Thursday 9 January 2014

Saint Fillan of Strathfillan, January 9

Two days ago we celebrated the memory of Saint Kentigerna, an Irishwoman who ended her life as a hermitess in Scotland. At January 9 we commemorate the memory of her son Fillan, with the details again supplied by Scottish Episcopalian Bishop Alexander Forbes:

FILLAN, January 9.—A saint associated with so great a military event in the history of Scotland as the battle of Bannockburn must excite an interest beyond that occasioned by the facts of his life. And to this may be added the circumstance that the belief in his power continued to exist till the beginning of this century, many mad persons being dipped in his pool at Killin, in the firm faith that thereby they should be cured. The antiquary also, and student of art, will be anxious to know something of an ancient abbot whose pastoral staff and bell are still in existence—the latter exhibiting a symbol which connects the Scoto-Irish Church with one of the most singular manifestations of the heathen nature-worship.

His name is variously spelt. The Martyrology of Aberdeen and the Kalendar of the Breviary of Aberdeen call him Felanus; the Sanctorale of the same, Foelanus; Aengus, Faelan; Tallaght, Faelan; Drummond, Felanus; Donegal, Faelan; Colgan, Foilanus; Camerarius, Fillanus or Filanus; Dempster, Filanus; King, Filane; The Retours of the seventeenth century, Phillane; some charters, Fulanus.

The particulars of this saint's life, as recorded in the Breviary of Aberdeen, are these:

"Faelanus, sprung from a noble family of the Scoti, had for father Feriach, and for mother Kentigerna, the most devout of women. He was bom,as had been prophesied of him, with a stone in his mouth, which caused his father to have such contempt for him as to cause him to be cast into a neighbouring lake or pool. He was there for a whole year, during which time he was sustained by angels, the ministers of God. After the year elapsed, he was found, through a divine revelation, by the Bishop Ybarus, playing with angels. He lifted him safely out of the lake, and, taking him to himself, baptized him and instructed him in the knowledge of God.

"But when his youthful years had been thus passed, he betook himself to the most devout Abbot Mundus, from whom he received the monastic rule and habit. In this monastery, that he might more easily labour in divine contemplation, he secretly constructed a cell not far from the cloister, in which, on a certain night, while the brethren of the monastery announced by a little servant that supper was ready, the servant kneeling and peeping through a chink in that cell to see what was taking place, saw the blessed Faelanus writing in the dark, with his left hand affording a clear light to his right hand. The servant, wondering at this occurrence, straightway returned to the brethren and told it.

"But blessed Faelanus having had this made known to him supernaturally, and being angry with the servant that had revealed his secret, by divine permission a certain crane, which was domesticated in the monastery, pecked out the eye of the servant and blinded him; but the blessed Faelanus, moved with compassion, and at the instance and supplication of the brotherhood, straightway restored the eye of the servant.

"Meanwhile the fame of Faelanus spread on all sides, and the blessed Father Mundus having died, by the unanimous consent of the brotherhood the blessed Faelanus, though reluctant, was elected abbot, when, on the government being handed to him, he, by his virtues and good example, ruled wisely, and instructed and informed his brethren in all holiness, chastity, and humility. He regarded also those who believed in Christ as his dear and special friends, and treated them in the love of God and in charity —above all things, with hospitality.

"But, having left his holy mother Kentigerna, in obedience to the message of an angel, he betook himself to his uncle Conganus, a most saintly man, at a place which is called Siracht, in the upper parts of Glendeochquhy, in which place the situation for building a basilica was divinely pointed out to him, with his seven serving clerics. Remaining there a little while, he completely drove away, with his little dog, a most ferocious boar which had devastated the district; and he also converted to the faith of Christ many of the people of that place from the errors of Gentilism and idolatry.

"While he was building the church in the place which God had shown him, when the oxen were unyoked from the wains, a hungry and fierce wolf slew and ate one of them; and in the moming, when he had got no ox to take the place of that which was slain, on pouring forth prayer to God the same wolf returned as a servant and submitted himself to the yoke with the oxen, and continued to do so till the completion of the church aforesaid, when he returned to bis own nature, doing hurt to no one. But the blessed Faelanus, after many and various miraculous works, full of happy days, migrated to Christ on the Fifth of the Ides of January, and is said to have been honourably buried in the said church, which is in Straphillane, and there he reposes,"—-(Brev. Aberd. pars hyem, f. xxvi. a, xxvii.)

Colgan (Acta SS. Hib. p. 49) places the age of S. Fillan at the beginning of the eighth century—not in the middle of the seventh, as Camerarius maintains. He places Cerate, the desert of Sirach, in Glenderchy (as the Siracht of Glendeochquhy of the Aberdeen Breviary is called by that late author), at Gleandorche in Ulster, on tho confines of Tyrone and Fermanagh.

Camerarius places Glenderchy in Fife, and associates the saint with Pittenweem.

Colgan (Acta SS. Hib, p. 104) gives nineteen saints of this name, one of whom was a celebrated Continental martyr, the brother of S. Fursey of Peronne, and of S. Ultan, whose acts are to be found in Capgrave's Nova Legenda, fol. cxlix., and in Colgan, Acta SS. Hib. p. 99, and who was killed at Hainault in A.D. 655. But the Scottish saint of this name must be either the saint whose commemoration is found both in the Scottish and Irish Kalendars on the 9th of January, or a saint whose day is on the 20th June, "Faolan the Stammerer, of Rath-Erran in Alba; and of Cill-Fhaelaiu in Laoighis in Leinster, of the race of Aenghus, son of Nadfraech," i.e. King of Munster. -(Martyrology of Donegal, p, 175.) Colgan calls him "Leprosus." The original is Amlobar. Probably it is the first of these saints. According to Colgan (Acta SS. Hib. pp. 49, 50), the oldest record of him is in the Martyrology of Aengus the Culdee. His name occurs in that of Tallaght, of Marian Gorman, in the Kalendar of Cashel, and in that of Cathal Maguire; the Martyrology of Donegal epitomises all that was recollected of him in Ireland in the seventeenth century — "Faelan of Cluain-Maosgna in Feara-tulach," We have to apply to the Scottish authority of the Breviary of Aberdeen for any details concerning him; and the life of his mother, Kentigerna of Inch Caillach, in Lochlomond, further supplements our knowledge.

Briefly, then, this saint (commemorated in the Irish and Scottish Kalendars, on the 9th January) was the son of Feradach or Feriath, a nobleman probably of the race of Fiatach Finn, by Kentigerna or Quentigerna, Caentigern or Coentigern, daughter of Kellach Cualann, king of Leinster, and sister of S. Congan of Turriff and Lochalsh. See Kentigerna. S. Fillan's epoch is determined by the dates of his mother and maternal grandfather, who died respectively in A.D. 734 and a.d. 715, by the fact of his being educated by S. Ibar, and by his receiving the monastic habit from S. Munna, the saint who is known in Ireland as S. Fintan-Munna MacTulcain, who died in 635, and whose name is preserved in Kilmun, on the Holy Loch in Argyleshire. We therefore must reject Camerarius's date of 649, and place him a little after the commencement of the eighth century.

We cannot determine in what monastery of S. Munnu S. Fillan was trained. Dr. Lanigan throws discredit on the accounts that give him any other monastery than Taghmun, in the county of Wexford. He is called S. Munnu of Kilmund and Dissert, in the Breviary of Aberdeen. If the Dissert be the Desert of S. Serf, now Dysart, we may understand how S. Fillan's name should be preserved in the nomenclature of his cave, a little farther eastward in Fife, at Pittenweem; but the chief scene of his labours was in the uplands of Perthshire, in the parishes of Glendochart and Killin. There we find a river and a strath called after him, and a church dedicated to him. There is a Killallan in Renfrewshire (Reeves' Adamnan, p. Ixxiv.), and a place of worship dedicated to him at the chapel-yard, parish of Largs (Orig. Par. vol. i. p. 89).

Again, we find traces of S. Fillan farther north. In the life of his uncle, S. Congan, in the Breviary of Aberdeen, it is said that he fled from Ireland to Lochalsh, in northern Argyle,—a description of the locality which incidentally proves the antiquity of the authority from which the narrative is taken, for it was afterwards termed Ross-shire, on the occasion of Alexander II. granting it to the Earl of Ross. There S. Fillan built a church to the honour of his uncle; and in fact, at the present day, Kilkoan and Killellan, the churches of Congan and Fillan, bear testimony to the truth of the legend.

The proximity to Pittenweem, where the saint's cave, already alluded to, is shown, would account for S. Phillans being the alternative name of the parish of Forgan in Fife, though the parish church had an after-dedication to S. Andrew, as we see by a confirmatio. of Pope Adrian IV. given in the Registrum Prioratus S. Andrea, p. 51...

A relic of S. Fillan still exists—viz. the Coygerach or pastoral staff of the saint, which has been preserved to this day. The ancient bell of this saint is still preserved, and is now in the Museum of the Antiquarian Society in Edinburgh.

"There is in Strathfillan the ruins of a building 120 feet long, and 22 broad, which is said to have been a cathedral. Part of the walls are still standing." "At Strathfillan there is a deep pool called the Holy Pool, where in old times they were wont to dip insane people. The ceremony was performed after sunset on the 1st day of the quarter O.S., and before sunrise next morning. The dipped persons were instructed to take three stones from the bottom of the pool, and walking three times round each of the three cairns on the bank, throw a stone into each. They were next conveyed to the ruin of S. Fillan's Chapel, and in a corner called S. Fillan's bed, they were laid on their back, and left tied all night. If next morning they were found loose, the cure was deemed perfect. S. Fillan's bell still exists, and at the mill of Killin, there was long kept a stone called Fillan's chair, and seven small stones that had been consecrated by the saint, and endowed with the power of curing diseases. Five of them are still preserved."—(N. S. A., Perth, p. 1088.) The family of Mc Nabs are the descendants of the hereditary abbot of Grlendochart, among whom Fillan was much used as a Christian name. The Old Statistical Account says that after the insane people remained all night in the chapel bound with ropes, the bell was set on their head with great solemnity. It was the common opinion that, if stolen, it would extricate itself out of the thief's hands and return home.—(0. S. A. xviii p. 378.)

Dempster assigns him a monastery in Knapdale, in which S. Cataldus was buried.—(Hist. Eccles. Scot. lib. iii. num. 278.) The Felire of Aengus gives us —

Faelan deoda digrais
(Gloss) i. do gres no ro mait.

[Faelan the godly and stedfast,
i.e. constant or very good.]

Alexander Penrose Forbes, D.C.L. Bishop of Brechin, Kalendars of Scottish Saints, (1872), 341-346.

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