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In the Shadow of Cairngorm
XV. Holy Mary of Lurg

WILLIAM GRANT Slock, in the parish of Duthil, was a man who bore a high reputation for sanctity. He was one of the. straitest of the sect called "The Men," and was not only venerated for his piety, but believed by many to be gifted with the spirit of prophecy. When on his death-bed, it is said, he had great searchings of heart. In particular there was one thing which troubled him much. It had long been borne upon his mind that the miracle of the passage of the Spey should have been commemorated. He himself had made preparations for this, as David had done for the building of the Temple, but he had not been able to carry out his purpose. As he was about to depart, he left it as a charge with his friends that they should do what he had left undone; that they should take the stone which he had chosen, and, having had a suitable inscription cut upon it, they should have it erected at the spot on the banks of the Spey where the miracle had taken place. He is also said to have predicted that two broom bushes would spring up beside the stone and spread out till they had covered it over, and that it would be a time of trouble for Scotland when this happened. This dying charge was in due time faithfully carried out. The stone was prepared, and with much seriousness, as if it had been the Ark of the Covenant, was carried to the Spey and set up in the place appointed 9th March, 1865. It is said that the consecration ceremony was very solemn. There was praise and prayer, and the stone was set apart for all time, like the memorial stones of the Jordan, to bear witness to the miraculous passage of the Spey. "It is right, however, to record," says Sir Arthur Mitchell (" The Past in the Present," p. 253), "that the ceremony is not always described as in every respect solemn. It is alleged, for instance, by some that the cart on which the stone was conveyed from Slock to Garten was old and rickety, and broke down by the way; that the horse which was harnessed to it was frail and not equal to its work except under constant stimulation; and that the people followed the cart smoking their short black pipes. Whether these things are wholly or partially true, or not true at all, it is certain that the erection of this memorial stone was seriously and earnestly gone about as a pious act. Luckily, in the very year of its erection (1865) I saw the stone, and then made the sketch of it which is here given."

As might have been expected, this extraordinary event, occurring in the middle of the 19th century, within a mile of a railway station, in a district where education was advanced, and where the gospel was preached every Sabbath day, caused much excitement and contention. It was talked of in every company; it was debated at every fireside; it was discussed in the newspapers, not only in the local papers, but even in the Scotsman. Duthil was fast gaining an unenviable notoriety. Instead of being, as its people fondly called it, "The Glen of Heroes" (G. Gleann-chearneach), it was in danger of becoming the "Glen of the Men of the Stone," with their worse than Popish mummeries and superstitions. The result was that an Anti-Stone party was formed, and one day, to the surprise of the country, the sacred stone had disappeared. It had been ruthlessly broken up, and the fragments thrown into the Spey. This daring deed was done, under cloud of night, 19th February, 1867. The secret has been well kept. To this day the names of the perpetrators are not known. This seems appropriate. The stone had been erected in memory of one who was delicately called "a certain woman," and it was fitting that the stone destroyers should remain modestly concealed as "certain persons." So much as to the story of the stone, and now something as to the legend with which it was connected. The following version is taken from the Inverness Courier, April, 1865:—

"In the beginning of the thirteenth century, a certain lady of the family of Mackintosh of Kylachy (a branch of the Mackintoshes of which the late Sir James Mackintosh was the representative, and the best it ever had) was married to one of the eighteen sons of Patrick Grant of Tullochgorum, and grandson of the first Laird of Grant. The laird gave Patrick the farm of Lurg, in Abernethy, as a marriage gift. After many years of domestic happiness Grant died, and was interred in the churchyard of Duthil, and soon after his lady followed him to the grave. The latter, on her deathbed, expressed a wish to he buried in the same tomb with her husband. Her friends represented the impossibility of complying with her desire, as the River Spey could not be forded. ‘Go you,’ said she, ‘to the water-side, and if you proceed to a certain spot (which she indicated,—a spot opposite the famous Tom Bitlac, the residence of the once famous Bitlac Cumming), a passage will be speedily effected.’ On arriving at the river side, at the place pointed out, the waters were instantly divided, and the procession walked over on dry ground! The story goes on to say that the people, on observing an immense shoal of fish leaping and dancing in the dry bed of the stream, were tempted to try and capture some of the salmon which thus found themselves so suddenly out of their natural element; but the angry waters refused to countenance the unmerciful onslaught, and returned once more to their channel. That the men thus engaged should have escaped with their lives was considered almost as great a miracle as the former one, and a ‘Te Deum’ was sung by the entire multitude for their miraculous deliverance from the perils of the waters. The funeral attendants continued their journey until they reached the summit of the rock immediately above the present farm of Gartenbeg. Here they rested, and erected a pole some thirty feet long, with a finger-board on the top pointing to the particular spot where the passage was accomplished. Not a vestige of this pole is now to be seen."


This version of the legend bears, on the face of it, many inaccuracies. First it errs as to dates. "Bitlac Cumming" lived not in the thirteenth, but the fifteenth century. Her name was properly Matilda; she was the daughter of Gilbert of Glencairnie, who died about 1438. This was long before there were Grants at Tullochgorm or Lurg. The first Grant at Tullochgorm was Patrick, about 1600; and the first Grant of Lurg was Robert, not Patrick, younger son of Duncan, yr. of Freuchie, who received a grant of the land in 1613. The story of the eighteen sons of Tullochgorm is apocryphal, and is probably a wrong version of the tradition that there had been eighteen "Patricks" at Tullochgorm. There are also mistakes as to the heroine of the story. She is called "a certain lady of the family of Kylachy." Sir Arthur Mitchell, who investigated the matter carefully, says: —"Other versions say she belonged to the Mackintoshes only by marriage, her first husband being the Fear-Kyllachie, and her second the Fear-na-Luirgan. She appears, indeed, sometimes as a spinster; sometimes as once a wife, sometimes as twice; sometimes as a Strathdearn, and sometimes as a Duthil, woman; now as having lived in the thirteenth, then in the fourteenth, then in the sixteenth, then in the seventeenth century—most frequently, I think, in the sixteenth or seventeenth; sometimes as a Mackintosh; sometimes as a Cumin; sometimes as a Macdonald; occasionally as a Grant; but generally as a certain woman, without a name. In short, the tradition has no fixed form, and the measure of its variations is exceeding great." In Abernethy the invariable tradition is that she was called Mary, and that she was a Mackintosh of Kylachy. Now it is the fact that John Grant of Lurg (1634) was married to a daughter of Kylachy, but her name was not Mary, but Margaret. She had a daughter called Mary, who married Patrick of Tullochgorm about 1668. This may account for the confusion as to the names. Mary is a sacred name, and might have been put in place of Margaret, the original "certain woman" of the story. Margaret of Lurg survived her husband, who died 1653, and had as her second husband Robert Grant of Easter Elchies; but she still retained some connection with Lurg, as she engaged in litigation with Catharine Stewart, the other dowager, in 1654, and is mentioned as paying cess for Clachaig and Lurg in 1667. Probably she survived her second husband and had returned to Lurg. Assuming this to have been the case, what more natural than that she should have expressed a wish, when on her deathbed, to be buried with her fathers in the sacred ground of Dalarossie; and if the Spey were in high flood at the time, and this were urged as a difficulty, what more likely than that she should have said not to be afraid, that the Lord would open a way. Then, supposing that by the time of the funeral the flood had subsided, and that the Spey was low and easily fordable, what more probable than that this should have been spoken of as something remarkable, a fulfilment of the holy lady’s prediction, and that the natural event should in course of time have been magnified into a miracle! There is a story told of the Lady of Lurg which agrees with the popular conception of her character. In Notes by Sir AEneas Mackintosh of Mackintosh, Bart., written about 1774, it is said, in the section "Attendants on a Chief" :—"The Laird took always with him on his travells the son of a Gentleman, of the name, who might happen to be in reduced circumstances; he was a Companion to the Ld., delivered messages, wrote letters, and gave orders." It so happened that Lurg’s son was chosen for such a post—to travel with the young Chief of Grant. When he was leaving, his mother gave him good counsel, and said to him that she had put a Bible in his valise, and that she begged of him, as he loved her, to read it often. This he promised to do. In due time he returned. When his mother was unpacking his clothes, she came upon the Bible, and, taking it in her hand, she said to her son that she hoped he had kept his promise. He answered that he had. She then opened the book, and shook it, when out there dropped two £5 notes, to the sorrow of the mother, and to the shame of her graceless son.

Legends are seldom pure invention. They have generally some basis in fact. But in the case of the Miracle of the Spey, wofully little can be found to account for so wonderful a story, or for the strong hold which it has taken of the imagination of the people.

"I happened to be inquiring into this legend about the time of the Paray le Monial pilgrimage, and I could not help seeing in Holy Mary a Duthil edition of Marguerite Marie Alacoque. The Church set her seal on Marguerite’s devotion, and recognised, proclaimed, and recommended it to the faithful. What else did the men of Duthil do but a like thing for another Marie? The journey to Garten with the miracle stone was in many respects a counterpart of the pilgrimage to Patty. Very different, it is true, was the ceremonial. Only the rough sons of industry formed the rude procession from Slock. There were no lords and ladies among them. No elegance—no polish—no refinement—no saying of the joyful and the sorrowful and the glorious mystery of the Rosary—no repeating of paters, or of ayes, or of litanies of the Sacred Heart—no singing of Magnificats or Te Deums attended the consecration on Speyside of the undressed miracle stone, with its vulgar inscription, as they did the consecration at Patty of the English people to the Sacred Heart. The two pilgrimages, however, were identical in one grand respect—they were both the result of earnest religious convictions. Rough though the proceedings were in the one case, and polished in the other, there was no difference between them when regarded as the outcome either of intellectual or emotional operations. The polish of the Panty ceremonial marked neither a higher order of intellect nor of religious emotion. It marked nothing but a higher general culture, not a higher nature or constitution. The absence of aestheticism and refinement at Duthil resulted from no inferiority either of intellectual powers, or moral qualities, or religious feelings. Those who put up the rude miracle stone on the Spey were the same people, and lived at the same time, and were under the influence of the same kind of religious belief, as the pilgrims to Patty.

"Perhaps I should go further, and call to mind that they were the same people as their countrymen and neighbours, who went neither to Garten nor to Paray. Beyond question it would be incorrect to regard them as inferior in mental power to those living round about them, and I doubt if they ought to be considered as in reality more superstitious. Is it not true, to a greater extent than we like to acknowledge, that all of us yield, in our different ways, to superstitious feelings even at times when we are able to recognise their true nature ? "—("Past and Present," p. 255.256).

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