Stone Circles

In glancing at the superstitions connected with Scottish lochs and
springs, we are called upon to scan a chapter of our social history
not yet closed. A somewhat scanty amount of information is available
to explain the origin and growth of such superstitions, but enough can
be had to connect them with archaic nature-worship. In the dark dawn
of our annals much confusion existed among our ancestors concerning
the outer world, which so strongly appealed to their senses. They
had very vague notions regarding the difference between what we now
call the Natural and the Supernatural. Indeed all nature was to them
supernatural. They looked on sun, moon, and star, on mountain and
forest, on river, lake, and sea as the abodes of divinities, or even
as divinities themselves. These divinities, they thought, could either
help or hurt man, and ought therefore to be propitiated. Hence sprang
certain customs which have survived to our own time. Men knocked at
the gate of Nature, but were not admitted within. From the unknown
recesses there came to them only tones of mystery.

In ancient times water was deified even by such civilised nations as
the Greeks and Romans, and to-day it is revered as a god by untutored
savages. Sir John Lubbock, in his “Origin of Civilisation,” shows, by
reference to the works of travellers, what a hold this cult still has
in regions where the natives have not yet risen above the polytheistic
stage of religious development. Dr. E. B. Tylor forcibly remarks, in
his “Primitive Culture,” “What ethnography has to teach of that great
element of the religion of mankind, the worship of well and lake, brook
and river, is simply this–that what is poetry to us was philosophy
to early man; that to his mind water acted not by laws of force, but
by life and will; that the water-spirits of primæval mythology are
as souls which cause the water’s rush and rest, its kindness and its
cruelty; that, lastly, man finds in the beings which, with such power,
can work him weal and woe, deities with a wider influence over his
life, deities to be feared and loved, to be prayed to and praised,
and propitiated with sacrificial gifts.”

In speaking of inanimate objects, we often ascribe life to them;
but our words are metaphors, and nothing more. At an earlier time
such phrases expressed real beliefs, and were not simply the outcome
of a poetic imagination. Keats, in one of his Sonnets, speaks of

“The moving waters at their priest-like task
Of pure ablution round Earth’s human shore.”

Here he gives us the poetical and not the actual interpretation of
a natural phenomenon.

We may, if we choose, talk of the worship of water as a creed outworn,
but it is still with us, though under various disguises. Under the form
of rites of divination practised as an amusement by young persons, such
survivals often conceal their real origin. The history of superstition
teaches us with what persistence pagan beliefs hold their ground
in the midst of a Christian civilisation. Martin, who visited the
Western Islands at the close of the seventeenth century, found how
true this was in many details of daily life. A custom connected with
ancient sea-worship had been popular among the inhabitants of Lewis
till about thirty-years before his visit, but had been suppressed
by the Protestant clergy on account of its pagan character. This was
an annual sacrifice at Hallow-tide to a sea god called Shony. Martin
gives the following account of the ceremony:–“The inhabitants round
the island came to the church of St. Mulvay, having each man his
provision along with him; every family furnished a peck of malt, and
this was brewed into ale; one of their number was picked out to wade
into the sea up to the middle, and, carrying a cup of ale in his hand,
standing still in that posture, cried out with a loud voice, saying,
‘Shony, I give you this cup of ale, hoping that you’ll be so kind as
to send us plenty of sea-ware for enriching our ground the ensuing
year,’ and so threw the cup of ale into the sea. This was performed
in the night-time.”

Sailors and fishermen still cherish superstitions of their own. Majesty
is not the only feature of the changeful ocean that strikes them. They
are keenly alive to its mystery and to the possibilities of life
within its depths. Strange creatures have their home there, the mighty
sea serpent and the less formidable mermen and mermaidens. Among
the Shetland islands mer-folk were recognised denizens of the sea,
and were known by the name of Sea-trows.

These singular beings dwelt in the caves of ocean, and came up
to disport themselves on the shores of the islands. A favourite
haunt of theirs was the Ve Skerries, about seven miles north-west
of Papa-Stour. They usually rose through the water in the shape of
seals, and when they reached the beach they slipped off their skins
and appeared like ordinary mortals, the females being of exceeding
beauty. If the skins could be snatched away on these occasions, their
owners were powerless to escape into the sea again. Sometimes these
creatures were entangled in the nets of fishermen or were caught by
hooks. If they were shot when in seal form, a tempest arose as soon
as their blood was mingled with the water of the sea. A family living
within recent times was believed to be descended from a human father
and a mermaid mother, the man having captured his bride by stealing her
seal’s skin. After some years spent on land this sea lady recovered
her skin, and at once returned to her native element. The members of
the family were said to have hands bearing some resemblance to the
forefeet of a seal.

“Of all the old mythological existences of Scotland,” remarks Hugh
Miller, in his “Scenes and Legends of the North of Scotland,” “there
was none with whom the people of Cromarty were better acquainted than
with the mermaid. Thirty years have not yet gone by since she has
been seen by moonlight sitting on a stone in the sea, a little to the
east of the town; and scarcely a winter passed, forty years earlier,
in which she was not heard singing among the rocks or seen braiding
up her long yellow tresses on the shore.”

The magical power ascribed to the sea is shown in an Orcadian witch
charm used in the seventeenth century. The charm had to do with the
churning of butter. Whoever wished to take advantage of it watched on
the beach till nine waves rolled in. At the reflux of the last the
charmer took three handfuls of water from the sea and carried them
home in a pail. If this water was put into the churn there would be
a plentiful supply of butter. Sea water was also used for curative
purposes, the patient being dipped after sunset. This charm was thought
to savour strongly of the black art. Allusion has been made above to
the rising of a storm in connection with the wounding of a sea-trow
in Shetland. According to an Orcadian superstition, the sea began
to swell whenever anyone with a piece of iron about him stept upon a
certain rock at the Noup Head of Westray. Not till the offending metal
was thrown into the water did the sea become calm again. Wallace,
a minister at Kirkwall towards the end of the seventeenth century,
mentions this belief in his “Description of the Isles of Orkney,”
and says that he offered a man a shilling to try the experiment,
but the offer was refused. It does not seem to have occurred to him
to make the experiment himself.

Among the ancient Romans the bull was sacred to Neptune, the sea
god, and was sacrificed in his honour. In our own country we find a
suggestion of the same rite, though in a modified form, in the custom
prevailing at one time of leading animals into the sea on certain
festivals. In the parish of Clonmany in Ireland it was formerly
customary on St. Columba’s Day, the ninth of June, to drive cattle
to the beach and swim them in the sea near to where the water from
the Saint’s well flowed in. In Scotland horses seem at one time to
have undergone a similar treatment at Lammas-tide. Dalyell, in his
“Darker Superstitions of Scotland,” mentions that “in July, 1647,
the kirk-session of St. Cuthbert’s Church, Edinburgh, resolved on
intimating publicly ‘that non goe to Leith on Lambmes-day, nor tak
their horses to be washed that day in the sea.'”

A belief at one time existed that it was unlucky to rescue a drowning
man from the grasp of the sea. This superstition is referred to by
Sir Walter Scott in “The Pirate,” in the scene where Bryce the pedlar
warns Mordaunt against saving a shipwrecked sailor. “Are you mad,”
said the pedlar, “you that have lived sae lang in Zetland, to risk the
saving of a drowning man? Wot ye not, if you bring him to life again,
he will be sure to do you some capital injury?” We discover the key
to this strange superstition in the idea entertained by savages that
the person falling into the water becomes the prey of the monster
or demon inhabiting that element; and, as Dr. Tylor aptly remarks,
“to save a sinking man is to snatch a victim from the very clutches
of the water-spirit–a rash defiance of deity which would hardly
pass unavenged.”

Folklore thus brings us face to face with beliefs which owe their
origin to the primitive worship of the sea. It also allows us to catch
a glimpse of rivers, lakes, and springs as these were regarded by our
distant ancestors. When we remember that, according to a barbaric
notion, the current of a stream flows down along one bank and up
along the other, we need not be surprised that very crude fancies
concerning water at one time flourished in our land.

Even to us, with nineteenth-century science within reach, how
mysterious a river seems, as, in the quiet gloaming or in the grey
dawn, it glides along beneath overhanging trees, and how full of
life it is when, swollen by rain, it rushes forward in a resistless
flood! How much more awe-inspiring it must have been to men ignorant
of the commonest laws of Nature! Well might its channel be regarded as
the home of a spirit eager to waylay and destroy the too-venturesome
passer-by. Rivers, however, were not always reckoned the enemies of
man, for experience showed that they were helpful, as well as hurtful,
to him. The Tiber, for instance, was regarded with reverence by the
ancient inhabitants of Rome. Who does not remember the scene in one
of Macaulay’s Lays, where, after the bridge has been hewn down to
block the passage of Lars Porsena and his host, the valiant Horatius

“O Tiber! father Tiber!
To whom the Romans pray;
A Roman’s life, a Roman’s arms,
Take thou in charge this day?”

Then with his harness on his back he plunges headlong into the flood,
and reaches the other side in safety.

In Christian art pagan symbolism continued long to flourish. Proof
of this bearing on the present subject is to be found in a mosaic at
Ravenna, of the sixth century, representing the baptism of Christ. The
water flows from an inverted urn, held by a venerable figure typifying
the river god of the Jordan, with reeds growing beside his head,
and snakes coiling around it.

In our own country healing virtue was attributed to water taken
from what was called a dead and living ford, i.e., a ford where the
dead were carried and the living walked across. The same belief was
entertained with regard to the water of a south-running stream. The
patient had to go to the spot and drink the water and wash himself in
it. Sometimes his shirt was taken by another, and, after being dipped
in the south-running stream, was brought back and put wet upon him. A
wet shirt was also used as a Hallowe’en charm to foretell its owner’s
matrimonial future. The left sleeve of the shirt was to be dipped
in a river where “three lairds’ lands met.” It was then to be hung
up overnight before the fire. If certain rules were attended to, the
figure of the future spouse would appear and turn the sleeve in order
to dry the other side. In the Highlands the water of a stream was used
for purposes of sorcery till quite lately. When any one wished evil to
another he made a clay image of the person to be injured, and placed
it in a stream with the head of the image against the current. It was
believed that, as the clay was dissolved by the water, the health of
the person represented would decline. The spell, however, would be
broken if the image was discovered and removed from the stream. In
the counties of Sutherland and Ross the practice survived till within
the last few years. Near Dunskey, in the parish of Portpatrick,
Wigtownshire, is a stream which, at the end of last century, was much
resorted to by the credulous for its health-giving properties. Visits
were usually paid to it at the change of the moon. It was deemed
specially efficacious in the case of rickety children, whose malady was
then ascribed to witchcraft. The patients were washed in the stream,
and then taken to an adjoining cave, where they were dried.

In modern poetry a river is frequently alluded to under the name of
its presiding spirit. Thus, in “Comus,” Milton introduces Sabrina,
a gentle nymph,

“That with moist curb sways the smooth Severn stream,”

and tells us that

“The shepherds at their festivals
Carol her goodness loud in rustic lays,
And throw sweet garland wreaths into her stream
Of pansies, pinks, and gaudy daffodils.”

Lakes have always held an important place in legendary lore. Lord
Tennyson has made us familiar with the part played by the Lady of the
Lake in Arthurian romance. Readers of the Idylls will recollect it
was she who gave to the king the jewelled sword Excalibur, and who,
on the eve of his passing, received it again. The wounded Arthur thus
addresses Sir Bedivere:–

“Thou rememberest how,
In those old days, one summer morn, an arm
Rose up from out the bosom of the lake
Clothed in white samite, mystic, wonderful,
Holding the sword–and how I row’d across
And took it, and have worn it, like a king.”

Scottish lochs form a striking feature in the landscape, and must have
been still more fitted to arrest attention in ancient times when our
land was more densely wooded than it is now. Dr. Hugh Macmillan,
in his “Holidays on High Lands,” alludes to the differences in
the appearance of our lochs. “There are moorland tarns,” he says,
“sullen and motionless as lakes of the dead, lying deep in sunless
rifts, where the very ravens build no nests, and where no trace of
life or vegetation is seen–associated with many a wild tradition,
accidents of straying feet, the suicide of love, guilt, despair. And
there are lochs beautiful in themselves and gathering around them
a world of beauty; their shores fringed with the tasselled larch;
their shallows tesselated with the broad green leaves and alabaster
chalices of the water-lily, and their placid depths mirroring the
crimson gleam of the heather hills and the golden clouds overhead.”

Near the top of Mealfourvounie, in Inverness-shire, is a small lake
at one time believed to be unfathomable. How this notion arose it
is difficult to say, for when soundings were taken the depth was
found to be inconsiderable. In the parish of Penpont, Dumfriesshire,
about a mile to the south of Drumlanrig, is a small sheet of water
called the Dow, or Dhu Loch, i.e., Black Loch. Till towards the
end of last century the spot was much frequented for its healing
water. A personal visit was not essential. When a deputy was sent
he had to bring a portion of the invalid’s clothing and throw it
over his left shoulder into the loch. He then took up some water in a
vessel which he carefully kept from touching the ground. After turning
himself round sun-ways he carried the water home. The charm would be
broken if he looked back or spoke to anyone by the way. Among the
people of the district it was a common saying, when anyone did not
respond to the greeting of a passer-by, that he had been at the Dow
Loch. Pilgrimages to the loch seem to have been specially popular
towards the close of the seventeenth century, for in the year 1695
the Presbytery of Penpont consulted the Synod of Dumfries about the
superstitious practices then current. The Synod, in response to the
appeal, recommended the clergy of the district to denounce from their
pulpits such observances as heathenish in character. There were persons
still alive in the beginning of the present century who had seen the
offerings, left by the pilgrims, floating on the loch or lying on
its margin. To the passer-by, ignorant of the superstitious custom,
it might seem that a rather untidy family washing was in progress.

The Church of St. Vigeans, in Forfarshire, is well known to
antiquaries in connection with its interesting sculptured stones. An
old tradition relates that the materials for the building were
carried by a water-kelpie, and that the foundations were laid on
large bars of iron. Underneath the structure was said to be a deep
lake. The tradition further relates that the kelpie prophesied that
an incumbent of the church would commit suicide, and that, on the
occasion of the first communion after, the church would sink into the
lake. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the minister of the
parish did commit suicide, and so strong was the superstition that
the sacramental rite was not observed till 1736. In connection with
the event several hundred people took up a position on a neighbouring
rising ground to watch what would happen. These spectators have passed
away, but the church remains.

St. Tredwell’s Loch in Papa-Westray, Orkney, was at one time very
famous, partly from its habit of turning red whenever anything
striking was about to happen to a member of the Royal Family, and
partly from its power to work cures. On a small headland on the east
of the loch are still to be seen the ruins of St. Tredwell’s Chapel,
measuring twenty-nine feet by twenty-two, with walls fully four feet
in thickness. On the floor-level about thirty copper coins were found
some years ago, the majority of them being of the reign of Charles the
Second. At the door of the chapel there was at one time a large heap
of stones, made up of contributions from those who came to pay their
vows there. Mr. R. M. Fergusson, in his “Rambles in the Far North,”
gives the following particulars about the loch:–“In olden times the
diseased and infirm people of the North Isles were wont to flock to
this place and get themselves cured by washing in its waters. Many
of them walked round the shore two or three times before entering the
loch itself to perfect by so doing the expected cure. When a person was
engaged in this perambulation nothing would induce him to utter a word,
for, if he spoke, the waters of this holy loch would lave his diseased
body in vain. After the necessary ablutions were performed they never
departed without leaving behind them some piece of cloth or bread as
a gift to the presiding genius of the place. In the beginning of the
eighteenth century popular belief in this water was as strong as ever.”

Superstitions had a vigorous life last century. Pennant, who made
his first tour in Scotland in 1769, mentions that the wells of Spey
and Drachalday, in Moray, were then much visited, coins and rags
being left at them as offerings. Nowadays holy wells are probably
far from the thoughts of persons living amid the stir and bustle
of city life, but in rural districts, where old customs linger,
they are not yet forgotten. In the country, amidst the sights and
sounds of nature, men are prone to cherish the beliefs and ways
of their forefathers. Practices born in days of darkness thus live
on into an era of greater enlightenment. “The adoration of wells,”
remarks Sir Arthur Mitchell in his “Past in the Present,” “may be
encountered in all parts of Scotland from John o’ Groats to the
Mull of Galloway,” and he adds, “I have seen at least a dozen wells
in Scotland which have not ceased to be worshipped.” “Nowadays,” he
continues, “the visitors are comparatively few, and those who go are
generally in earnest. They have a serious object which they desire
to attain. That object is usually the restoration to health of some
poor little child–some ‘back-gane bairn.’ Indeed the cure of sick
children is a special virtue of many of these wells. Anxious mothers
make long journeys to some well of fame, and early in the morning
of the 1st of May bathe the little invalid in its waters, then drop
an offering into them by the hands of the child–usually a pebble,
but sometimes a coin–and attach a bit of the child’s dress to a bush
or tree growing by the side of the well. The rags we see fastened to
such bushes have often manifestly been torn from the dresses of young
children. Part of a bib or little pinafore tells the sad story of a
sorrowing mother and a suffering child, and makes the heart grieve
that nothing better than a visit to one of these wells had been found
to relieve the sorrow and remove the suffering.” Mr. Campbell of Islay
bears witness to the same fact. In his “Tales of the West Highlands”
he says, “Holy healing wells are common all over the Highlands,
and people still leave offerings of pins and nails and bits of rag,
though few would confess it. There is a well in Islay where I myself
have, after drinking, deposited copper caps amongst a hoard of pins
and buttons and similar gear placed in chinks in the rocks and trees
at the edge of the ‘Witches’ well.'”

A striking testimony to the persistence of faith in such wells
is borne by Mr. J. R. Walker in volume v. (new series) of the
“Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,” where he
describes an incident that he himself witnessed about ten years ago
on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Mr. Walker writes, “While walking in
the Queen’s Park about sunset, I casually passed St. Anthony’s Well,
and had my attention attracted by the number of people about it,
all simply quenching their thirst, some probably with a dim idea
that they would reap some benefit from the draught. Standing a little
apart, however, and evidently patiently waiting a favourable moment
to present itself for their purpose, was a group of four. Feeling
somewhat curious as to their intention I quietly kept myself in the
background, and by-and-by was rewarded. The crowd departed and the
group came forward, consisting of two old women, a younger woman
of about thirty, and a pale sickly-looking girl–a child three or
four years old. Producing cups from their pockets, the old women
dipped them in the pool, filled them, and drank the contents. A
full cup was then presented to the younger woman and another to
the child. Then one of the old women produced a long linen bandage,
dipped it in the water, wrung it, dipped it in again, and then wound
it round the child’s head, covering the eyes, the youngest woman,
evidently the mother of the child, carefully observing the operation
and weeping gently all the time. The other old woman not engaged in
this work was carefully filling a clear glass bottle with the water,
evidently for future use. Then, after the principal operators had
looked at each other with an earnest and half solemn sort of look,
the party wended its way carefully down the hill.”

Agricultural improvements, particularly within the present century,
have done much to abolish the adoration of wells. In many cases ancient
springs have ceased to exist through draining operations. In the
parish of Urquhart, Elginshire, a priory was founded in 1125. Towards
the end of last century the site was converted into an arable
field. The name of Abbey Well, given to the spring whence the monks
drew water, long kept alive the memory of the priory; but in recent
times the well itself was filled up. St. Mary’s Well, at Whitekirk,
in Haddingtonshire, has also ceased to be, its water having been
drained off. Near Drumakill, in Drymen parish, Dumbartonshire, there
was a famous spring dedicated to St. Vildrin. Close to it was a cross
two feet and a half in height, with the figure of the saint incised
on it. About thirty years ago, however, the relic was broken up and
used in the construction of a farmhouse, and not long after, the
well itself was drained into an adjoining stream. In the middle ages
the spring at Restalrig, near Edinburgh, dedicated to St. Margaret,
the wife of Malcolm Canmore, was a great attraction to pilgrims. The
history of the well is interesting. There is reason to believe that
it was originally sacred to the Holy Rood; and tradition connects it
with the fountain that gushed out at the spot where a certain hart
suddenly vanished from the sight of King David I. Mr. Walker, in the
volume of the “Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland”
already referred to, throws out the suggestion that the well may have
had its dedication changed in connection with the translation of Queen
Margaret’s relics about 1251, on the occasion of her canonization. With
regard to the date of the structure forming the covering of the well,
Mr. Walker, as an architect, is qualified to give an opinion, and
from an examination of the mason marks on it he is inclined to think
that the building was erected about the same time as the west tower of
Holyrood Abbey Church, viz., about 1170. The late Sir Daniel Wilson,
in his “Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time,” gives the following
account of the structure, which, however, he by mistake describes
as octagonal instead of hexagonal:–“The building rises internally
to the height of about four and a half feet, of plain ashlar work,
with a stone ledge or seat running round seven of the sides, while the
eighth is occupied by a pointed arch which forms the entrance to the
well. From the centre of the water which fills the whole area of the
building, pure as in the days of the pious queen, a decorated pillar
rises to the same height as the walls, with grotesque gurgoils, from
which the water has originally been made to flow. Above this springs
a beautifully groined roof, presenting, with the ribs that rise from
corresponding corbels at each of the eight angles of the building,
a singularly rich effect when illuminated by the reflected light from
the water below. A few years since, this curious fountain stood by
the side of the ancient and little frequented cross-road leading
from the Abbeyhill to the village of Restalrig. A fine old elder
tree, with its knotted and furrowed branches, spread a luxuriant
covering over its grass-grown top, and a rustic little thatched
cottage stood in front of it, forming altogether a most attractive
object of antiquarian pilgrimage.” The spot, however, was invaded by
the North British Railway Company, and a station was planted on the
site of the elder tree and the rustic cottage, the spring and its
Gothic covering being imbedded in the buildings. Some years later
the water disappeared, having found another channel. The structure
was taken down stone by stone and rebuilt above St. David’s Spring,
on the north slope of Salisbury Crags, where it still stands.

In cases like the above, man interfered with nature and caused the
disappearance of venerated springs. But it was not always so. In the
parish of Logierait, in Perthshire, there was a spring that took the
matter into its own hands, and withdrew from public view. This was
the spring called in Gaelic Fuaran Chad, i.e., Chad’s Well. An annual
market used to be held close by in honour of the saint, on the 22nd
August. The spring was gratified and bubbled away merrily. The market,
however, was at length discontinued. In consequence Fuaran Chad took
offence, and sent in its resignation. In one instance, at least, the
belief in the efficacy of a spring survived the very existence of the
spring itself. This was so in the case of a healing well near Buckie,
in Banffshire, filled up some years ago by the tenant on whose farm
it was situated. So great was its fame that some women whose infants
were weakly went to the spot and cleared out the rubbish. Water again
filled the old basin, and there the infants were bathed. While being
carried home they fell asleep, and the result was in every way to
the satisfaction of the mothers.

Certain characteristics of water specially recommended it as an object
of worship in primæval times. Its motion and force suggested that
it had life, and hence a soul. Men therefore imagined that by due
attention to certain rites it would prove a help to them in time of
need. What may be called the anthropomorphism of fountains has left
traces on popular superstitions. The interest taken by St. Tredwell’s
Loch in the national events has been already alluded to, and other
examples will be noticed in future chapters.

One point may be mentioned here, viz., the power possessed by wells
of removing to another place. St. Fillan’s Spring, at Comrie, in
Perthshire, once took its rise on the top of the hill Dunfillan,
but tradition says that it quitted its old site for the present one,
at the foot of a rock, a quarter of a mile further south. In the
article on Comrie in the “Old Statistical Account of Scotland,”
the well is described as “humbled indeed, but not forsaken.” A
more striking instance of flitting is mentioned by Martin as having
occurred in the Hebrides. In his account of Islay, he says, “A mile
on the south-west side of the cave Uah Vearnag is the celebrated well
Toubir-in-Knahar, which, in the ancient language, is as much as to say,
‘the well has sailed from one place to another’; for it is a received
tradition of the vulgar inhabitants of this isle, and the opposite isle
of Colonsay, that this well was first at Colonsay until an impudent
woman happened to wash her hands in it, and that immediately after,
the well, being thus abused, came in an instant to Islay, where it is
like to continue, and is ever since esteemed a catholicon for diseases
by the natives and adjacent islanders.” Perhaps the instance that
puts the greatest strain on credulity is that of the spring dedicated
to St. Fergus on the hill of Knockfergan, in Banffshire. Tradition
reports that this spring came in a miraculous manner from Italy,
though how it travelled to its quiet retreat in Scotland we do not
know. There must have been some special attraction about the well,
for a market known as the Well-Market used to be held beside it every
year. On one occasion a fight took place about a cheese. In consequence
the market was transferred to the neighbouring village of Tomintoul,
where it continues to be held in August, under the same name.

In his “Romances of the West of England,” the late Mr. Robert Hunt
puts in a plea for the preservation of holy wells and other relics
of antiquity, though he allows “that it is a very common notion
amongst the peasantry that a just retribution overtakes those who
wilfully destroy monuments, such as stone circles, crosses, wells,
and the like,” and he mentions the case of an old man who altered a
holy well at Boscaswell, in St. Just, and was drowned the following
day within sight of his house. Mr. Hunt is speaking of Cornish wells;
but the same is doubtless true of those north of the Tweed. Springs
that can fly through the air and go through certain other wonderful
performances can surely be trusted to look after themselves.

In hot Eastern lands, fountains were held in special reverence. This
was to be expected, as their cooling waters were there doubly
welcome. In accounting for the presence of the cult in the temperate
zones of Europe, we do not need to trace it to the East as Lady
Wilde does in her “Ancient Legends of Ireland.” “It could not have
originated,” she says, “in a humid country … where wells can be
found at every step, and sky and land are ever heavy and saturated
with moisture. It must have come from an Eastern people, wanderers in
a dry and thirsty land, where the discovery of a well seemed like the
interposition of an angel in man’s behalf.” In our own land there are
no districts where well-worship has held its ground so firmly as those
occupied by peoples of Celtic blood, such as Cornwall, Wales, Ireland,
the Isle of Man, and the Scottish Highlands. A curious instance of
the survival of water-worship among our Scottish peasantry was seen
in the custom of going at a very early hour on New-Year’s morning
to get a pailful of water from a neighbouring spring. The maidens
of the farm had a friendly rivalry as to priority. Whoever secured
the first pailful was said to get the flower of the well, otherwise
known as the ream or cream of the well. On their way to the spring
the maidens commonly chanted the couplet–

“The flower o’ the well to our house gaes,
An’ I’ll the bonniest lad get.”

This referred to the belief that to be first at the well was a good
omen of the maiden’s matrimonial future. It is a far cry from archaic
water-worship to this New-Year’s love charm, but we can traverse in
thought the road that lies between.

We come next to ask how water became holy in the folklore sense of the
word. Fortunately we get a glimpse of springs at the very time when
they passed from pagan to Christian auspices. The change made certain
differences, but did not take away their miraculous powers. We get this
glimpse in the pages of Adamnan, St. Columba’s biographer, who narrates
an incident in connection with the saint’s missionary work among the
Picts in the latter half of the sixth century. Adamnan tells us of a
certain fountain “famous among the heathen people, which the foolish
men, having their senses blinded by the devil, worshipped as God. For
those, who drank of this fountain, or purposely washed their hands
or feet in it, were allowed by God to be struck by demoniacal art,
and went home either leprous or purblind, or at least suffering from
weakness or other kind of infirmity. By all these things the pagans
were seduced and paid divine honour to the fountain.” Columba made use
of the popular belief in the interests of the new faith, and blessed
the fountain in the name of Christ in order to expel the demons. He
then took a draught of the water and washed his hands and feet in it,
to show that it could no longer do harm. According to Adamnan the
demons deserted the fountain, and many cures were afterwards wrought
by it. In Ireland more than a century earlier, St. Patrick visited
the fountain of Findmaige, called Slan. Offerings were wont to be
made to it, and it was worshipped as a god by the Magi of the district.

It is difficult to determine exactly from what standpoint our pagan
ancestors regarded wells. The nature-spirits inhabiting them, styled
demons by Adamnan, were malignant in disposition, if we judge by the
case he mentions; but we must not therefore conclude that they were so
in every instance. Perhaps it is safe to infer that most of them were
considered favourable to man, or the reverse, according as they were
or were not propitiated by him. Even in modern times, some springs
have been regarded as hurtful. The well of St. Chad, at Lichfield,
for instance, causes ague to anyone drinking its water. Even its
connection with the saint has not removed its hurtful qualities. In
west Highland Folk-Tales allusion is made to poison wells, and such
are even yet regarded with a certain amount of fear. In the article on
the parish of Kilsyth in the “Old Statistical Account of Scotland,” it
is stated that Kittyfrist Well, beside the road leading over the hill
to Stirling, was believed to be noxious. Successive wayfarers, when
tired and heated by their climb up hill, may have drunk injudiciously
of the cold water, and thus the superstition may have originated.

Stone circles have given rise to much discussion. They are perhaps
best known by their popular name of Druidical temples. Whatever were
the other purposes served by them, there is hardly any doubt that
they were primarily associated with interments. Dr. Joseph Anderson
has pointed out that a certain archæological succession can be
traced. Thus we find first, burial cairns minus stones round them,
then cairns plus stones, and finally, stones minus cairns. At one
time there was a widely-spread belief that men could be transformed
into standing stones by the aid of magic. This power was attributed
to the Druids. There are also traditions of saints thus settling their
heathen opponents. When speaking of the island of Lewis, Martin says,
“Several other stones are to be seen here in remote places, and some
of them standing on one end. Some of the ignorant vulgar say that they
were men by enchantment turned into stones. Such monoliths are still
known to the Gaelic-speaking inhabitants of Lewis as Fir Chreig, i.e.,
false men. We learn from the “New Statistical Account of Scotland”
that the two standing stones at West Skeld, in Shetland, were believed
by the islanders to have been originally wizards or giants. Close to
the roadside on Maughold Head, in the Isle of Man, stands an ancient
runic cross. A local tradition states that the cross was once an
old woman, who, when carrying a bundle of wool, cursed the wind for
hindering her on her journey, and was petrified in consequence.

With superstitions thus clinging to standing-stones it is not to
be wondered that springs in their neighbourhood should have been
regarded with special reverence. In the “Old Statistical Account of
Scotland” allusion is made to Tobir-Chalaich, i.e., Old Wife’s Well,
situated near a stone circle in the parish of Keith, Banffshire,
and to another well not far from a second circle in the same
parish. The latter spring ceased to be visited about the middle
of last century. Till then offerings were left at it by persons
seeking its aid. The writer of the article on the island of Barry,
Inverness-shire, in the same work, says, “Here, i.e., at Castle-Bay,
there are several Druidical temples. Near one of these is a well
which must have been once famous for its medicinal quality, as also
for curing and preventing the effects of fascination. It is called
Tobbar-nam-buadh or the Well of Virtues.” Under the heading “Beltane,”
in “Jamieson’s Scottish Dictionary,” the following occurs:–“A town
in Perthshire, on the borders of the Highlands, is called Tillie
(or Tullie) Beltane, i.e., the eminence or rising ground of the
fire of Baal. In the neighbourhood is a Druidical temple of eight
upright stones, where it is supposed the fire was kindled. At some
distance from this, is another temple of the same kind, but smaller,
and near it a well still held in great veneration. On Beltane morning,
superstitious people go to this well and drink of it, then they make
a procession round it, as I am informed, nine times; after this, they
in like manner go round the temple.” Gallstack Well, at Drumlanrig,
in Dumfriesshire, is near a group of standing stones. From examples
like the above, we may infer that some mysterious connection was
supposed to exist between standing stones and their adjacent wells. In
the Tullie Beltane instance indeed, stones and well were associated
together in the same superstitious rite.

A striking instance of Christianity borrowing from paganism is to be
seen in the reverence paid to the well of Innis Maree, in Loch Maree,
in Ross-shire. This well has been famous from an unknown past. It
is dedicated to St. Maelrubha, after whom both loch and island are
named. Maelrubha belonged to the monastery of Bangor, in Ireland. In
the year 673, at the age of thirty-one, he settled at Applecrossan,
now Applecross, in Ross-shire, and there founded a church as the
nucleus of a conventual establishment. Over this monastery he
presided for fifty-one years, and died a natural death in 722. A
legend, disregarding historical probabilities, relates that he was
slain by a band of pagan Norse rovers, and that his body was left in
the forest to be devoured by wild beasts. His grave is still pointed
out in Applecross churchyard, the spot being marked by a pillar slab
with an antique cross carved on it. For centuries after his death
he was regarded as the patron saint, not only of Applecross, but of
a wide district around. Pennant, who visited Innis Maree in 1772,
thus describes its appearance: “The shores are neat and gravelly;
the whole surface covered thickly with a beautiful grove of oak,
ash, willow, wicken, birch, fir, hazel, and enormous hollies. In the
midst is a circular dike of stones, with a regular narrow entrance,
the inner part has been used for ages as a burial-place, and is still
in use. I suspect the dyke to have been originally Druidical, and
that the ancient superstition of Paganism had been taken up by the
saint, as the readiest method of making a conquest over the minds of
the inhabitants. A stump of a tree is shown as an altar, probably the
memorial of one of stone; but the curiosity of the place is the well of
the saint; of power unspeakable in cases of lunacy.” Whatever Pennant
meant by Druidical, there is reason to believe that the spot was the
scene of pre-Christian rites. In the popular imagination the outlines
of Maelrubha’s character seem to have become mixed up with those of
the heathen divinity worshipped in the district. Two circumstances
point to this. Firstly, as Sir Arthur Mitchell remarks in the fourth
volume of the “Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,”
“The people of the place speak often of the God Mourie instead of
St. Mourie, which may have resulted from his having supplanted the
old god.” Secondly, as the same writer shows, by reference to old
kirk session records, it was customary in the parish to sacrifice a
bull to St. Mourie. This was done on the saint’s day, the 25th of
August. The practice was still in existence in the latter half of
the 17th century, and was then denounced as idolatrous.

We thus see that the sacredness of springs can be traced back through
Christianity to paganism, though there is no doubt that in some
instances it took its rise from association with early saints. In
deciding the question of origin, however, care must be taken,
for, as already indicated, the reverence anciently paid to wells
led to their selection by the early missionaries. The holy wells
throughout the land keep alive their names. An excellent example
of a saint’s influence on a particular district is met with in the
case of St. Angus, at Balquhidder, in Perthshire. In his “Notes in
Balquhidder” in the “Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of
Scotland,” vol. ix. (new series), Mr. J. Mackintosh Gow remarks,
“Saint Angus, the patron saint of the district, is said to have come
to the glen from the eastward, and to have been so much struck with
its marvellous beauty that he blessed it. The remains of the stone
on which he sat to rest are still visible in the gable of one of the
farm buildings at Easter Auchleskine, and the turn of the road is
yet called ‘Beannachadh Aonghais’ (Angus’s blessing). At this spot
it was the custom in the old days for people going westward to show
their respect for the saint by repeating, ‘Beannaich Aonghais ann
san Aoraidh’ (Bless Angus in the oratory or chapel), at the same
time reverently taking off their bonnets. The saint, going west,
had settled at a spot below the present kirk, and near to a stone
circle, the remains of which, and of the oratory, persons now living
remember to have seen.” After alluding to another stone circle in a
haugh below the parish church manse, Mr. Gow mentions that this haugh
is the stance of the old market of Balquhidder, long a popular one
in the district. It was held on the saint’s day in April and named
Feill-Aonghais, after him. In the immediate neighbourhood there is a
knoll called “Tom Aonghais,” i.e., Angus’s hillock. In the grounds of
Edinchip there is a curing well called in Gaelic, “Fuaran n’druibh
chasad,” i.e., the Whooping-cough Well, beside the burn “Alt cean
dhroma.” “It is formed of a water-worn pot hole in the limestone
rock which forms the bed of the burn, and is ten or twelve inches in
diameter at the top and six inches deep. There must be a spring running
into the hollow through a fissure, as no sooner is it emptied than
it immediately refills, and contains about two quarts of water. The
well can easily be distinguished by the large moss-covered boulder,
round and flat, like a crushed ball, and about seven feet in diameter,
which overshadows it, and a young ash tree of several stems growing
by its side.” This well was famous for the cure of whooping-cough,
and children were brought to it till within recent years. The water
was given in a spoon made from the horn of a living cow. When the
patients could not visit the spring in person, a bottleful of the
healing liquid was taken to their homes, and there administered. The
district round the lower waters of Loch Awe, now comprising the united
parishes of Glenorchy and Inishail was held to be under the patronage
of Connan. There is a well at Dalmally dedicated to him. According
to a local tradition he dwelt beside the well and blessed its water.

In addition to springs named after particular saints, there are some
bearing the general appellation of Saints’ Wells or Holy Wells. There
are Holy Rood and Holy Wood Wells, also Holy Trinity and Chapel
Wells. There are likewise Priors’, Monks’, Cardinals’, Bishops’,
Priests’, Abbots’, and Friars’ Wells. Various springs have names
pointing to no ecclesiastical connection whatever. To this class
belong those known as Virtue Wells, and those others named from the
various diseases to be cured by them. On the Rutherford estate,
in the parish of West Linton, Peeblesshire, there is a mineral
spring called Heaven-aqua Well. Considering the name, one might
form great expectations as to its virtues. There is much force in
the remarks of Dr. J. Hill Burton, in his “Book Hunter.” He says,
“The unnoticeable smallness of many of these consecrated wells makes
their very reminiscence and still semi-sacred character all the more
remarkable. The stranger in Ireland, or the Highlands of Scotland,
hears rumours of a distinguished well, miles on miles off. He thinks
he will find an ancient edifice over it, or some other conspicuous
adjunct. Nothing of the kind. He has been lured all that distance,
over rock and bog, to see a tiny spring bubbling out of the rock,
such as he may see hundreds of in a tolerable walk any day. Yet,
if he search in old topographical authorities, he will find that the
little well has ever been an important feature of the district; that
century after century it has been unforgotten; and, with diligence he
may perhaps trace it to some incident in the life of the saint, dead
more than 1200 years ago, whose name it bears.” There are a few wells
with a more or less ornamental stone covering, such as St. Margaret’s
Well, in the Queen’s Park, Edinburgh, and St. Michael’s Well, at
Linlithgow. St. Ninian’s Well, at Stirling, and also at Kilninian,
in Mull; St. Ashig’s Well, in Skye; St. Peter’s Well, at Houston,
in Renfrewshire; Holy Rood Well, at Stenton, in Haddingtonshire;
and the Well of Spa, at Aberdeen, also belong to this class.

As already indicated, standing stones and the wells near them were
associated together in the same ritual act. A curious parallelism
can be traced between this practice and one connected with Christian
places of worship. Near the Butt of Lewis are the ruins of a chapel
anciently dedicated to St. Mulvay, and known in the district as
Teampull-mòr. The spot was till quite lately the scene of rites
connected with the cure of insanity. The patient was made to walk
seven times round the ruins, and was then sprinkled with water from
St. Ronan’s Well hard by. In Orkney it was believed that invalids
would recover health by walking round the Cross-kirk of Wasbister
and the adjoining loch in silence before sunrise. In some instances
sacred sites were walked round without reference to wells, and, in
others, wells without reference to sacred sites. But when the two were
neighbours they were often included in the same ceremony. In the early
days when Christianity was preached, the structures of the new faith
were occasionally planted close to groups of standing stones, and it
may be assumed that in some instances, at least, the latter served to
supply materials for building the former. Even in our own day it is
not uncommon for Highlanders to speak of going to the clachan, i.e.,
the stones, to indicate that they are going to church. The reverence
paid to the pagan sites was thus transferred to the Christian, and
any fountain in the vicinity received a large share of such reverence.

In former times, both south and north of the Tweed, churches and
churchyards were regarded with special veneration as affording
an asylum to offenders against the law. In England the Right of
Sanctuary was held in great respect during Anglo-Saxon times, and
after the Norman Conquest laws were passed regulating the privileges
of such shelters. When a robber or murderer was pursued, he was free
from capture if he could reach the sacred precincts. But he had to
enter unarmed. His stay there was only temporary. After going through
certain formalities he was allowed to travel, cross in hand, to some
neighbouring seaport to quit his country for ever. In the reign of
Henry VIII., however, a statute was passed forbidding criminals thus
to leave their native land on the ground that they would disclose state
secrets, and teach archery to the enemies of the realm. In the north of
England, Durham and Beverley contained noted sanctuaries. In various
churches there was a stone seat called the Freedstoll or Stool of
Peace, on which the criminal, when seated, was absolutely safe. Such a
seat, dating from the Norman period, is still to be seen in the Priory
Church at Hexham, where the sanctuary was in great request by fugitives
from the debatable land between England and Scotland. The only other
Freedstoll still to be found in England is in Beverley Minster. The
Right of Sanctuary was formally abolished in England in the reign of
James I., but did not cease to be respected till much later. Such being
the regard in the middle ages for churches and their burying-grounds,
it is easy to understand why fountains in their immediate neighbourhood
were also reverenced. Several sanctuaries north of the Tweed were
specially famous. In his “Scotland in the Middle Ages,” Professor
Cosmo Innes remarks, “Though all were equally sacred by the canon,
it would seem that the superior sanctity of some churches, from
the relics presented there, or the reverence of their patron saints,
afforded a surer asylum, and thus attracted fugitives to their shrines
rather than to the altars of common parish churches.” The churches of
Stow, Innerleithen, and Tyningham were asylums at one time specially
favoured. The church on St. Charmaig’s Island, in the Sound of
Jura–styled also Eilean Mòr or the Great Island–was formerly a noted
place of refuge among the Inner Hebrides. So much sanctity attached to
the church of Applecross that the privileged ground around it extended
six miles in every direction. In connection with his visit to Arran,
Martin thus describes what had once been a sanctuary in that island:
“There is an eminence of about a thousand paces in compass on the
sea-coast in Druim-cruey village, and it is fenced about with a stone
wall; of old it was a sanctuary, and whatever number of men or cattle
could get within it were secured from the assaults of their enemies,
the place being privileged by universal consent.” The enclosure was
probably an ancient burying-ground.

The Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, otherwise known as the Knights
of Rhodes, and also as the Hospitallers, received recognition in
Scotland as an Order about the middle of the twelfth century. They
had possessions in almost every county, but their chief seat was at
Torphichen, in Linlithgowshire, where the ruins of their preceptory
can still be seen. This preceptory formed the heart of the famous
sanctuary of Torphichen. In the graveyard stands a stone, resembling
an ordinary milestone with a Maltese cross carved on its top. All the
ground enclosed in a circle, having a radius of one mile from this
stone, formed a sanctuary for criminals and debtors. Other four stones
placed at the cardinal points showed the limits of the sanctuary on
their respective sides. At some distance to the east of the preceptory
is St. John’s Well, “to which,” the writer of the article in the
“New Statistical Account of Scotland” says, “the Knights of St. John
used to go in days of yore for a morning draught;” and he adds,
“whether its virtues were medicinal or of a more hallowed character
tradition can not exactly inform us, but still its waters are thought
to possess peculiar healing powers, if not still rarer qualities which
operate in various cases as a charm.” Perhaps no Scottish sanctuary
has been more talked about than the one at Holyrood Abbey, intended
originally for law-breakers in general, but latterly for debtors
only. De Quincey found a temporary home within its precincts. Through
recent legislation, chiefly through the Debtors (Scotland) Act of
1880, the sanctuary has been rendered unnecessary, and its privileges,
though never formally abolished, have accordingly passed away.

In a pass of the Ochils, near Newburgh, overlooking Strathearn, is a
block of freestone three and a half feet high, four and a half feet
long, and nearly four feet broad at the base. This formed the pedestal
of the celebrated cross of Macduff, and is all that remains of that
ancient monument. The shaft of the cross was destroyed at the time
of the Reformation, in the sixteenth century. In former days the spot
was held to be a privilege and liberty of girth. When anyone claiming
kinship to Macduff, Earl of Fife, within the ninth degree committed
slaughter in hot blood and took refuge at the cross, he could atone
for his crime by the payment of nine cows and a colpindach or year-old
cow. Those who could not make good their kinship were slain on the
spot. Certain ancient burial mounds, at one time to be seen in the
immediate neighbourhood, were popularly believed to be the graves
of those who thus met their death, and a local superstition asserted
that their shrieks could be heard by night. A fountain, known as the
Nine Wells, gushes out not far from the site of the cross, and in
it tradition says that the manslayer who was entitled to claim the
privilege of sanctuary washed his hands, thereby freeing himself from
the stain of blood.

The annals of hagiology are full of the connection between saints and
springs. On one occasion a child was brought to Columba for baptism,
but there was no water at hand for the performance of the rite. The
saint knelt in prayer opposite a neighbouring rock, and rising,
blessed the face of the rock. Water immediately gushed forth, and with
it the child was baptised. Adamnan, who tells the story, says that
the child was Lugucencalad, whose parents were from Artdaib-muirchol
(Ardnamurchan), where there is seen even to this day a well called by
the name of St. Columba. There are many wells in Scotland named after
him. As might be expected, one of these is in Iona. Almost all are
along the west coast and in the Hebrides. The name of Kirkcolm, in
Wigtownshire, signifies the Church of Columba. The parish contains
a fountain dedicated to him, known as Corswell or Crosswell,
from which the castle headland and lighthouse of Corsewall have
derived their name. A certain amount of sanctity still clings to the
fountain. Macaulay, in his “History of St. Kilda” published in 1764,
describes a spring there called by the inhabitants Toberi-Clerich,
the cleric in question being, according to him, Columba. “This well,”
he says, “is below the village, … and gushes out like a torrent
from the face of a rock. At every full tide the sea overflows it,
but how soon that ebbs away, nothing can be fresher or sweeter than
the water. It was natural enough for the St. Kildians to imagine
that so extraordinary a phenomenon must have been the effect of some
supernatural cause, and one of their teachers would have probably
assured them that Columba, the great saint of their island and
a mighty worker of miracles, had destroyed the influence which,
according to the established laws of nature, the sea should have had
on that water.” This spring resembles one in the parish of Tain, in
Ross-shire, known as St. Mary’s Well. The latter is covered several
hours each day by the sea, but when the tide retires its fresh,
sweet water gushes forth again.

According to an old tradition, Drostan, a nephew of Columba,
accompanied the latter when on a journey from Iona to Deer in
Buchan, about the year 580, and was the first abbot of the monastery
established there. The name of the place, according to the “Book
of Deer,” was derived from the tears (in Gaelic, der or deur, a
tear), shed by Drostan on the departure of his uncle. In reality,
the name comes from the Gaelic dair, signifying an oak. There are
five springs dedicated to Drostan. They are all in the east country,
between Edzell and New Aberdour. At the latter place his relics were
preserved, and miracles of healing were wrought at his tomb. The
spring near Invermark Castle is popularly known as Droustie’s Well. A
market, called St. Drostan’s Fair, is still held annually at Old
Deer in December. Insch, in Aberdeenshire, has also a St. Drostan’s
Fair. Drostan was reverenced in Caithness, where he was tutelar saint
of the parishes of Halkirk and Canisbay. In “The Early Scottish Church”
the Rev. Dr. M’Lauchlan mentions that Urquhart in Inverness-shire,
was called Urchudain, Maith Dhrostan, i.e., St. Drostan’s Urquhart.

Adamnan, Columba’s biographer, became abbot of Iona in 679, and
died there in 704. There are wells to him at Dull, in Perthshire,
and at Forglen in Banffshire. His name occurs in Scottish
topography, but shortened, and under various disguises. In the
form of St. Oyne he has a well in Rathen parish, Aberdeenshire,
where there is a mound–probably an ancient fortified site–also
called St. Oyne’s. About six miles north-east of Kingussie, in
Inverness-shire, is the church of the quoad sacra parish of Inch,
on a knoll projecting into the loch of the same name. The knoll is
called Tom Eunan, i.e., the hill of Adamnan, to whom the church
was dedicated. Within the building is still to be seen a fine
specimen of the four-cornered bronze bell used in the early Celtic
church. According to a local tradition it was once carried off, but
kept calling out, “Tom Eunan! Tom Eunan!” till brought back to its
home. We find that Adamnan and Columba were associated together in
the district. An annual gathering, at one time held there in honour
of the latter, was named Feil Columcille, i.e., Columba’s Fair, and
was much resorted to. Women usually appeared on the occasion in white
dresses in token of baptism. An old woman, who died in 1882, at the age
of ninety, was in the habit of showing the white dress worn by her in
her young days at the fair. It finally served her as a shroud. Adamnan
visited the Northumbrian court when Egfrid was king. His errand was
one of peace-making; for he went to procure the release of certain
Irish captives who had been made prisoners by Egfrid, During his stay
in Northumbria he became a convert to the Roman view as against the
Celtic in the two burning questions of that age, viz., the time for
holding Easter, and the nature of the tonsure. Though he did not get
his friends in Scotland to see eye to eye with him on these points,
he seems to have been generally popular north of the Tweed. Eight
churches at least were dedicated to him, mainly in the east country
between Forvie, in Aberdeenshire, and Dalmeny, in West Lothian. One of
these dedications was at Aboyne. Skeulan Well there contains Adamnan’s
name in a corrupted form.

Kieran, belonging like Columba to the sixth century, was also like
him from Ireland. He selected a cave some four miles from Campbeltown
as his dwelling-place, and there led the life of an ascetic. He
died in 543 in his thirty-fourth year. Pennant thus describes
the cave:–“It is in the form of a cross, with three fine Gothic
porticoes for entrances, … had formerly a wall at the entrance,
a second about the middle, and a third far up, forming different
apartments. On the floor is the capital of a cross and a round basin
cut out of the rock, full of fine water, the beverage of the saint
in old times, and of sailors in the present, who often land to dress
their victuals beneath this shelter.” This basin is more minutely
described by Captain T. P. White in his “Archæological Sketches in
Scotland.” He says, “There is a small basin, nearly oval in shape,
neatly scooped out of a block, two feet long by one and a half wide,
which exactly underlies a drip of water from the roof of the cave. The
water supply is said never to have failed and always to keep the little
basin full. Tradition calls it the saint’s font or holy well.” Kieran
is commemorated in Kinloch-Kilkerran, the ancient name of the parish of
Campbeltown. The word means literally the head of the loch of Kieran’s
cell. On one occasion Kieran dropped his book of the Gospels into a
lake. Sometime after it was recovered in an uninjured state through
the instrumentality of a cow. The cow went into the water to cool
itself, and brought out the volume attached to its hoof. Another bovine
association is connected with the building of St. Kieran’s Church on a
hill at Errigall-keroge, in County Tyrone, Ireland. The saint had an ox
which, during the day, drew the materials for the building, and in the
evening was slaughtered to feed the workmen. The bones were thrown each
evening into a well at the foot of the hill, and, morning by morning,
the accommodating animal appeared ready for the day’s work. The well
is still held to be miraculous. There is a spring dedicated to Kieran
at Drumlithie, in Glenbervie parish, Kincardineshire, and another
at Stonehaven, in the same county. There is one in Troqueer parish,
Kirkcudbrightshire, locally known as St. Jergon’s or St. Querdon’s
Well, these names being simply an altered form of Kieran.

Bridget or Bride, an Irish saint, was popular in Scotland. She
received baptism from Patrick, and died in 525 after a life of great
sanctity. She was celebrated as a worker of miracles. She made a cow
supply an enormous quantity of milk to satisfy the wants of three
thirsty bishops who came to visit her. She also cured diseases. On one
occasion two men suffering from leprosy came to her to be healed. She
made the sign of the cross over water, and told them to wash in
it. One of the two did so and was instantly restored to health; but,
refusing to help the other, he at once became leprous again, while
his companion was as suddenly made whole. On another occasion she
used the sign of the cross to stay a company bent on the capture of
a maiden who had sought refuge in the saint’s nunnery. Perhaps her
most wonderful miracle was the hanging of her gown on a sunbeam,
a somewhat unusual cloak-peg, and one that, from the nature of the
case, had not to be sought in a dark press. Her principal monastery
was at Kildare, so named after the oak (dair) under whose shade her
cell was built. Adjoining St. Bride’s Churchyard in London is a spring
dedicated to the saint, and popularly styled Bride’s Well. The palace
built in the immediate neighbourhood went by the name of Bridewell. It
was handed over by Edward VI. to the city of London as a workhouse
and place of correction. At a later date the name became associated
with other houses used for a similar purpose. “Hence it has arisen,”
remarks Chambers in his “Book of Days,” “that the pure and innocent
Bridget, the first of Irish nuns, is now inextricably connected in
our ordinary national parlance with a class of beings of the most
opposite description.” There are fully a dozen wells in Scotland
bearing her name. These are chiefly to be found in the counties
of Wigtown, Dumfries, Peebles, Lanark, Renfrew, Dumbarton, Perth,
Fife, and Aberdeen. A monastery was founded in Bridget’s honour at
Abernethy, in Perthshire, probably in the eighth century, and she
had churches on the mainland and among the Western Islands. A curious
superstition connected with Bridget has survived to the present time,
at least in one of these islands. It has to do with a certain magical
flower styled torranain, that must be plucked during the influx of the
tide, and is of virtue to protect cows from the evil eye, and to make
them give a plentiful supply of milk. The Rev. Dr. Stewart, in his
“‘Twixt Ben Nevis and Glencoe,” quotes the incantation associated
with it forwarded to him by a correspondent in Uist. The following
is one of the stanzas:–

“Let me pluck thee, Torranain!
With all thy blessedness and all thy virtue.
The nine blessings came with the nine parts.
By the virtue of the Torranain.
The hand of St. Bride with me
I am now to pluck thee.”

A saint who could give efficacy to a spell was quite the sort of
person to be entrusted with the custody of springs.

Ninian, popularly called Ringan, devoted his life mainly to missionary
work among the Picts of Galloway, although he extended his influence as
far north as the Tay. He seems to have been honoured in Aberdeenshire,
if we may judge by a fresco, representing him, discovered about
thirty years ago in the pre-Reformation Church of Turriff, and
regard was had for him as far north as the Shetland Isles. Even the
Scot abroad did not forget him. Chalmers, in his “Caledonia,” says
that, “in the church of the Carmelite Friars of Bruges in Flanders,
the Scottish nation founded an altar to St. Ninian, and endowed a
chaplain who officiated at it.” A cave by the sea in the parish of
Glasserton, in Wigtownshire, was his favourite retreat. This cave was
explored about ten years ago, and several stones, marked with incised
crosses, were discovered. Ninian brought masons from France, and at
Whithorn built Candida Casa–the first stone church in Scotland. It
was in course of construction in the year 397. Ninian then heard of
the death of Martin of Tours, and to the latter the new church was
dedicated. These two saints are found side by side in the matter of
church dedications. Thus, Martin was patron of Ulbster, in Caithness:
not far off was a church to Ninian. Strathmartin, in Forfarshire, was
united in 1799 to the parish of Mains, the latter claiming Ninian as
its tutelar saint. Sinavey Spring, in Mains parish, near the site of
the ancient Castle of Fintry, is believed to represent St. Ninian’s
name in a corrupted form. His springs are numerous, and have a wide
range from the counties of Wigtown and Kirkcudbright to those of Forfar
and Kincardine. There is a well to him near Dunnottar Castle, in the
last-mentioned county. In the island of Sanda, off the Kintyre coast,
is a spring named after him. It had a considerable local celebrity in
former times. St. Ninian’s Well in Stirling is a familiar spot in the
district. There is a well sacred to Martin in the Aberdeenshire parish
of Cairnie. Martinmas (November 11th) came long ago into our land as
a church festival. It still remains with us as a familiar term-day.

An incident in Martin’s biography has a bearing on our subject, through
the connection between the name of the festival commemorating it and
certain of our place-names. In Scotland, the fourth of July used to
be known as Martin of Bullion’s Day, in honour of the translation of
the saint’s body to a shrine in the cathedral of Tours. There is some
uncertainty about the origin of the term Bullion, though, according
to the likeliest etymology, it is derived from the French bouiller,
to boil, in allusion to the heat of the weather at that time of the
year. There is an old proverb that if the deer rise up dry and lie down
dry on Martin of Bullion’s Day, there will be a good gose-harvest,
i.e., an early and plentiful one. An annual fair was appointed to
be held at Selkirk and in Dyce parish, Aberdeenshire, in connection
with the festival. There are traces of both Martin and Bullion in
Scottish topography. In Perthshire there is the parish of St. Martin’s,
containing the estate of St. Martin’s Abbey. Some miles to the east
is Strathmartin in Forfarshire, already alluded to, and not far from
it in the same county we find Bullionfield in the parish of Liff and
Benvie. It is probable that these names are in some way connected
together. In Ecclesmachan parish in Linlithgowshire, there is, as far
as we know, no trace of Martin in any dedication of chapel or spring;
but Bullion is represented. There is a spring of this name issuing
from the trap rocks of the Tor Hill. It is a mineral well. The water
is slightly impregnated with sulphuretted hydrogen. In former times
it was much resorted to by health-seekers, but it is now neglected.

Ninian consecrated a graveyard beside the Molendinar at Cathures, now
Glasgow. About a hundred years later Kentigern, otherwise Mungo, bishop
of the Strathclyde kingdom, brought to this cemetery from Carnock the
body of Fergus, an anchorite, on a cart drawn by two wild bulls. Over
the spot where Fergus was buried was built, at a later date, the crypt
of what was to have been the south transept of the cathedral, had that
portion of the structure ever been reared. The crypt is now popularly
called Blackadder’s Aisle, though, as Dr. Andrew MacGeorge points
out in his “Old Glasgow,” it ought to be called Fergus’ Isle. It was
so named in a minute of the kirk-session in 1648, and an inscription
in long Gothic letters on a stone in the roof of the aisle tells the
same tale. Kentigern took up his abode on the banks of the Molendinar,
and gathered round him a company of monks, each dwelling in a separate
hut. In the twelfth century the spot was surrounded by a dense forest,
and in 1500 the “Arbores sancti Kentigerni” were landmarks in the
district. Kentigern’s Well, now in the lower church of the cathedral,
must, from the very fact of its inclusion within the building, have
been deemed sacred before the cathedral was reared. Other examples of
wells within churches are on record, though not in Scotland. There is a
spring in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. The cathedrals of Carlisle,
Winchester, and Canterbury, and the minsters of York and Beverley,
as well as one of two English parish churches, either now have or
once had wells within their walls. The Rev. T. F. Thiselton Dyer
gives several examples in his “Church Lore Gleanings,” and remarks,
“Such wells may have been of special service in Border churches,
which, like the cathedral of Carlisle, served as places of refuge
for the inhabitants in case of sudden alarm or foray.”

Besides his well in the cathedral, Kentigern had another dedicated to
him at Glasgow, close to Little St. Mungo’s Church, in the immediate
neighbourhood of the trees already mentioned. There are fully a dozen
wells sacred to him north of the Tweed. As might be expected, these are
almost all to be found in the counties south of the Forth and Clyde,
and particularly in those to the west of that district. There is one
in Kincardineshire, at Kinneff, locally known as Kenty’s Well. Under
the name of St. Mongah’s Well there is a spring dedicated to him
in Yorkshire at Copgrove Park four miles from Boroughbridge. A
bath close by, supplied with water from this spring, was formerly
much frequented by invalids of all ages, who remained immersed for
a longer or shorter time in its intensely cold water. Other wells
to Kentigern are to be met with in the north of England. The parish
of Crossthwaite in Cumberland has its church dedicated to him. The
spot was the thwaite or clearing in the wood where he set up his
cross. Thanet Well, in Greystoke parish in the same county, is believed
to have derived its name from Tanew or Thenew, Kentigern’s mother,
familiar to the citizens of Glasgow as St. Enoch. St. Enoch’s Well,
close to St. Enoch’s Square in that burgh, used to be a favourite
resort of health-seekers. It has now no existence.

Cuthbert, besides a well at St. Boswell’s, in Roxburghshire, had a bath
in Strath Tay, a rock-hewn hollow full of water where he periodically
passed several hours in devotion. This famous Northumbrian missionary
was born about 635, and spent his early boyhood as a shepherd on the
southern slopes of the Lammermoors. He lived for thirteen years as a
monk in the monastery of Old Melrose, situated two miles east from the
present Melrose on a piece of land almost surrounded by the Tweed. On
the death of Boisil, Cuthbert was appointed prior. He afterwards
became bishop of Lindisfarne. During his stay at Melrose he visited
the land of the Niduarian Picts, in other words the Picts of Galloway,
and left a record of his journey in the name of Kirkcudbright, i.e.,
the Church of Cuthbert. Various other churches were dedicated to him
in the south of Scotland and in the north of England. A well-known
Edinburgh parish bears his name. He was honoured as far south as
Cornwall. St. Cuby’s Well, locally called St. Kilby’s, between Duloe
and Sandplace in that county is believed to have been dedicated to him.

There is a good deal of uncertainty about the history of Palladius. He
is believed to have been a missionary from Rome to the Irish in the
fifth century, and to have suffered martyrdom for the faith. It is
recorded of him that on one occasion, by removing some turf in the
name of the Holy Spirit, he caused a spring to gush forth to supply
water for baptism. He is popularly associated with Kincardineshire,
though there is reason to believe that he had no personal connection
with the district. A spring in Fordoun parish is locally known as
Paldy’s Well, and an annual market goes by the name of Paldy’s or
Paddy’s Fair. A chapel was dedicated to him there, and received his
relics, brought thither by his disciple Terrananus, whose name is
still preserved in Banchory-Ternan, and who seems to have belonged
to the district. Ternan has a well at Banchory-Devenick, and another
at Kirkton-of-Slains, in Buchan. The old church of Arbuthnot was
dedicated to him. It was for this church that the Missal, Psalter,
and Office of the Virgin, now in the possession of Viscount Arbuthnot,
were written and illuminated towards the end of the fifteenth century,
these being the only complete set of Service-Books of a Scottish
Church that have come down to us from pre-Reformation times.

Brendan of Clonfert in Ireland, visited several of the Western Isles
during the first half of the sixth century, and various churches were
afterwards dedicated to him there. He is connected also with Bute. The
name Brandanes, applied to its inhabitants, came from him, and he bids
fair to be remembered in the name of Kilbrandon Sound, between Arran
and Kintyre. He was patron of a well in the island of Barra and was
tutelar saint of Boyndie and Cullen in Banffshire; but we are not
aware that any well at either of these places was called after him.

A curious legend is related to account for the origin of the See
of Aberdeen. According to it Machar or Macarius, along with twelve
companions, received instructions from Columba to wander over Pictland,
and to build his cathedral-church where he found a river making a
bend like a bishop’s staff. Such a bend was found in the Don at Old
Aberdeen. St. Machar’s Cathedral, built beside it, keeps alive the
saint’s memory. In the neighbouring grounds of Seton is St. Machar’s
Well. Though now neglected, it was honoured in former times, and
its water was used at baptisms in the cathedral. Under the name of
Mocumma or Mochonna, Macarius appears as one of the followers of
Columba on his memorable voyage from Ireland to Iona. He is said to
have visited Pope Gregory the Great at Rome, and to have been for a
time bishop of Tours. In Strathdon, Aberdeenshire, is a well sacred
to him called Tobar-Mhachar, pronounced in the district Tobar-Vacher.

Constantine, known also by his other names of Cowstan, Chouslan,
and Cutchou, was a prince of Cornwall in the sixth century, and was
acquainted with Columba and Kentigern. He relinquished his throne
and crossed over to Ireland, where he turned monk. At a later date
he came to the west of Scotland, and founded a monastery at Golvedir,
believed to be Govan, near Glasgow, and, according to Fordun, became
its abbot. Kilchouslan Church, on the north side of Campbeltown Bay,
Kintyre, was built in his honour. In its graveyard there is, or was
till quite lately, a round stone about the size of a grinding stone. In
the centre is a hole large enough to let the hand pass through. There
is a tradition that if a man and woman eloped, and were able to join
hands through this hole before being overtaken by their kinsfolk they
were free from further pursuit. In the spring of 1892 an interesting
find of old coins was made in the same graveyard. These consisted of
groats and half-groats, some of English and some of Scottish coinage,
the earliest belonging to the reign of Edward II. of England. According
to Martin, the well of St. Cowstan at Garrabost, in Lewis, was believed
never to boil any kind of meat, though its water was kept over the fire
for a whole day. This well is on a steep slope at the shore. Not far
off once stood St. Cowstan’s Chapel, but its site is now under tillage.

Serf or Servanus, who flourished during the latter half of the seventh
century, was connected with the district north of the Firth of Forth,
particularly with Culross, and the island named after him in Loch
Leven, where he founded a monastery. At Dysart, Serf had a cave, and
in it tradition says that he held a discussion with the devil. The
name of Dysart indeed, comes from this desertum or retreat. Serf
had a cell at Dunning, in Strathearn, where he died in the odour
of sanctity. He had also some link with the parish of Monzievaird,
where the church was dedicated to him, and where a small loch still
goes by the name of St. Serf’s Water. There is a well sacred to him at
Alva. St. Shear’s Well, at Dumbarton, retains his name in an altered
form. Early last century this spring was put to a practical purpose,
as arrangements were then made to lead its water across the Leven by
pipes to supply the burgh.

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