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Folklore of Scottish Lochs and Springs
Chapter V - Stone Blocks and Saints` Sprigs


Stone Beds and Chairs — Cave Life — Dwarfie Stone — Stone Boats—Balthere—His Corpse—His Well and Cradle—Marnan —His Infinence on Topography—His Head—St. Marnan's Chair and Well—Muchricha—Cathair Donan—St. Donan's Well—Patrick—His Wells—St. Patrick's Vat—Quarry at Portpatrick--Columbanus—Mark of his Hand—Kentigern's Chair and Bed—His connection with Aberdeenshire—The Lady's Bed — Thenew— Columba's Bed and Pillow—Holy Island — Traces of Molio — St. Blane's Chapel— KilmunInan—St. Innian's Well—Tenant's Day—St. Iran's Chair and Springs—Kevin—Print of Virgin's Knee—Traces of Columba at Keil—St. Cuthbert's Stane-.—St. Madron's Bed—Mean-an-Tol—Morwenna—St. FiIlan's Chair—St. Fillan's Spring—Water for Sore Eyes—The Two Fillans—Their Dedications—Queen Margaret's Seat—St. Bennet's Spring—The Fairies' Cradle — The Pot o' Pittenyoul — Church of Invergowrie — Greystane—Cadger's Bridge—Wallace's Seat and Well.

BEDS and Chairs of stone are connected with various early saints, and as such relics are often associated with holy wells, some notice of these may not be without interest. We have already seen that cave life was rather popular among these early missionaries. Anything of a rocky nature was therefore quite in line with their ascetic ways. Hoy, one of the Orkney Islands, famous for its wild scenery, and specially for the pillar of rock popularly styled The Old Man, contains a curious monument of antiquity in the shape of a large block of sandstone called The Dwarfie Stone, hollowed out long ago by some unknown hand. The chamber, thus excavated, contains two beds hewn out of the stone, one of them having a pillow of the same hard material. On the floor of the chamber is a hearth where a fire had evidently burned, and in the roof is a hole for the escape of the smoke. Legend reports that a giant and his wife abode within; but the hollow space was more probably the retreat of some hermit—perhaps, of more than one, seeing there are two couches; though, possibly, one of the supposed couches may have been a table and the other a bed. Perhaps the anchorite had his spring whither he wandered daily to slake his thirst; but, as far as we know, there is no tradition regarding any holy well in the neighbourhood.

Martin, in connection with his visit to Orkney, refers to a stone in the chapel of Ladykirk, in South Ronaldshay, called St. Magnus's Boat. The stone was four feet in length, and tapered away at both ends; but its special feature was the print of two human feet on the upper surface. A local tradition affirmed that when St. Magnus wanted on one occasion to cross the Pentland Firth to Caithness he used this stone as his boat, and that he afterwards carried it to Ladykirk. According to another tradition, the stone served in pre-Reformation times for the punishment of delinquents, who were obliged to stand barefooted upon it by way of penance. There is a St. Magnus's Well, not in South Ronaldshay, however, but at Birsay, in the mainland of Orkney. When Conval crossed from Ireland to Scotland, in the seventh century, he, too, made a block of stone do duty as a boat. It found a resting-place beside the river Cart, near Renfrew, and was known as Currus Sancti Convalli. By its means miraculous cures were wrought on man and beast. A rock at the mouth of Aldham Bay, in Haddingtonshire, is known as St. Baudron's Boat, and tradition says that he crossed on it from the Bass, where he had a cell. This saint—called also Balthere and Baldred—founded the monastery of Tyningham, and died early in the seventh century. He must have been popular in the district, for, if we can believe an old legend, the parishioners of the churches of Aldham, Tyningham, and Prestonkirk tried to get possession of his relics. To satisfy their demands his body was miraculously multiplied by three, and each church was thus provided with one. Near Tantallon Castle is St. Baldred's Well, and a fissure in the cliff at Whitberry, not far from the mouth of the Tyne, is known as St. Baldred's Bed or Cradle.

Marnan or Marnoch, besides giving name to the town of Kilmarnock, in Ayrshire, and to the Island of Inchmarnoch, off Bute, is remembered in the name of the Banffshire parish of Marnoch, where he laboured as a missionary in the seventh century. His head was kept as a revered relic in the church of Aberchirder, and solemn oaths were sworn by it. Use was also made of it for therapeutic purposes. It was periodically washed, and the water was given to the sick for the restoration of their health. This was not an isolated case. Bede tells us, that after Cuthbert's death, some of the water in which his body was washed, was given to an epileptic boy along with some consecrated earth, and brought about a cure. A stone, called St. Marnan's Chair, is, or was till lately, to be seen at Aberchirder; and a spring, near the parish manse, bears the saint's name. About a mile and a half from the church of Aboyne, in Aberdeenshire, is St. Muchricha's Well, and beside it is a stone marked with a cross. At one time, this stone was removed. According to a local tradition, it was brought back by Muchricha, the guardian of the well, who seemed unwilling to lose sight of the lost property. In the parish of Kildonan, Sutherland, two or three blocks of stone, placed in the form of a seat, went by the name of Cathair Donan, i.e., Donan's Chair. In his cille or church, Donan taught the truths of Christianity; and, seated in his cathair, he administered justice to the people of the district. There is a St. Donan's Well in Eigg, the island where the saint and his companion clerics were murdered by the natives early in the seventh century.

Patrick, the well-known missionary of Ireland, was reverenced also in Scotland. There is a well dedicated to him in the parish of Mutbill, Perthshire, and close to it once stood a chapel, believed to have borne his name. From the article on Muthill parish, in the "New Statistical Account of Scotland," we learn that in former times the inhabitants of the district held the saint's memory " in such veneration that, on his day, neither the clap of the mill was heard nor the plough seen to move in the furrow." There is a well dedicated to him in Dalziel parish, Lanarkshire. About sixty yards from St. Patrick's temple, in the island of Tyree; is a rock, with a hollow on the top, two feet across and four feet deep, known to the islanders as St. Patrick's Vat. At any rate it was so named at the end of last century. In a quarry at Portpatrick, Wigtownshire, used in connection with the harbour works, once flowed a spring dedicated to the saint. On the rock below were formerly to be seen certain marks, said, by tradition, to be the impression made by his knees and left hand.

Columban or Columbanus, belonged, like Columba, to the sixth century. Ireland was also his native land. When he left it he travelled, not north like Columba, but south, and sought the sunny lands of France and Italy. In the latter country he founded the monastery of Bobbio among the Apennines. A writer in the "Antiquary" for 1891 remarks, in connection with a recent visit to this monastery, "I was taken to see a rock on the summit of a mountain called La Spanna, near the cave to which the saint is said to have retired for prayer and meditation. The impression of the saint's left hand is still shown upon the face of this rock. The healing power of the patron's hand is believed by the peasantry of the surrounding country to linger still in the hollow marking, and many sufferers, climbing to this spot, have found relief from laying their hand within its palm."

In addition to his well beside the Molendinar, at Glasgow, Kentigern had a chair and bed, both of stone. Concerning the latter, Bishop Forbes, in his "Kalendars of Scottish Saints," says, "Kentigern's couch was rather a sepulchre than a bed, and was of rock, with a stone for a pillow, like Jacob. He rose in the night and sang psalms and hymns till the second cock-crowing. Then he rushed into the cold stream, and with eyes fixed on heaven he recited the whole psalter. Then, coming out of the water he dried his limbs on a stone on the mountain called Galath, and went forth for his day's work." Kentigern's work took him beyond the limits of Strathclyde. He seems to have visited the uplands of Aberdeenshire. The church of Glengairn, a parish now incorporated with Tullich and Glenmuick, was probably founded by him. At any rate, it was dedicated to him. A tradition of his untiring zeal survived in Aberdeenshire down to the beginning of last century. According to a proverb then current, systematic beneficence was said to be "like St. Mungo's work, which was never done." The Isle of May, in the Firth of Forth, has, on one of its rocky sides, a small cave called The Lady's Bed, containing a pool in its floor. As Mr. Muir points out in his "Ecclesiological Notes," it is traditionally associated with Thenew, Kentigern's mother, "who," according to the legend, "after being cast into the sea at Aberlady, was miraculously floated to the May, and thence, in the same manner, to Culross, where she was stranded and gave birth to the saint." Columba, when in Iona, had a stone slab as a bed, and a block of stone as a pillow. Adamnan mentions that, after the saint's death, this pillow stone was placed as a monument over his grave.

Guarding Lamlash Bay, where Haco gathered his shattered fleet after the battle of Largs, in 1263, is Holy Island, known to the Norsemen as Melansay. In this island is a cave, at one time inhabited by the hermit Molio, and below it, near the beach, is his Holy Well, for centuries reckoned efficacious in the cure of disease. A large block of sandstone, flat on the top, with a series of recesses like seats cut round its margin, constitutes the saint's chair and table combined. Molio was educated in Bute by his uncle Blane, to whom the now ruined St. Blane's Chapel was dedicated. He afterwards went to Ireland, and was placed under Munna, who is still remembered in the name of Kilmun, on Holy Loch, in the Firth of Clyde.

Ivan, probably the same as Finan, gave name to Inchinnan, in Renfrewshire, though the ancient church of the parish was dedicated, not to him, but to Conval. The church at Lamington, in Lanarkshire, was dedicated to Ivan. St. Innian's Well is in the parish. He is the patron saint of Beith, in Ayrshire, The annual fair held there in August is popularly called Tenant's Day—Tenant being a corruption of St. Ivan. St. man's Well and St. man's Chair keep his memory fresh in the district. Some particulars about them are given by Mr. Robert Love in the "Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. xi.:" This chair is in the rocky hill-face at the west end of the Cuff hills, and from its elevated position a wide tract of country from south to north is overlooked. At the base of the hill, and distant from the chair some hundred yards, is a well called St. man's Well, a double spring, which issues from the rock at two points close by each other, and which is almost unapproachable in respect of its abundance and purity. This chair is formed in part, possibly by nature, out of the rock of the hill. Its back and two sides are closed in, while, in front, to the west, it is open. The seat proper is above the ground in front about two feet two inches, is two feet four inches in breadth, and one foot four inches in depth backwards." Visitors to the seven churches at Glendalough, in county Wicklow, Ireland, are usually shown St. Kevin's Seat on a block of rock. As a proof of its genuineness the mark made by the saint's leg and the impression of his fingers are duly pointed out by the local guide.

In Kirkmaiden parish, Wigtownshire, the print of the Virgin's knee was at one time shown on a stone where she knelt in prayer. There was a chapel dedicated to her in the neighbourhood. In Southend parish, Kintyre, are the remains of St. Columba's Chapel, standing in the ancient burying-ground of Keil, In his "Ecclesiological Notes" Mr. Muir observes, "Under an overhanging rock, close by on the roadside, is St. Columba's Well, and on the top of a hillock, overlooking the west end of the burial ground there is a flat rock bearing on its top the impress of two feet, made; it seems, by those of the saint whilst be stood marking out and hallowing the spot on which his chapel should rest." In Bromfield parish, Cumberland, is a piece of granite rock called St. Cuthbert's Stane, and near it is a copious spring of remarkably pure water. Brand, in his "Popular Antiquities," says that "this spring, probably from its having been anciently dedicated to the same St. Cuthbert, is called Helly Well, i.e., Haly or Holy Well."

Mr. R. C. Hope, in his "Holy Wells," refers to a block of stone near St. Madron's Spring, in Cornwall, locally known as St. Madron's Bed. We are told that " on it impotent folk reclined when they came to try the cold water cure." In the same parish is a pre-historic relic in the form of a granite block with a hole in the centre of it. It is known in Cornish as Mean-an-Tol, i.e., the Stone of the Hole. Its name in English is The Creeping Stone. Sickly children were at one time passed through the hole a certain number of times, in the belief that a cure would follow. This superstitious custom recalls what was at one time done beside St. Paul's Well, in the parish of Fyvie, Aberdeenshire. Close to the well were the ruins of an old church. One of its stones was supported on other two with a space below. It went by the name of The Shargar Stone--shargar signifying a weakly child. The stone, in this instance, got its name from the custom in the district of mothers passing their ailing children through the space below the stone, in the belief that whatever hindered their growth would thereby be removed. Mr. Hope recounts a tradition concerning Morwenstowe, in Devon, and its patron saint, Morwenna, to the effect that when the parishioners wished to build a church, Morwenna brought a large stone from the foot of the cliff to form the font. Feeling fatigued by the climb she laid down the stone to rest herself, and from the spot a spring gushed forth.

On the top of green Dunfillan, in the parish of Comrie, is a rocky seat known in the district as Fillan's Chair. Here, according to tradition, the saint sat and gave his blessing to the country around. Towards the end of last century, and doubtless even later, this chair was associated with a superstitious remedy for rheumatism in the back. The person to be cured sat in the chair, and then, lying on his back, was dragged down the hill by the legs. The influence of the saint lingering about the spot was believed to insure recovery. St. Fillan's Spring, at the hill-foot, has already been referred to, in connection with its mysterious change of site. It was much frequented at one time by old and young, especially on 1st May and 1st August. The health seekers walked or were carried thrice round the spring from east to west, following the course of the sun. The next part of the ritual consisted in the use of the water for drinking and washing, in throwing a white stone on the saint's cairn, near the spring, and in leaving a rag as an offering before departing. In 1791 not fewer than seventy persons visited the spot at the dates mentioned. The writer of the article on Comrie in the "Old Statistical Account of Scotland" supplies these particulars, and adds, "At the foot of the hill there is a basin made by the saint on the top of a large stone, which seldom wants water, even in the greatest drought, and all who are distressed with sore eyes must wash them three times with this water." Fillan, to whom Comrie parish is thus so much indebted, flourished about the sixth century, and must not be confounded with the other missionary of the same name, who dwelt more than a century later, in the straths of the Fillan and the Dochart, between Tyndrum and Killin. Concerning the former, Dr. Skene writes in his "Celtic Scotland": "Fillan, called Anlobar or `the leper,' whose day is 20th June, is said in the Irish calendar to have been of Rath Erenn in Alban, or the fort of the Earn in Scotland, and St. Fillans, at the east end of Loch Earn, takes its name from him; while the church of Aberdour, on the northern shore of the Firth of Forth, is also dedicated to him." The other Fillan had his Chapel and Holy Pool halfway between Tyndrum and Crianlarich. He is also connected with Fife. At Pittenweem, in that county, his cave is to be seen, and in it is his holy well, supplied with water from crevices in the rock. At the mill of Killin, in Perthshire, once stood a block of stone, known as St. Fillan's Chair. Close to the spot flows the Dochart, and some person or persons, whose muscles were stronger than their antiquarian instincts, sought not unsuccessfully to throw the relic into the river. The Renfrewshire parish of Killallan, united in 1760 to that of Houston, got its name from Fillan. Its ancient church, now ruined, was dedicated to him. Near the ruins, are a stone with a hollow in it and a spring, called respectively St. Fillan's Seat and St. Fillan's Well.

About two miles and a half to the south-east of Dunfermline, is a block of stone, believed to be the last remnant of a group of pre-historic Standing Stones. According to tradition, it was used by Queen Margaret, as a seat where she rested, when on her way to and from the ferry over the Forth. A farm in the immediate neighbourhood is called St. Margaret's Stone Farm, after the block in question. In his "Annals of Dunfermline" Dr. Henderson says, "In 1856 this stone was removed to an adjacent site, by order of the road surveyor, in order to widen the road which required no widening, as no additional traffic was likely to ensue, but the reverse; it is therefore much to be regretted that the old landmark was removed. It is in contemplation to have the old stone replaced on its old site (as nearly as possible) and made to rest, with secure fixings, on a massive base or plinth stone." Not far from the town of Cromarty is St. Bennet's Spring, beside the ruins of St. Bennet's Chapel. Close to the spot once stood a stone trough, termed The Fairies' Cradle. Hugh Miller, in his "Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland," says that this trough was "famous for virtues derived from the saint, like those of the well. For, if a child was carried away by the fairies and some mischievous imp left in its place, the parents had only to lay the changeling in this trough, and, by some invisible process, their child would be immediately restored to them. The Fairies' Cradle came to a sudden end about the year 1745. It was then broken to pieces by the parish minister, with the assistance of two of his elders, that it might no longer serve the purposes of superstition."

The following, from the Rev. Dr. Gregor's "Folklore of the North-East of Scotland," has certainly nothing to do with a saint, but in other respects, has a bearing on the subject in hand:—"The Pot o' Pittenyoul is a small but romantic rock-pool in a little stream called the `Burn o' the Riggins,' which flows past the village of Newmills of Keith. On the edge of the pool are some hollows worn away by the water and the small stones and sand carried down by the stream. These hollows to a lively imagination have the shape of a seat, and the story is, that the devil, at some far-back time, sat down on the edge of the pool and left his mark." Probably at an equally distant date, the devil made his presence felt, further south, though in a different way. He had great objections to a church built at Invergowrie, in Perthshire, and, in order to knock it down, hurled a huge boulder across the Tay from the opposite coast of Fife. We are not aware that the stone struck the church. At any rate it can be seen in the grounds of Greystane, a property to which, according to local tradition, it gave name. Sir William Wallace, though never canonized, had certainly more of the saint about him than the last-mentioned personage. We find various traditions concerning him in the Upper Ward of Lanarkshire. His connection with Lanark is well known. At Biggar, he is said, by Blind Harry, to have defeated the English, who greatly outnumbered his forces. This battle took place on Biggar Moss. A few days before the fight, be entered the enemy's camp, disguised as a cadger or pedlar, to discover the strength of the English army. Being pursued, he turned on his assailants while crossing a bridge over Biggar Water, a little to the west of the town. A foot-bridge there still goes by the name of The Cadger's Bridge. A rock with a hollow in it, lying to the north of Vizzyberry, is locally styled Wallace's Seat, and a spring near the spot is still known as Wallace's Well.


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