The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


St Fillan’s Holy Well And Chapel, Kilallan, Renfrewshire, Scotland

St Fillan's Holy Well at Kilallan, Renfrewshire, Scotland.

St Fillan’s Holy Well at Kilallan, Renfrewshire, Scotland.

   OS Grid Reference: NS 38401 6899. The healing well of St Fillan lies at the edge of a wooded area 140 metres to the north-east of the ruined and roofless chapel, also named for the saint, at the east-side of Kilallan Farm, near the village of Kilmacolm in the parish of Houston, Renfrewshire. And 55 metres to the south of the holy well, beside Corsliehill Road, is the famous St Fillan’s Seat, a large rock shaped as such. St Fillan or Foelan was an 8th century saint from Munster in Ireland. The little hamlet of Kilallan (meaning the cell of Fillan) with its old ruined church of St Fillan and graveyard was a holy and sacred site and also a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages – as was the nearby holy well and rock-seat. The church was last used for services in the latter part of the 18th century. Although the church is without its roof it does still retain some interesting medieval features, and there used to be a 10th century stone here. The holy well, ruined chapel and stone seat lie just off Corsliehill Road in the vicinity of Kilallan Farm, some 2 miles to the south-east of Kilmacolm, near Houston.

   The holy well of St Fillan was almost certainly a pre-Christian spring that was used by the saint himself in the 8th century for baptismal purposes. It’s water flowed from beneath a rock in the ground and into a round-shaped brick and stone basin. Long ago the holy water apparently miraculously cured children of rickets when they were bathed there; pieces of cloth and rags being hung on trees beside the well as votive offerings, although this ceased at the end of the 17th century when the local priest filled the well with stones. The water was also used for baptisms in the nearby church of St Fillan, which now stands roofless beside Kilallan farm. The well gets a brief mention in Janet & Colin Bord’s work ‘Sacred Waters’.

   St Fillan’s Old Church at the east-side of Kilallan (Kilellan) Farm (NS 38268 68934) is now roofless but the walls you see here are still very sturdy and solid-looking. This building stands on the site of an older, medieval church, but there are still parts of this “older” building in the fabric of the walls. The doorway is said to date from 1635. In the churchyard wall there is a ancient baptismal font, or stoup, from the older church; and there used to be a 10th century stone standing inside the present edifice, but this seems to have been removed for safety reasons. In 1772 St Fillan’s was finally abandoned to the elemants. The British Listed Buildings site says of this: “Church ruin; roofless; walls and major part of gables remain; dated lintel “1635”. Later E gable, thick crowstepped W gable, with bipartite window at clerestory level. N wall with tomb of Fleming of Barochan family. Doorways in N and S walls. Moulded cornice to all but E. 3 doors to S blocked up. Stone stoup built into wall. Early gravestones in kirkyard.” Historic Scotland Building ID is:- no 12897. (See the link below*).

St Fillan's Seat beside Corsliehill Road, Kilallan, Renfrewshire

St Fillan’s Seat beside Corsliehill Road, Kilallan, Renfrewshire

   A little further to the south-east of the ruined chapel, beside the road and opposite the farm building, is a large flat rock of ancient origins that is locally called St Fillan’s Seat or Chair at (NS 38419 68937). Legend records that the holy man sat here and baptized the local children. We don’t, however, know a great deal about the life of the saint other than he was born in (c703) and was a monk at Cluain Moescna, Co. Westmeath, but in his youth (c717 AD) sailed from Ireland to Scotland and was accompanied by his mother, St Kentigerna, and his uncle, St Comgan. We know that Fillan buried his uncle on the Island of Iona. His father was said to have been Feriach. There are though another 14 saints called Fillan, Foelan and Faelan. At least two of these came to Scotland between the 6th and 8th century AD. This has undoubtedly led to confusion, but St Fillan of Kilallan was abbot of Glendochart, Perthshire, and died in 776 AD. His feastday is generally 9th January but sometimes 19th Jan, whereas the other St Fillan was a disciple of St Columba – probably at Pittenweem – in Fife. He died in 593 AD  and is honoured on either 20th or 25th June.

   The author Donald Attwater in his work ‘A Dictionary Of Saints’, adds more to the information but, perhaps, adds to that confusion regarding the 8th century St Fillan. He says that: “Fillan was abbot of a monastery near St Andrews; was a solitary in Perthshire, and was buried in Strathfillan, also in Perthshire.”

Sources and other related websites:-

Attwater, Donald, A Dictionary Of Saints, Burns & Oates, London, 1958.

Bord, Janet & Colin, Sacred Waters, Paladin, London, 1986.

MacKillop, James, Dictionary Of Celtic Mythology, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998.

The AA, Illustrated Road Book Of Scotland, The Automobile Association, London, 1963.

http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/sc-12897-killellan-kirk-and-churchyard-houston#.WE3p5C975jo

https://canmore.org.uk/site/42250/kilallan-st-fillans-church-and-churchyard

https://canmore.org.uk/site/42246/kilallan-st-fillans-well

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houston_and_Killellan

http://houstonvillage.co.uk/history/

http://www.guard-archaeology.co.uk/news13/kilallanNews.html

                                                                                       © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2016.

 


Kilmalkedar Monastic Site, Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry, Southern Ireland

Kilmalkedar Church, Co Kerry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kilmalkedar Church, Co Kerry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Irish grid reference: Q 4030 0620. Just off the R559 Cois Farraige (or the Carrig) road to the east of Murreagh on the Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry, stands the 7th century Kilmalkedar Monastic Site, also known as Cill Malcheadair. Here we find a small 12th century roofless Romanesque church, a rare Dark Age sundial, an Ogham and Latin inscribed stone and some cross-inscribed slabs, one of which is called ‘the Alphabet Stone’ and, there are some pre-Christian holed ‘balaun’ stones, holy wells and early medieval grave-markers – in what is a ‘very’ beautiful and holy setting in the far south-west of County Kerry, some 5 miles north-west of Dingle on the R559 road.

The first church and a monastery, were established here at Kilmalkedar in c 600 AD by St Maolcethair (Maolcedar), the son of an Irish king (of Ulster). A building called ‘St Brendan’s House’, actually an oratory, can also be found here and, close by the pilgrims’ road (Cosan na Naomh) leads on to Mount Brandon from where St Brendan departed for foreign lands in the mid 6th century. About 1 mile to the south-west of Kilmalkedar is the famous boat-shaped building known as ‘the Gallarus Oratory’, which dates maybe from the 8th century. The Celtic monastery of Kilmalkedar is known from history to have been a renowned school of learning during the early medieval period.

The ancient roofless Romanesque chapel dates from the mid-12th century, though there was obviously an earlier religious building on this site, maybe dating back to the Dark Ages when both St Brendan and, later St Maolcethair were in residence here. There are a number of very beautiful architectural features in the church. It consists of a chancel and nave – the chancel measures roughly 6 metres by 5 metres – while the nave is roughly 8 metres by 9 metres. The church is said to resemble the more famous Cormac’s Chapel at Cashel, County Tipperary.

In the excellent article ‘Marking The Passage Of Time’ by Patrick O’Sullivan for the Ireland’s Own magazine we are informed that the church was: “built in the Romanesque style of the twelfth century, typical features being the round headed doorway and the high pitched gables”. But there are a number of other features too including the barrel-vaulting and a lower section of the corbelled stone roof, and some carved window surrounds have survived. The chancel dates from 1200; and the west doorway has a ‘tympanum’ with carved stone head. O’Sullivan in his article goes on to say: “The original roof of the church has long since given way but the East Window, known locally as Cno na Snaithaide, the eye of the needle, still remains. It has long been the tradition for pilgrims to pass through the window nine times, especially at Eastertime, when it was believed that doing so would grant them the promise of eternal life”.

Standing in the chancel is the famous ‘Alphabet Stone’, dating probably from the 6th century AD, which is 4 feet high, but is broken at the top. On its west face the Latin alphabet and an earlier inscription DNI which is probably ‘domini’. The north face has a thin, damaged cross while the south face has an equally thin Latin cross with scrolled ends. And outside in the graveyard a 6 foot high slender Ogham stone with a little round hole at the top. The Latin inscription on this is: ANM MAILE INBIR MACI BROCANN which is translated as: ‘In the name of Mael Unbir, son of Brocan’, and on the opposite side (along the edge) is the Ogham notch inscription reading the same. This stone is thought to date from the 5th or 6th century AD.

Kilmalkedar Sundial Co Kerry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kilmalkedar Sundial Co Kerry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also in the churchyard is a 4 foot high rectangular shaped stone with sundial markings beautifully carved onto it. O’Sullivan says of this: “The beautiful sundial is marked with segments which correspond to the divisions of the monastic day”. He goes on to say: “The northwest face meanwhile is decorated with a cross of arcs, the later now thought to be a symbol of pilgrimage, as it appears on many stones associated with early pilgrimage routes”. And further he says: “While the lines on the Kilmalkedar sundial end in half moons, or semi circles, other examples have lines that end in three pronged forks. There are two decorative fret motifs at the top of the shaft of the Kilmalkedar sundial, everything about it evocative of an age when the pilgrims made their way to the holy mountain. It is the easiest thing in the world to picture some of them stopping by the sundial, telling the time of day from the way in which its face was shadowed by the sun”, he says.

There are a number of interesting early Medieval grave-markers set among the more modern gravestones, these may indicate where monks from the monastery were buried between the 8th-12th century. Also, there are two holy wells – one for St Maolcedir, founder of the monastery here, and the other belongs to St Brendan whose ruined, roofless oratory (St Brendan’s House) stands 50 metres to the north. St Brendan’s holy well is located at the south-east side of his two-roomed oratory.

Also in the churchyard, a hefty and tall slab-cross with a thin (unfinished) cross carved onto it, and a number of early medieval grave-markers in the form of crosses, including a small T-shaped tau cross. These probably mark the graves of the monks who lived at the monastery between the 8th-12th centuries AD.

Some 50 metres to the north, near St Brendans House, there are two pre-Christian balaun stones with several depressions or bowl-like holes in them – though what these were originally used for is uncertain, maybe milk, or some other substance was placed in the holes as a kind of fertility aid, or for healing purposes? During the early Christian period these holes may have been used by missionaries for holy water and, subsequently baptism of the local people. Close by is the pilgrims road (Saint’s Road) which leads from Kilmalkedar to Brandon Mountain from where legend says St Brendan the Navigator sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on his long journey to other lands back in the mid-6th century AD, according to Katharine Scherman in her delightful book ‘The Flowering of Ireland’.

Sources:

Bord, Janet & Colin., Mysterious Britain, Paladin Books, London, 1974.

http://www.irelandtravelkit.com/irish-romanesque-church-kilmalkedar-county-Kerry/

http://irishantiquities.bravehost.com/kerry/kilmalkedar/kilmalkedar.html

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kilmalkedar

O’Sullivan, Patrick., ‘Marking The Passage Of Time’, Ireland’s Own, (Various Dates), Wexford, Ireland.

Scherman, Katharine., The Flowering of Ireland, Victor Gollancz Ltd., London, 1981.


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St Candida’s Church, Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorset

Shrine of St Candida at Whitchurch Canonicorum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shrine of St Candida at Whitchurch Canonicorum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: SY 3967 5432. At the north-side of Whitchurch Canonicorum village, in Marshwood Vale, along Lower Street stands St Candida’s Church (St Candida and Holy Cross), an ancient parish church on an equally ancient site, probably Saxon. The building houses the quite rare 13th century shrine of  a Saxon saint who was apparently martyred hereabouts by Vikings; the church then became a place of pilgrimage during the Middle Ages. St Candida is also known as St Whyte, St Wite, St Wita and St Gwen, though very little is actually known about her, and the date of her death not known with any real certainty – although it was, according to legend, somewhere between the 7th-9th centuries AD. The church tower of St Candida’s has some carved stones built into it which depict the martyrdom of the saint. The village of Whitchurch Canonicorum lies in the far south-west of Dorset – a few miles north of the A35 on country lanes – some 6 miles north-east of Lyme Regis and 2 miles north-east of Charmouth.

Within the parish church stands a rare 13th century stone shrine with three large oval-shaped apertures and, inside this there is a lead reliquary which is said to contain the bones of a local Saxon saint called Candida or Wite who was martyred at nearby Charmouth, probably at the beginning of the 8th century AD or, possibly in the 9th century? Some historians ‘consider’ her to be a saint from south Wales called Gwen Tebrion, but this seems most unlikely as St Gwen lived at an earlier date, the 6th century, but she shares the same feast-day 1st June.  Gwen means ‘White’ in the Welsh language form. The assumption was that King Athelstan gave the ‘so-called’ relics of St Gwen to the church at Whitchurch Canonicorum back in the 10th century AD.

A reference in the Reader’s Digest book ‘Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain’ says of the apertures in the medieval shrine “pilgrims thrust diseased limbs or bandages in the hope of miraculous cures”. Indeed numerous miracles of healing the sick and infirm have been recorded here over the centuries. An early miracle recorded at the shrine was the restoration of sight (Rodney Castleden, 1986).

In an article by Rodney Castleden ‘Saints, Shrines & Miracles’ for ‘Exploring The Supernatural’ magazine in 1986 we are given some interesting information about St Candida’s tomb [shrine]. The author says: “At the turn of the century a crack appeared in the stonework of St Candida’s tomb. It was then possible to examine the leaden reliquary inside… which carried the inscription HIC REQUEST RELIQE SCE WITE (Here lie the remains of Saint Wita? Wita was an alternative name for Candida. The lead box was opened up and inside were found the bones of a small woman who was about forty years old at the time of her death”. Castleden goes on to say that: “Very little is known about St Candida. Indeed, it may be her obscurity that ensured that she attracted no attention at the time of the Dissolution. All that we know about her, apart from the evidence of her shrine, rests on local tradition, which may or may not be reliable. The local tradition says that St Wita, or Candida, was a Saxon woman killed by the Danes on one of their raids when they landed at Charmouth. Part of this tradition is preserved in carvings on the church tower; they show a Viking axe and a Viking longship, the agencies of Candida’s death”.

Parish Church of St Candida at Whitchurch Canonicorum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Parish Church of St Candida at Whitchurch Canonicorum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The parish church of St Candida and Holy Cross stands on a Saxon foundation, but the present-day building is architecturally Early English (late Norman) to Perpendicular – 12th to 14th century. The font is Norman and the pulpit Jacobean, and it is noted for its nave arcades and tombs, according to The Illustrated AA Road Book of England & Wales. Authors Jones & Tricker ‘County Guide To English Churches’ say that: St Candida’s is “nearly all EE. The south doorway is however Norman and the S porch Perp. The arcades are EE with stiff-leaf foliage and trumpet-scallop capitals. The fine tower has eight pinnacles and is Perp. Norman font with intersecting arches, 16th C stalls (French) and Jac pulpit”.

It is of interest here to mention that just 1 mile to the south of Whitchurch is the village of Morecombelake and a healing well dedicated to St Candida (Wite). The well has long been able to cure eye troubles. Indeed author Rodney Castleden says: “Dorset children still call the pale blue flowers of the periwinkle ‘St Candida’s Eyes’, which again links the saint with eyesight. The well and its magic properties seem likely to form part of a much older tradition, from long before the Christian era”.

Sources

Castleden, Rodney., Saints, Shrines & Miracles, The Supernatural Magazine, November 1986.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_St_Candida_and_Holy_Cross

Jones, Lawrence E. & Tricker, Roy., County Guide To English Churches, Countryside Books, Newbury, Berks, 1992.

Pepin, David., Discovering Shrines And Holy Places, Shire Publications Ltd., Princes Risborough, Aylesbury, Bucks, 1980.

Reader’s Digest., Folklore Myths & Legends of Britain, (Second Edition), The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London, 1977.

The AA, The Illustrated Road Book of England & Wales, (Second Post – War Edition), The Automobile Association, London WC2, 1962.