The Pictish Nation:20 – Chapter 8 (Cont’d)

Another legend, the Legend of Fergusianus, gives the credit of the missionary work of S. Fergus of Buchan and Caithness to a certain romanized Celt of late date bearing the same name. The object of this fabulist was evidently to make it appear that the beginnings oi the Roman mission in Pictland were much earlier than was actually the case. S. Drostan and his fellow-workers increased the churches on the south of the Moray Firth, and afterwards crossed the Firth to Caithness and the Orkneys, where they brought many outlying Pictish tribes under the influence of the Gospel. From this community, at a later period, the community of ‘Turbhruad,’ now Turriff, was organized. When S. Comgan (brother of S.Kentigerna, and uncle of S. Fillan, arrived at Turriff, he became Ab of the community. This was some years before a.d. 734, the year of S. Kentigerna’s death.

South of the Moray Firth the following ancient Church-sites represent S.Drostan’s foundations: Aberdour in Buchan; the site of the muinntir of Deer in Buchan ; the Church-sites at Insch in the Garioch, at Rothiemay on the Deveron,at Aberlour on Spey, at Alvie on Spey, at Glen Urquhart, where SS.Ninian and Erchard had previously prepared a way for the Church. S. Colm’s foundations are at Inzie Head, Lonmay; Alvah on the Deveron; Oyne; Daviot, Aberdeenshire ; Belhelvie ;and Birse on the Dee, Aberdeenshire. S. Medan’s foundations are at Fhilorth, near Faithlie ( Fraserburgh), with which was connected the site occupied by a muinntir, and now called ‘the College,’ at ‘Achyseipel,’ Field of the Chapel, Fingask, near Fraserburgh. Also the chapel-site, Pitmedan of Udny. S. Fergus’s sites are at Kirktonhead, formerly Lungley, described in documents as ‘near Inverugie.’

The following are the Church-sites of S. Drostan and his fellow-workers in Caithness, across the Moray Firth from Buchan. S.Drostan’s foundations are Kirk o’ ‘Tear,’ that is the Caithness pronunciation of ‘Deer.’ The D of Drostan and of Deer became a T in this part of Pictland. Mr. Mackay, of Westerdale, recovered the charter which disclosed the original name of this church, and also, that into the Roman Catholic period the Abbot of Deer still held its lands. A popular legend turned the name into ‘Kirk of Tears,’ and connected it with a celebration of Innocents’ Day, which was really a celebration of S. Drostan’s Day, Old Style.The saint carried the name of his Buchan muinntir into this new field. Also ‘S. Drostan’s,’ the site of the Church of Canisbay; ‘S. Drostan’s,’ Church-site at Brabstermire; S. Drostan’s, ‘Trothan’s,’ Castletown of Olrig; a Church-site and churchyard at Westerdale on the Thurso river; and the Church-site and churchyard at ‘S. Trostan’s,’ Westfield, Caithness.

S. Colm’s foundations are at the sandburied township of Old Tain, Caithness, and at Hoy, Orkney. S. Medan’s foundations are at Freswick and ‘Bower-Madan,’ that is, House of Medan. This name is regarded as the Viking equivalent of the earlier Both-Medan. Foundations of S.Fergus are at Wick, where his church, after the town had extended in that direction, superseded the earlier foundation of S. Ninian at ‘the Head’; and at Halkirk (High Church), which, in later centuries, became the first seat of the Roman Catholic bishops of Caithness.

While S. Drostan and ‘his three ‘were extending the Church in the northern parts of Pictland of Alba, other Britons, and certain Irish Picts were maintaining a ministry in the southern parts, or in the Brito-Pictish border districts. The names of many of these workers have been forgotten within a comparatively recent period. Some names have been corrupted beyond identification by foreign scribes of charters. Other names, however, still associated with ancient Church foundations in the south are noteworthy. For example, Mochaoi or Mochai, Kessoc, Cadoc, Gildas, Dewi (David), Machan, Llolan, and Brioc. Remembering the canon of Celtic Church history, that the early Celts gave to a Church the name of its actual founder and did not dedicate, the affiliation of ancient Church-sites to these men is a guarantee, apart from any records, of personal work at the site in time bygone. Moreover, the locality of these men’s activities in the late fifth or the early sixth century shows clearly that the historical S. Patrick’s denunciation of the Picts as ‘apostatae’ in the Epistle to Coroticus was either an embittered cleric’s wrathful exaggeration, or a reference to a very local declension from orthodox ways.

As early as the latter half of the fifth century S. Mochaoi or Mochai had taken part in S. Ninian’s evangelization of the western Britons and the Picts to the north of them. S. Mochaoi was an Irish Pict. He died c. A.D. 496. He was the son of Bronagh, daughter of Maelchon, S. Patrick’s taskmaster. It is not told where he was trained; but he became first Ab of Aondruim on Mahee Island, Strangford Lough. The religious community at Aondruim worked in concert with the greater community organized by S. Ninian at Candida Casa. The pupils of Aondruim after a certain stage of progress were sent to Candida Casa to complete their training, the best-known example being S. Finbar of Maghbile and Dornoch. S. Mochaoi’s foundations in Alba are still indicated at Kirkmahoe f in Dumfriesshire, ‘ Kilmahew’ J at Cardross in Lennox, and ‘ Kilmoha’ on the western shore of Loch Awe in Argyll.

This field as opened up by S. Mochaoi was effectively occupied in the early years of the sixth century by S. Kessoc or Mokessog, who christianized the ancient district of Lennox while its inhabitants were Brito-Pictish. S. Kessoc was one of the sons of the ruler of Munster who had his capital at Cashel. He was educated and trained in Munster, throughout which S. Ailbhe, whose community was at Imleach, taught under the king’s protection. The date of S. Kessoc’s activities is given as from c. a.d. 520. This is confirmed by the date of S, Ailbhe’s death which took place a.d, 526.f The following historical items are all more or less related to one another, and to S. Kessoc’s work. S. Mochaoi was the first Ab of the community of Aondruim, which was one of the earliest religious communities in Ireland, and which was also in commun ion with thegreater and older community which was founded by S. Ninian at Candida Casa. Before settling at Aondruim heconductedamission which extended from the Nith into Lennox and what afterwards became Argyll while these two last districts were Brito-Pictish. Among others sent to occupy the field opened;’up by S. Mochaoi, S. Kessoc came in the course of a few years. He not only participated in religious work among the Britons but completed theconversion of the Picts of Lennox.

While S. Kessoc was gathering converts in Lennox two other missionaries were engaged in like work on the borders of that district. One was S. Fillan or Faolan who, as we have noticed, was a member of the royal family of Munster, like S.Kessoc himself, and so related to him ; and both S. Fillan and S. Kessoc had been attracted to religious work through the efforts of the mission composed of Irish Picts which S. Ailbhe led into Munster, and which he established there by the goodwill of the king. The other missionary was S. Colm or Colman or Colmoc, first of Inchmaholm in Menteith, and afterwards of Dromore in Ulster, like S. Ailbhe, an Irish Pict. S. Ailbhe, who had a working intercourse with both Candida Casa and Aondruim, selected S. Colm from the latter community while S. Caolan, S. Mochaoi’s successor, was Ab,to accompany himself and his Pictish fellow- workers in the mission which resulted in the conversion of Munster.

When S.Ailbhe was inhibited from going to Alba by the king of Munster, SS. Fillan and Colm were members of the missionary band, as we have already noted, who went in his stead. It is evident that S. Kessoc also went with them, or joined them later, because we find one Church-site bearing S. Kessoc’s name at Comrie near S. Fillan s headquarters, and another at Callander  near S. Colm’s headquarters. S. Colm was Ab and bishop, S. Fillan an Ab, S. Kessoc an Ab and bishop. Church-sites bearing S. Kessoc’s name, besides those mentioned, are, or were, at Auchterarder, at Luss, at ‘Balmokessaik,’ S. Kessoc’s town, on the lands of Ardstinchar in Carrick, and ‘ Kessoktoun’ in the old parish of ‘Senwick’ now merged in Borgue, Galloway. S. Kessoc’s muinntiryfas accommodated on “Innis na mhannock” in Loch Lomond. There is a Lennox tradition that the saint was buried in Carnmokessoc at Bandry, Luss, in Lennox. S. Kessoc was venerated as a martyr by the people, although martyrs were most rare in early times among the Celtic saints of Alba. There is no doubt that this veneration had a historical foundation; and there is something suspicious in the fact that the details of his martyrdom have not been preserved.

From an early period S. Kessoc was honoured as the soldier’s saint. His name was a rallying cry in battle. In old sketches he is depicted as a soldier with his bow and arrow at ‘the ready.’ All that is known about him in this connection is that the saint was a soldier-prince before he became a missionary. A biographical fragment states that he died among aliens, and that his body was carried to Luss for burial. The traditional year of his death is A.D.560. It illuminates this occurrence to remember that the year 560 was the one in which Brude Mac Maelchon, sovereign of Pictland, began the war which ended in the great drive, ‘inmirge,’in which the Gaidheals or Scots, who had begun to intrude too far into Pictland, were expelled from the Pictish dominions, except a broken remnant which was shut up in Cantyre. S. Kessoc’s mission-area was partly involved in this drive; and it is known that the region of his headquarters was devastated by the embittered fugitives, anticipating the vengeance which twenty odd years later Aedhan ‘the false’ was to exact from that same district, after S. Columba had ordained him head of the Gaidheals or Scots.

It is more than likely that in King Brude’swar topreservethe independence of Pictland, which incidentally included the independence of the Pictish Church, S. Kessoc laid aside his staff and resumed the weapons of his youth, took part in the struggle, and fell in the territory of Dalriada from whence his body was returned to Luss. The Gaidheals, or Scots, who supplied almost the sole editors of our earliest records, would naturally take care that the details of such a martyrdom did not filter through to history;although popular tradition, as in other instances, could not be silenced. It was in no inconspicuous military enterprise that S. Kessoc fell; and it must have been in a cause regarded as sacred and national before the descendants of the Brito-Pictish tribes in the Clyde area would have persisted in remembering him as the only soldier-saint and soldier-martyr in our history.

This entry was posted in Article. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.