Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Early Church in Monikie, Monifieth and a girl called Mouren

The lands around the Tay were a crucible for early Christianity, though we know that other saints, mostly Irish, penetrated into Angus:  St Buitte in Kirkbuddo, St Drostan in Glen Esk, St Fergus at Glamis, plus St Donald in Glen Ogilvy, to name a handful.  But places on the River Tay and further down the Fife coast have a special place in this probably un-writable story of Pictish conversion. Abernethy and Invergowrie feature in this story, but another intriguing area is Monifieth and its neighbouring parish of Monikie in Angus.

  One of the intriguing mysteries is how St Andrew came to be the patron saint of Scotland, trumping the powerful challenge of Colum Cille or st Columba of Iona.  One respectable theory says that the Picts picked this foreign saint in an effort to resist the cultural take-over from the 'family of Iona', centring his cult in the place which became known as St Andrews.  But what truth is there in the legend that one St Rule came by sea from Constantinople to Pictland, bringing this apostle's holy bones with him?  There are several versions of this 'St Andrews Legend' and all of them are frustrating.

   In the year 834, the Pictish king Angus [II] mac Fergus died and some sources credit him with the foundation of the cult centre of St Andrews at Kilrimund, following the arrival of St Rule (or Regulus) with his followers.  To muddy the water, the monastery at this place, also known as Cendrigmonaid, may in fact have been founded during the reign of the first Angus mac Fergus (c. 729 x 747).  Leaving that annoying anomaly aside, the version of the legend we should consider is contained in the St Andrews abstract, and there it is stated that the account derived from a memorial written by a cleric named Thana son of Dudabrach, in Meigle, during the reign of the Pictish king 'Pherath son of Bergath' (839 x 842).  It is interesting that Meigle, a parish which sits in Perthshire but juts into Angus, was a very early Pictish Christian site, comparable to St Vigeans near Arbroath in Angus.  The local connection perhaps helps to authenticate the tradition.

   Thana stated that Regulus met the Pictish king and his three sons at Forteviot in Perthshire, which was indeed an important royal Pictish power centre.  Then they travelled to meet Queen Findchaem (or Finchem) at a place named 'Moneclatu, which is now called Monichi', where the queen gives birth to a daughter named Mouren, who was afterwards buried at Kilrimund, and Findcaem gives this place to God and St Andrew.  They then journey across the mountains to a lake called Doldencha.  Then the saint returns with the king across Moneth to Monichi, Forteviot, and Kilrimund.  Part of the intention of the story was doubtless to justify the later ecclesiastical possessions of St Andrews. The place across the Moneth is reckoned to be Kindrochet in Braemar, Aberdeenshire (dedicated to St Andrew).  But Monichi is probably not to be equated with Monikie in Angus, similar as the names are, because that parish was in the possession of the see of Brechin, not St Andrews.  Next door, in Monifieth parish, there was an ancient church called Eglis Monichti, in the see of St Andrew.  The Latin derived eglis (ecclesia) points to a very significantly early Christian foundation.  We also have to admit the presence of St Andrews Well in Monikie.  For many centuries there was a Trewell Fair held in Monifieth, the name being a contraction of St Rewell or Ruil, possibly the St Rule of the St Andrews Legend.  This St Rule may ultimately have been a real person, the Irish cleric St Riaguil of Muicc Innis.  His feast day  corresponds with the date of the fair, the second Tuesday in October.  It was this Irishman who showed significant interest in our area by composing a poem celebrating King Brude's victory at the Battle of Dunnichen in 685.  Was the Irishman recast as a Continental by Picts anxious to escape the shadow of Iona?

   Further evidence of the early church in the area is attested by the presence of the arcane order known as the Culdees (celi de, 'servants of God') at Monifieth.  In the year 1242, Matilda,Countess of Angus, gifted to the church of Arbroath all the land on the south side of Monifieth which the Keledei had held in the time of her father.  Malcolm, Earl of Angus, issued a charter 22 years earlier, and one of the witnesses was a Nicholas son of Bricus, one of whose titles was abthein of Monifeith, an ancient Cletic church role.  While it cannot be proven that there was a continuous Celtic Christian settlement here from Pictish times, right through to the 13th century, the case for some kind of continuity is compelling.

   And, if nothing else had been learned, at least we have the first known named child who was born in Angus - Princess Mouren.  It was conjectured (by Bishop Forbes in Kalendars of Scottish Saints)that the place of birth of this princess was at the ancient chapel and settlement of Eglismonichtie now long since vanished.
The Tay Coast close to Monifieth.


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