Friday, 7 August 2015

St Drostan and Other Early Saints

There may be no agreed patron saint of Angus as such, but there are some candidates among the Dark Age clerics who are known to have arrived here.  Chief among them may be St Drostan son of Cosgrach.  Despite having a conspicuously Pictish name, the 16th century Aberdeen Breviary makes him a product of the royal family of the Scots who studied under his uncle St Columba in Ireland.  He became an abbot in that country then crossed the sea to seek a spiritual life of solitude in deserted places.  He built his kirk in Glenesk and lived as a hermit  there.  It may have been here that he restored the sight of a man named Simon. Drostan moved away from the area, but his memory lingered in this Angus glen.  Tarfside village was for a long time named after him as Droustie.  There was also a Droustie Well nearby and a Droustie Meadow.  The old foundation of Lochlee parish was called the Kirk of Droustie.  His cult spread out of the glen and eastwards into the Mearns where, at Newdosk, he had a church and a well dedicated to him in Piper’s Shade.  This well was famous for its curative powers, but jealous local healers tried to poison it.  Followers of the saint were outraged and slew the healers, burying them in a rather pagan fashion around the holy spring.  St Drostan himself went northwards and found fame as the founder of the Abbey of Deer in Aberdeenshire., miraculously extorting the land for the monastery from the local mormaer, who at first refused the grant until his son fell mortally ill and he gave in to the cleric, whereupon his son was cured.
   Three supposed disciples of Drostan - Colm, Medan and Fergus - were also honoured in Angus.  St Fergus we have encountered as the first known inhabitant of Glamis (albeit in a secluded cave). He was another peripatetic Irishman, who lived in Strathgeath, Caithness and Glamis before founding his holy tabenacle at Glamis.   His mortal remains were removed (stolen?) from his rightful resting place here and removed westwards to Scone Abbey.  St Colm was the patron of Cortachy and Clova and also gave his name further east to a well and a mountain near Tarfside.  Medan’s cult links with Airlie appear to be ancient and could even pre-date Christianity.  Until 1859, when it was demolished by a farmer, there was a prehistoric burial mound here named St Madden’s Knowe.  An old document, dated 5th June 1477 (called ‘The Instrument of Sessyn of the Bell’) relates that the ‘Bell of St Madden’ was resigned by its hereditary keeper, Michael David the curate, to the landowner, Sir John Ogilvy of Airlie and Lintrathen.  Ogilvy gave this sacred and symbolic object, obviously a sacred Celtic object, to his wife Margaret, along wit its ‘pertinents, fruits and revenues’ for her life use.  These pertinents includes a house near Lintrathen where David had been the tenant.  In what may have been an immemorial ritual, Margaret was presented with earth and stone, symbols of feudal resignation.  Then she was locked in the house for a time to contemplate her responsibilities as keeper of the sacred object.  Medan was the patron of Kingoldrum parish (between Lintrathen and Kirriemuir), whose church was given to Arbroath Abbey in the 12th century.  Medan may be a different character from the more famous saint of a similar name who is commemorated in Galloway, though quite possibly identical with the patron of Airlie, St Modan.

    According to the Rev, William Wilson in Airlie, A Parish History (1917), the bell was mistakenly and tragically sold for one penny at a furniture sale at the Kirkton of Airlie in the early 19th century. The artefact was broken up for scrap before anyone realised what it was.  Andrew Jervise in Epitaphs & Inscriptions from burial grounds & old buildings in the north-east of Scotland (volume I, 1875, p. 289) reports that an old man had informed him twenty years previously that, some years before that, an old lady had passed away at Burnside of Airlie and among her things was 'an auld rusty thing like a flaggon, that fouk ca'd Maidie's Bell'.  The item was sold along with a lot of household rubbish.

   Many saints’ bells, with their attendant significance which entailed spiritual and temporal power, inevitably fell into the hands of powerful families.  St Fillan’s Bell, owned eventually by the Lindsay Earls of Crawford, was kept by the Durays of Duray-hill, dempsters of the Laird of Edzell.  The Guthries of Guthrie Castle kept an 8th century bell, which later was given to the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh.  Medan’s Bell was accidentally lost in the 19th century.  The bell belonging to the Lindsays was  also later lost.

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