam town of Kincardine in the Mearns. Its graveyard alone remains. St. Catherine's Fair, held at Kincardine till the year 1612, was then transferred to the neighbouring Fettercairn. There is perhaps no place-name more familiar to visitors to Inveraray than St. Catherine's, on the opposite shore of Loch Fyne. It was in St. Catherine's Aisle, within the parish church of Linlithgow, that James IV. saw the mysterious apparation that warned him to beware of Flodden. At Port-Erin, in the Isle of Man, is a spring close to the beach, and on a stone beside it in old lettering, can be read the piece of advice:

"St. Catherine's Well,
Keep me clean."

Lawrence is represented by various springs, viz., by one in Kirkcudbrightshire, at Fairgirth; by one in Elginshire, at New Duffus; and by two in Aberdeenshire, at Kinnord; and at Rayne, where a horse market, called Lawrence Fair, is still held annually in August. Near the Fairgirth spring stand the ivy-clad ruins of St. Lawrence's Chapel, at one time surrounded by a graveyard. The parish of Slarnannan, in Stirlingshire, was anciently called St. Lawrence, its pre-Reformation church having been dedicated to him. An excellent spring, not far from the parish church, is known as St. Lawrence's Well. There is reason to believe that all these dedications relate to Lawrence, who, about the middle of the third century, suffered at Rome, by being broiled over a slow fire, and in whose honour the Escurial in Spain was built in the form of a gridiron—the supposed instrument of his martyrdom. Laurencekirk, in Kincardineshire, anciently called Conveth, received its name, not from the martyr, but from Lawrence, archbishop of Canterbury, successor of Augustine, early in the seventh century. He is said to have visited the Mearns. The church of Conveth was named in his honour Laurencekirk. As far as we know, however, there is no spring to him in the district.

Margaret, queen and saint, wife of Malcolm Can-more, was a light amid the darkness of the eleventh century. Indeed she was a light to many later centuries. The secret of her beneficial influence lay in her personal character, and she undoubtedly did much to recommend civilisation to a barbarous age. At the same time it must not be forgotten that through her English training she was unable to appreciate either the speech or the special religious institutions of her Scottish subjects, and that, accordingly, the changes introduced by her were not all reforms. When sketching her influence on the history of her time, the Rev. Dr. M`Lauchian, in his "Early Scottish Church," observes, "She was somewhat unwillingly hindered from entering a monastery by her marriage with Malcolm, and the latter repaid the obligation by unbounded devotion to her and readiness to fall in with all her schemes. She was brought up in the Anglo-Saxon Church, as that Church was moulded by Augustine and other emissaries of Rome, and was in consequence naturally opposed to many of the peculiarities of the Scottish Church, which was still without diocesan bishops, and had many things in its forms of worship peculiar to itself." Dunfermline was Malcolm's favourite place of residence, and many were the journeys made by his wife between it and Edinburgh. The names of North and South Queensferry, where she crossed the Forth, tell of these royal expeditions. Malcolm and Margaret were associated with the town of Forfar. Local topography has still its King's Muir, and its Queen's Well to testify to the fact; and on the Inch of Forfar Loch, where Margaret had a residence, an annual celebration was long held in her honour. She had a spring at Edinburgh Castle, described as "the fountain which rises near the corner of the King's Garden, on the road leading to St. Cuthbert's Church." St. Margaret's Well—once at Restalrig, now in the Queen's Park—has already been referred to. At Dunfermline there is a spring in a cave where, according to tradition, she spent many an hour in pious meditation. The cave is about seven feet in height, fully eight in breadth, and varies in depth from eight to eleven. "This cave," remarks the Rev. Peter Chalmers in his "History of Dunfermline," "is situated at a short distance north from the Tower Hill, and from the mound crossing the ravine on which part of the town stands. There is at present a small spring well at the bottom, the water of which rises at times and covers the whole lower space; but anciently, it is to be presumed, there was none, or at least it must have been covered, and prevented from overflowing the floor, which would either have been formed of the rock or have been paved." A considerable amount of rubbish accumulated in the cave, but this was removed in 1877. "During the process of clearing out the cave," remarks Dr. Henderson in his "Annals of Dunfermline," "two stone seats or benches were discovered along the base of the north and south sides, but there were no carvings or devices seen on them. Near the back of the cave a small sunk well was found, but it is now covered over with a stone flag."

Several Scripture characters have wells named after them. St. Matthew has springs at Kirkton, Dumfriesshire, and at Roslin, Midlothian. St. Andrew's name is attached to wells . at Sandal, in Kintyre; at North Berwick, in East Lothian; at Shadar, in Lewis; and at Selkirk—this last having been uncovered in 1892, after remaining closed, it is believed, for fully three hundred years. A spring at St. Andrews, called Holy Well, is understood to have been dedicated either to Andrew or to Regulus. St. Paul has springs at Fyvie and at Linlithgow; St. Philip is patron of one in Yarrow parish, Selkirkshire; St. James has one at Garvock, in Aberdeenshire; St. Thomas has three—at Lochmaben, Dumfriesshire; at Crieff, in Perthshire; and near Stirling; and St. John has a considerable number of springs. Some of these are to the Evangelist, and some to the Baptist. It is of ten difficult to know to which of the two the patronage of a given well should be ascribed. Of the four chapels along the east wall of the lower church of Glasgow Cathedral, the one next to St. Mungo's Well was dedicated in pre-Reformation times to St. John the Evangelist. It would have been more appropriately dedicated to the Baptist. St. John's Wells are to be found at Moffat, in Dumfriesshire; at Logie Coldstone, in Aberdeenshire; near Fochabers, in Elginshire; at Inverkeithing, Balmerino ; and Falkland, in Fife; at Kinnethmont, and in New Aberdour, in Aberdeenshire; at Marykirk, in Kincardineshire; at Kirkton of Deskford, at Ordiquhill, and also near the old church of Gamrie, in Banffshire; at Stranraer, in Wigtownshire; at Dunrobin, in Sutherland; and elsewhere. There are more than a dozen wells to St. Peter. These are to be found mainly in counties in the south-west, and in the north-east. In the latter district there is a well at Marnoch, in Banffshire, called Petrie's Well.

St Anne, the reputed mother of the Virgin, presided over wells at Ladykirk, in Berwickshire; near the old church of St. Anne, in Dowally parish, Perthshire; and at Glass, on the Deveron. The Virgin herself was specially popular as the patroness of fountains. There are over seventy dedicated to her under a variety of names, such as, St. Mary's Well, Maria Well, &c. The town of Motherwell, in Lanarkshire, was so called after a famous well to the Virgin. Tobermory, in Mull—literally, Well of Mary—was originally a fountain. A village was built beside it, in 1788, as a fishing centre for the British Fisheries' Company. A curious legend about the now ivy-clad ruins of the church of St. Mary in Auchindoir parish, Aberdeenshire, is thus referred to by Mr. A. Jervise in the "Proceedings of the Society of Antiquariesof Scotland," vol. viii. (old series):—"According to tradition, it was originally proposed to rebuild the church at a place called Kirkcairns (now Glencairns) to the south of Lumsden village, and but for the warning voice of the Virgin, who appears to have been a good judge both of locality and soil, the kirk would have been placed in an obscure sterile district. Besides being in the neighbourhood of good land, fine views of the upper part of Strathbogie and of the surrounding hills are obtained from the present site. . . . St. Mary's Well is about a hundred yards to the west."

If Michael the Archangel did not fold his wings over any Scottish wells, he at least gave name to several. There is a St. Michael's Spring in Kirkmichael parish, Banffshire, and another at Dallas in Elginshire. In both cases, the ancient church was dedicated to him. Culsalmond, in Aberdeenshire, and Applegarth, in Dumfriesshire, have, and Edinburgh once had, a St. Michael's Well. The best known is probably the one at Linlithgow, with its quaint inscription—"Saint Michael is kinde to straingers." Mr. J. R. Walker—to whose list of Holy Wells in the "Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland," vol. v. (new series), we have been indebted for various useful hints--remarks, "The building covering this well dates only from 1720. . . . It is conjectured that the statue was taken from the Cross-well when restored about that date and placed here to represent St. Michael, who is the patron saint of Linlithgow Church. . . . With the exception of the statue, which is undoubtedly of much earlier date than 1720, the structure shows the utter absence of architectural knowledge—especially Gothic—characteristic of the last century in Scotland. Michael was tutelar saint, not only of the church, but also of the burgh of Linlithgow. In the town Arms he is represented with outspread wings, standing on a serpent whose head he is piercing with a spear. He was also the guardian of the burgh of Dumfries. At Inverlussa, in North Knapdale parish, Argyllshire, may be seen the ancient chapel and burying-ground of Kilmichael. A well in the immediate neighbourhood is dedicated, not to the archangel, but to some local ecclesiastic, whose name is now forgotten. In reference to this spring, Captain White says, "Trickling out from under a rock, is the Priest's Well (Tobar-ant-Sagairt), famous, like many another spring of so-called holy water, for its miraculous healing virtues. I believe the country people have by no means lost their faith in its powers." The extent of the archangel's popularity in Scotland is shown by his impress on topography. Among place-names we find at least three Kilmichaels, and there are five parishes called Kirkmichael, respectively in the counties of Dumfries, Ayr, Perth, Ross and Cromarty, and Banff. A chapel is said to have been dedicated to him at a very early date on the top of the Castle Rock at Edinburgh. Another once stood in the demesne of Lovat, where was founded, about 1232, a Priory for French monks, who were so struck with the beauty of the spot that they called it Beau-lieu, now Beauly. Far west, in the outer Hebrides, he had faithful votaries. On the island of Grimisay, close to North Uist, a chapel styled Team-pull Mhicheil was built in his honour towards the close of the fourteenth century. It was the work of Arnie, otherwise Annie, wife of John of Isla, first Lord of the Isles, and was used by her as an oratory when prevented by rough weather from crossing the Minch to visit her friends in Lorne. That the archangel should have had wells named after him is therefore not surprising.


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