The Pictish Nation:12 – Chapter 6


Between the years 400 and 432 A.D. the Church of the Picts, as we have noted, was founded, and gradually extended, by S. Ninian the bishop, a Briton, working from the Brito-Pictish mother-Church which he had established at Candida Casa (Whithorn) about A.D. 397- S. Ninian had been a pupil of S. Martin who laboured among the Celts of Poictiers, and who also ministered as bishop at the Celtic military city of Tours from the year 372. S. Martin was regarded as the inventor of a new organization for the Christian ministry; although, in reality.he only revived the old apostolic organization and multiplied it. He embodied active, ascetic, missionary ministers in small clans called muinntirs under a president or father, known, at first, among the Celts by the Greek title of Papa (This name, lifted from the Greek nurseries, was in S. Martin’s time a current title among the Greek Christians for a Christian minister and, later, by the Syrian title of Ab. These religious clans S. Martin fitted into the clan-system of the Celts of Gaul.

S. Ninian imitated his master S. Martin to the smallest detail in method and organization. When he returned from Gaul to Britain, shortly before A.D. 397, he settled at Candida Casa in Galloway with certain companions. Ailred, who had the Old Life of S. Ninian to guide him, but interpreted it  by his own mediaeval ideas, assumed that these companions were ‘masons.’ They were, without doubt, his muinntir or ‘family’ including artisan brethren such as accompanied S. Martin’s other missionaries, and all the Celtic missionaries after them, for the purpose of helping to organize and build up congregations; because to the Celts the Church was the Christian people rather than the Christian buildings. S. Ninian imported even the names of S. Martin’s houses from Gaul to Galloway. CandidaCasa,White Hut,is simply a translation of.’Logo-Tigiac’ or Leuko-Teiac, Bright-White Hut, the name of the bothy on S. Hilary’s farm near Ligugé where S. Martin first organized his ‘family’ or community. For the various forms of this name in Latin Logotigiacum, Locotegiacum, Lucoteiac, of Gregory of Tours, Fortunatus, and Longnon’s map of Gaul.The use of the diminutive teiac or casa prevents us rom thinking of Candida Casa as the conspicuous stone building which Ailred implies. It was more likely to have been, like the buildings which were afterwards modelled from it, a modest house suited for prayer and the dispensation of the sacraments to mall gatherings. This view is supported by the references to Candida Casa when Paulinus of York  and F. A. Alcuin gave help to prevent its dilapidation. These ‘White Houses’ are  found associated with Celtic Churches from Dornoch in the north of Pictland to Ty Gwyn ar Dav mong the Britons, in Wales.

Again, S. Martin’s community were housed, like S. Ninian’s followers who imitated them, in hutlets or cells. The whole community at Tours as called, and the name still survives, ‘Marmoutier,Magnum Monasterium, the big muinntir or community. S. Ninian’scommunity  at Candida Casa was called ‘Magnum Monasterium’ by the Latin writers, indicating that he had also imported the name Mormuinntir. Just as S. Martin had his Cave or Retreat in the sandstone rocks at Marmoutier so S. Ninian had is Retreat at the Cave in the rocks on the shore at Glaston, now Glasserton,a place much venerated of yore, which has yielded many interesting sculptured stones, and whose traditions and antiquity have been ascribed by the fabulists andignorant writers of the middle ages to Glaston of Somerset, now Glastonbury.

In describing S. Ninian’s mission-work in Pictland of Alba, now Scotland, Ailred(109-1166) drawing on
the Old Life, writes: ‘The holy bishop began to ordain presbyters, consecrate bishops, distribute the other dignities of the ecclesiastical ranks, and divide the whole land into distinct districts. Having confirmed in faith and good works the sons whom he had begotten in Christ, and having set in honour all things that referred to the honour of God and the welfare of souls, S. Ninian bade the brethren farewell and returned tohisown Church (Candida Casa).’ This description, allowing for Ailred’s rather grand way of expressing himself,appears to be taken from the Old Life; because the procedure ascribed to S.Ninian and the nature of the work accomplished were contrary to the rules and claims of the Roman Church in whose interest Ailred was re-writing the Saint’s Life.

Venerable Bede (673-735) as Ailred knew, had previouslyin the eighth century, incidentally, and without details, described S. Ninian’s mission into Pictland. Bede, however, was quite untravelled, and drew his geographical details from the library at Jarrow, with the result, as his writings indicate,that he fell a victim to Ptolemy’s Geography and its famous error with regard to Scotland. If amap be sketched according to the measurementsgiven by Ptolemy; Pictland, or the greater part of what is now Scotland, is thrown into the North Sea at right angles to England. Consequently,our westof Pictland (Scotland) was Ptolemy’s and Bede’s north and our east of Pictland was Ptolemy’s and Bede’s south.The persistent failure of historians to translate Bede’s geographical terms into harmony with modern geography has led to the falsification of the localities and the extent both of S. Ninian’s and of S. Columba’s work in Pictland. Ptolemy was wonderfiilly accurate in the data which he tabulated. The error in this instance was due to a mistake in the distance from his initial meridian line to the coast of Pictland or Scotland.

To bolster up the blunder, the ‘Grampians,’ which were nevereither a political frontier or a name* in ancient Pictland.were invented to play the part of ‘Drum-Alban.’ Drum-Alban was the chain of mountains which runs, roughly, northwards from the head of Loch Lomond to Ben Hee in Sutherland, dividing the rivers of Scotland and sending some to theEast and some to the West. The southern end of Drum-Alban corresponds, roughly, to the lineof the border between Argyll and Perthshire. It was the true historical divide between the consolidated nation of the Picts who lay to the East, and the diluted Picts who lay to the West, whoseterritory had been penetrated by the Gaidheals of the Dalriad Colony, and actually overrun bythem, for a time, between the death of Brude Mac Maelchon,A.D. 584, and the reign of Angus I. Mac Fergus,A.D. 729-761. The true name really belongs to Perthshire, and is, correctly, with Latin termination, Graupius (Stokes). The Gaidheals varied it to ‘Dorsum Crup’ and ‘Monid Chroibh,’ to accommodate their dislike of initial G.

With regard to the extent of S. Ninian’s missionto the Picts, Ailred confirms Bede’s account. Bede makes it clear that S.Ninian evangelized the whole Pictish nation, as Bede knew it, namely, Pictland east (Bede’s south) of Drum-Alban, the Gaidhealic or Scotic border (Bede’s north) of Drum Alban was due to S. Columba, that is to say all the Picts in the area ultimately occupied by the Gaidhealic Colonists until the kingdoms of the Picts and Gaidheals were united. Bede’s statement is — ‘For the Southern (our Eastern) Picts themselves, who have settlements up to the inner side of the samemountains(Drum-Alban), long before, as is told, having left the error of idolatry , had received the faith of the Truth fromthe preaching to them of the Word by Ninian the Bishop, amost reverend and most holy man of the nation of the Britons.’

Archaeological examinations of the surface of eastern Scotland have confirmed these accounts of S. Ninian’s work. A chain of S. Ninian’s Church-sites has been traced northwards from Candida Casa, passing through the formerborder-city of Glasgow on the old Brito-Pictish frontier, and extending to S. Ninian’s Isle, Dunrossness, Shetland. At this last site an ancient stone was dug up bearing the inscription in Ogham, ‘The lis (or inclosure) of the son (or disciple) of Ninian the Baptizer.’

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