Pictish Nation-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.’

The ancient Church-sites that represent S.Ninian’s actual foundations among the Britons and Picts were, or are:

at Candida Casa, the mother-establishment, Whithorn, Galloway;

at S. Ninian’s, Colmonell, Ayrshire;

at ‘ Kil Sanct Ninian,’ Ardmillan, Ayrshire;

at ‘Cathures’ on the Molendinar.now the site ofS. Kentigern’s Cathedral, Glasgow;

at ‘An Eaglais,’ the Church, now the Church of St. Ninian’s, Stirling;

at Coupar in Angus, where are S. Ninian’s lands;

at Arbirlot, Forfarshire, where S. Ninian’s Well remains.Here the memory of the locality of S. Ninian’s muinntir was preserved in the name ‘the College,’ which was on the north bank of the ‘Rottenrow’ burn, about a mile north-west of the present Church of Arbirlot. Over twenty years after the dedication, in A.D. i i 78, of the Roman Abbey of Arbroath, the ancient Celtic community of Arbirlot was still represented by a lay Ab and a clerical chaplain, evidently his vicar. Mauricius, Abbe of Abereloth,’ witnessed four charters of Gilchrist, Earl of Angus, between 1201 and I207.

Another site was at ‘S. Ninian’s Inch,’ Arbroath, Forfarshire. The Celtic ‘Inch’ or Innis is no longer current in Arbroath speech. The’ Inch’ was apparently the pasture-stretch on the shore at Seaton, where S. Ninian’s Well is, andwhere there was an ancient Churchyard. The Churchyard was on the high ground of Whiting-Ness headland above the Well. Here several ancient burials were opened out. The original Church was, of course, also at this spot. The situation of the ancient Churchyard, and the position of the Well, with all the surroundings, are strikingly duplicated at S. Ninian’s, Navidale, Sutherland. The whole district is rich in remains of the Pictish Church, including the sites of the Churches of S. Vigean, S. Muredoc, and the graven crosses dug up thereat. George de Brana erected a new Church here in 1483, and dedicated it to S. Ninian, the original founder.

Tracing S. Ninian’s actual foundations farther north, there are sites :

at Dunottar, Kincardineshire, where Earl Marischal, extending the Castle about 1380, invaded the inclosure of the ancient Church of S. Ninian, then in ruins;

at Andat, Methlick, Aberdeenshire. Andat means a Mother-Church;

at S. Ninian’s, Pit Medan, Aberdeenshire. A S. Medan was nearly contemporary with S.Ninian;

at S. Ninian’s, Morayshire, ‘near where Speyenters the sea,’ apparently the pre-Roman Catholic Church of Fochabers;

at S. Ninian’s, ‘ Diser,’ % in Moray, believed to beat Dyke;

at ‘An Teampul or ‘ Tempul Rinian,’ LochNess, Inverness-shire;

at Fearn, Edderton, Ross-shire, the original siteofthe Celtic Abbey of Fearn; and, for a short time, the site of the Roman Catholic Abbey ofFearn.the Roman Abbey was moved to Nova Farina,the present Fearn, south of Tain, in 1238. TheAbbey of Fearn remained a daughter-house of Candida Casa, from the Celtic Church period until about the time of the Reformation. Part of the memorial cross, dating eighth century, of Reodatius, Ab of the Celtic Abbey, has been recovered, and the uncial inscription has been read,’In the name of Jesus Christ. A cross of Christ, in memory of Reodatius. “May he rest(in Christ).” Reodaidhe, Ab of Fearna, according to the Annals of Ulster, died A.D. 762.

Tracing S. Ninian’s foundations still farthernorthward there are sites :

at S. Ninian’s, Navidale (‘Ni’andal’), Sutherland,where in one ofthe graves of the Churchyard were found a bronze knife, a flint implement,and the palmated antler of one of the extinct deer. His well, ‘Tober ‘inian,’ flows in the gorge near the Churchyard.

at S. Ninian’s, Head of Wick, where the inlet below is known as Papigoe, the Papa’s(Cleric’s) inlet,

at S. Ninian’s, Orkney, now North Ronaldshay;

at S. Ninian’s Isle, Dunrossness, Shetland, where the stone with Ogham characters was recovered, which indicates that the site was occupied by members of S.Ninian’s ecclesiastical ‘family.’

This chain of Church-sites, almost prehistoric, and the Church-sites, bearing later native names, that historically were linked on to it, and the ancient stones with Pictish symbols whose meaning has been forgotten, which these sites have yielded, confirm decidedly and accurately Bede’s information that S. Ninian christianized the Southern (our Eastern) Picts; and also Ailred’s statement,drawn doubtless from the Old Life, that he divided the whole land, namely Pictland, into distinct districts.

When, further, we consider this chain of ancient Church-sites bearing S. Ninian’s name in the light of the historical canon  that early Celtic,and especially Pictish, Churches took their names from their founders, the confirmation of Bede and Ailred is conclusive. Historians have seldom troubled to diflferentiate between Churches which were actual foundations by a missionary-saint, and late Churches which were merely dedications to his memory, or dedications under his supposed protection. Even the Roman Church did not dedicate its Churches for some centuries; and, at first, to martyrs only. The Celts did not dedicatetheir Churches until the eighth century whenthey began to be romanized. The Pictish Church, as a Church, did not dedicate at all. The attempts to dedicate Churches in the eighth century, underthe Sovereigns Nechtan and Angus I., and later,when the Pictish Church was closing its existence, were the efforts of individuals who hadcome under Roman Catholic influences.

Such few dedications as were made in Pictland during the last period of the Pictish Churchwere made by Roman Catholics to Roman, not to native saints. Wherever the Roman missionaries were able to assert any power they systematically sought to displace the original and nativesaint who had founded the Church of a town, and tried to substitute a Roman saint. At St. Andrews they displaced S. Cainnech by S. Andrew ; at Rosemarkie they tried to displace S. Moluag by S. Peter; at Deer they tried to displace S. Drostan by S. Peter; at Dornoch they tried to displace S.Finbar by S. Mary; at Arbroath, somewhat later, William the Lion, who betrayed so many of his country’s interests, set up a shrine and stately abbey dedicated to Thomas a Becket, in an attempt to supersede the neighbouring Churches of S. Ninian and S. Vigean, men to whom the district owed a real debt of veneration.

Frequently when the native clerics did not themselves resist, thepeople refused to allow the ancient Celtic foundations to be superseded. At Arbroath Thomas aBecket’s Abbey became a melancholy desecrated ruin; but in the original parishof S.Vigean’s intowhich the Abbey was intruded, one of its two ancient Churches, namely, S. Vigean’s, still survives with someof its ancient Pictish stone crosses; and it has happened similarly elsewhere in Pictland.There was more resentment at the Reformationagainst the Roman Church because it was foreign than has been allowed. The people, frequently, steadily insisted on burying their dead around the spots where the Pictish missionaries had first preached the Gospel to their forefathers, even when the Roman and post-Reformation clergy had withdrawn their patronage from these Pictishpioneers. The efforts of the Roman mission to blot out such names as S. Ninian’s from local memory often resulted in imprinting them more deeply; and so indicating clearly to later generations the older and native missionaries of theChristian Church.

After S. Ninian had established his Mission-Churches, in Pictland and had put them in charge of ‘brethren,’ as Ailred tells us, ‘he bade the brethren farewell and returned to his own Church’ at Candida Casa. At this point the historians usually take farewell of S. Ninian and drop all noticeof his Pictish mission, as if it had been ‘left in the air.’ S. Ninian, however, had organized his great mission to christianize the Picts that there might be abiding protection to the interests of thegrowing Christianity and civilization of the Britons. . He was an ecclesiastical statesman too thorough in his methods to leave his chief mission ‘in the air.’ The existence of the names of his successors in connection with Pictish Churches that owed their origin to Candida Casa ought to have warned historians that S. Ninian’s Mission-Churches survived and continued in communion with Candida Casa; and that they were supplied with a ministry therefrom, or from daughter-houses, long after S. Ninian had passed away.Fortunately there are fragments in the Lives of the Irish Pictish missionaries which settle this beyond dispute.

Comments are closed.