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History of the Parish of Banchory-Devenick
Parish Church and History of Saint Devenick

The patron Saint of Banchory-Devenick was one Devenicus, a disciple of St. Columba. Like most of the good men of Iona his history is obscure. Trained in the rigorous school over which the great Saint presided, he was sent forth, like the other disciples, from the little island to the rough mainland with its rougher people, to endeavour to convert them from Paganism. After wandering on his mission through various districts of Scotland, he founded a church at Methlick, in which parish, on the second Tuesday of November, till within recent years, a fair or market, called St. Devenick’s Fair, was regularly held. His chief connection, however, lay with the parish of Banchory-Devenick, which took its name from him.

The following legends, in prose and verse, are translations from latin biographies of the Saint:—“ While the most blessed Fathers, Columba and Mauricius, were preaching the faith of Christ in Scotland, St. Devenicus, the celebrated Confessor of Christ, famous for his life and sanctity, flourished ; a man, indeed, given up in an unusual degree to holy and religious works, after the manner of the age : who, burning with divine love, being insjaired by the Holy Spirit, said to St. Mauricius, ‘You see, O Master, what a great number of people there is in this province given up to the worship of idols, and how few works of the ministry of God : therefore I ask that if it please you we separate in the work of ministry through the breadth of the kingdom. You, indeed, tell the Word of God to the nation of Piets. I will depart to the province of the Cathini, and proceed to announce the doctrine of Christ to them.’ St. Mauricius said, ‘ Now, Brother, we will again be joined,’ and he said, ‘ We will also be joined forever in the heavenly life, and there be glad and rejoice with Christ. Only, this more do I ask of you in the name of our Master, that since near death enshrouds me, when I am dead you will cause my body to be carried to this place and buried here.’ St. Mauricius also assenting, St. Devenicus departed to the Cathini, boldly preaching the Word of God there, and converting many persons to the faith of Christ. Mauricius, the blessed man, wandering through the whole kingdom of the Piets, by praying and exhorting them, and by doing many wonderful things, and making many signs, brought an infinite multitude of them under the faith. He even caused the chiefs and leaders and also the nobles of the land to believe on Christ; and, having there destroyed the temples of the idols, and having overthrown their altars, he ordered houses of meeting to be built. In these days it happened that the most holy old man, Devenicus, of whom we have made mention, having advanced to a long old age, spent his life in this manner. When he came to the end of his life,

having called some of his servants to him, said, ‘ When I am dead, take up my body, and carry it to one of the meetings of St. Mauricius, and say to him that I remember his promise which I got from him when I was going away.’ Having said these things he gave up the ghost, and his men, carrying out his orders, carried him to a certain hall which was in a neighbouring monastery. And on the following night, whilst the blessed Mauricius was keeping watch at his orisons, he saw angels descending on the house in which the body of St. Devenick was. The holy man said to his brothers, ‘ The most holy man came to us a guest, come let us visit him and perform the duty of humanity which we owe to him.’ But when they came to the house they did not find the body, for they passed the porters and ascended into the mountain, there desiring to rest for a short time. The Saint with his men, following on their track, found them in a place which is called Crosta. There, therefore, the devoted man stayed beside the remains of the holy old man, keeping watch with psalms, prayers and preachings, and unwearied with assiduous watching. These finished, they carried the body to a place of which the name is Banchory-Devenick, and there gave it up to be honourably buried. They built a hall which is called, even to this day, after the name of that old man, Banchory-Devenick, where the merits of that Saint intervening, many benefits are conferred on the erring by the assistance of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be the honour, forever, Amen !”

So much for the prose story. The versified one is hardly less interesting :—

Nocht lang eftire apone a day
(To) sanct Machor a mane cane say:
That sanct Dewynnik In-to Catnes
Thru gret eilde falyeit and ded was;
And quhene he one his dedstra lay,
To thaime that nest war he cane say:
Sene that ye se ded sail me tak,
I coniure you for godis sak
That yhe for na trawall be Irke
To bere my body to sume kirk,
Quharfor sanct Machor has keping,
And pray hyme for the hewynnis king
That he meyne one and thochtfull be
Of his hicht that ye mad to me
Of his gud will at our partyng.
With this of spek he mad ending
And yaulde the gast but mare abad.
And thai that this commawndment had,
To tak his body war nocht Irk
And one a bere brocht till a kirk
That was bot litill fra that place
That befor to thaime lentyne was.
And quhene that sanct Machor this tale
Has herd as I haf tald yu hale,
He mad regrat and had disese.
But, for he durst nocht god disples,
That nycht but slepe all haile he lay
In his prayere, till it wes day:
And in that kirk with fleschely eyne
Full feile brycht angelis he has sene
Flc upe and doune, makand thairc play.
Quhar at the cors of Dewynnik lay.
Thane was sanct Machor blyth and glad
For this fare sicht that he sene had.
And one the morne quhene it was day,
Till his discipulis this cane say:
Lowe we all god, my brothir dere,
That has ws send a gud gestenere!
Tharfor mak we ws redy tyt
Hyme, as a spe afferis, to visidte
And yeld till hyme forout delay
That office that we acht to say
For worthi mene, quhene thai ded are!
With that thai passit furthmare
To the kirk quhar at sanct Machor
The angelis play had sene befor.
Bot thai that the cors brocht thiddire,
With It had gane thar way to-giddir
Ner-by of Creskane to the hill,
And thare abad, to reste in will.
Bot sanct Machor forontyne firste.
Folouit and fand thaime thaire tak reste.
And he and his thar with thame abad
Till thai the seruice all had mad
That to sic deide mene suld parteyne
Ar ony wink come in thar eyne.
And syne bare the cors deuotely
Till a place callit Banchory.
And thare solempni with honoure
Thai grathit for it a sepulture,
And one hyme thare thai mad a kirk.
Quhar god yeit cesis nocht to wirk
Thru his prayere ferleis full fele,
To sek and sar folk gyfand heile.
Mene callis that place quar he lay
Banchory Dewynnik till this day.

These legends represent St. Devenick as an old man at the time St. Machar was preaching in the northeast of Scotland ; and then, as dividing the work between himself and St. Machar, he going to Cathini while St. Machar remained at Aberdeen. In consequence of a prior compact entered into between the two Saints, the body of St. Devenick was brought back to Aberdeen, and buried at Banchory-Devenick. He had a dedication at Creich, in Sutherland, where he was known as “St. Teavnich.” Boece calls him, ‘Archdeacon,’ but King, Keith, and others style him ‘Bishop.’ Though the first legend represents him as a contemporary of St. Columba, the Scottish Annalists record his death as occurring, a.d., 887, in the reign of Soluathius. But the Scotch Kings, named Selvach, Latinised, Soluathius, were both in the sixth century, and thus the time of the Saint is left in doubt, though the balance of authority leans to the sixth century.* His feast day, 13th November, was long religiously held by the inhabitants of the parish, and a special altar was afterwards raised to his memory in the Cathedral of Aberdeen.

The kirk of Banchory-Devenick, however, does not appear prominently in history till the year 1163, when Malcolm IV. granted a charter (its authenticity is doubted) in favour of the Bishop of Aberdeen, confirming and conveying large tracts of land throughout the country, for the benefit of the See which his namesake, Malcolm II., is said to have founded at Mortlach in 1010. It had been removed to Old Aberdeen in 1137, and among the lands mentioned in the charter of Malcolm IV., is “the kirk of Banchory-Devenick, with the land and pertinents.”

Nearly a hundred years later, 1256, the parson of Banchory-Devenick was eleventh prebend of the chapter. Each prebend had a manse and glebe, in Old Aberdeen. ‘•His manse, yard and gleib,” says Orem, describing the prebend’s property, “ lie on the west side of the Chanry ; having on the north the Parson of Oyne’s manse, and on the south the Parson of Ellon’s; which manse was a great lodging, with a large yard, and a gleib of arable land, consisting of a rigg at the end of said yard, lying towards the Kettle Hills.” This manse continued to be occupied by the minister of Banchory-Devenick, for some considerable time after the Reformation.

Banchory-Devenick is interesting as being one of the last parishes in Scotland into which Episcopacy was attempted to be introduced. In the Spring of 1712, upwards of two hundred copies of the English prayer book were sent down from London, for gratis distribution among the parishoners. On 19th October, following, the assistant minister, Robert Jamieson, intimated from the pulpit, that “the excellent liturgy of the church of England was to be used in the public worship of God in this congregation, and accordingly the people were seriously exhorted to perform this method of worship with a true spirit of devotion, and with that becoming gravity and decencie that was expected from those who had been so exemplary heretofore in the public worship of God.” On the following Sunday, therefore, “ the liturgy was first used,” and two months thereafter, “all the dasks in the church were made fitt for kneeling in the time of prayers, by fixing kneeling boards in every dask.” This mode of worship appears to have been followed for only a very brief period, probably not beyond December, 1714, when the Rev. James Gordon the minister, who was a staunch Episcopalian, died. It is a singular circumstance that, seventy years after, not a single copy of the two hundred books remained in the parish, and that a tempting offer by Dr. Morison, to the booksellers in Aberdeen, failed to secure one.

It is impossible to state at what date the church previous to the present one was erected, but on the back of an old pewter plate belonging to the church is a rude tracing of what is believed to represent it. It had been a small low roofed building with two windows on the south side, and a sort of belfry with entrance door at one end.

The date given is 1642. In the beginning of last century the fabric had fallen into a somewhat unsatisfactory state. “ Divots” or “sods” were frequently required to fill up gaps in the walls ; and although no great attention was paid to comfort, the parishioners had evidently had a desire to improve the appearance of the structural arrangements. On 23rd November, 1712, “the minister and elders, taking to their serious consideration that whereas the pulpit in the church was very mean and insufficient, it was judged proper for the greater decencie and ornament of the church that there should be a new pulpit, and reading dask made of firr wood, and handsome and good work, and the management and ordering thereof was committed to the assistant.” After the wear and tear of another century, however, the whole building became decayed ; and in 1821 the state of the church was such that it became imperative on the heritors either to substantially renew the old structure or provide a new church in its stead. A strong movement was made by certain parishioners resident on the coast side of the parish to have the church removed from the old site to the top of the hill of Banchory, but the minister and several of the heritors were opposed to it. Ultimately estimates were taken for the renewing and enlarging of the old building, and also for erecting a new church from the foundation. It was then found that the one would cost about as much as the other, and, as the leading heritors were in favour of the latter scheme, it was unanimously agreed that the old building should be pulled down, and a substantial one, capable of accommodating nine hundred sitters, erected in its place. The kirk-session records show that the new church was opened for divine service on 29th September, 1822, and that on the previous twenty-five Sundays the congregation had met for worship in the churchyard, where the pulpit and seats had been temporarily set up. It is worthy of note that on none of these twenty-five Sundays had a single drop of rain fallen during the services, whilst on the day the church was opened rain fell heavily. It was not till the year 1865 that the area of the church was floored with wood and a system of heating introduced. Prior to this, rough blocks of stone served as a floor, and the idea of heating would have been considered grossly extravagant.

The old church bell, believed to have been cast in the year 1597, having become useless, was sold in 1868. It bore the following inscription, which is old German :— H B. Alleine . Got . In . Der . Hoge . Sei . Ere . 1597. The translation is. Alone to God in Heaven be Praise. A new bell was provided and hung, but it possesses nothing like the rich and mellow tone of the old one.

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