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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter XLV. - The Patron Saint

SAINT ANGUS, the patron saint of Balquhidder, appears to have belonged to the eighth or ninth century. Perhaps he might have been Angus of the Feilire. The Balquhidder church was the only one dedicated to his memory. I found local tradition very vivid about him. He had evidently lived long and worked with success in the parish. He very likely belonged to the Pictish Church after it had asserted its independence of lona. The hillock on which he used to preach is still called "Beannach Aonghais," which means "the Blessing of Angus."

He had a stone built oratory Oirrionn Aonghais in the field below the church and churchyard. I saw the large foundation stones of this oratory removed from the middle of the cornfield in which they had been tolerated out of reverence age after age, although certainly very inconvenient to the Kirkton farmers. The oratory had been a small but solidly constructed building very unlike the perishable wooden structures of the early Columbans. Angus died in Balquhidder, and was buried inside the parish church, or, more likely, the parish church was built afterwards over his grave. On his grave was placed a flagstone on which was sculptured, in outline, the figure of a man in a clerical garment. This flagstone, named after Angus "Clach Aonghais," is still to the fore. I have no doubt that the grave and its flagstone were, in pre-Reformation days, in front of the high altar which, irrespective of the reverence in which the patron saint was held, would make it necessary for people marrying to exchange their matrimonial vows upon it. The small old chancel was excluded from Lord Scone's rebuilt church, but Clach Aonghais was taken in and placed in the passage before the pulpit so that people coming to marry could still exchange vows upon it. The harmless superstitious belief that a special blessing was obtainable by being married on Clach Aonghais was tolerated by Protestant ministers for two hundred years. But shortly before 1800, during the incumbency of Mr Stewart, the last of the ministers presented by the Atholl family, the church was re-seated and re-arranged inside. The pulpit and Clach Aonghais then lost their old relative positions, and the minister then, for the first time, apparently, understood the significance attached to the sacred flagstone, and realised the tenacity with which the people held to the custom of being married upon it. Mr Stewart was a true blue Presbyterian, and he summarily put an end to the ancient custom of Balquhidder marriage rites by putting Clach Aonghais out into the churchyard. When Mr David Carnegie built the handsome present church fifty odd years later, taking the old one for his family burial place, Clach Aonghais was taken inside the picturesque ruins, and placed up- right against a part of the old wall. By all accounts Mr Stewart was a painstaking, hard working, arid efficient parish minister, who had no tolerance for what he called Popish superstitions. No doubt it was he who, when the church was re-seated, caused the rudely massive old boulder-stone font to be buried out of sight under the floor. It was dug up when the inside of the church was being prepared for burial vaults, and so was the skull, with a ball rattling within it, of that unfortunate Stewart laird of Glenbuckie, who was found dead in bed at Leny House after a convivial gathering of post-Culloden Jacobites.

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