PART 1 - CHAPTER II - CELTIC PERIOD

"Peace to their shades! the pure Culdees Were Albyn's earliest priests of God Ere yet an island of the sea By foot of saxon monk was trod" CAMPBELL

It is in the works of Caesar, Tacitus, and other Roman authors that the written history for our country beings. Julius Caesar invaded the southern shores of England in the year 55 b.c. but he knew nothing of Scotland. It was not till the year 81 of the Christian era that the Romans under Agricola penetrated into the northern division of the island. The campaigns of this general are described and embellished by his son-in-law Tacitus in a most interesting memoir of his life. About that period Scotland appears to have been inhabited by twenty-one Celtic tribes, of whom sixteen, who were called Caledonians, possessed the districts north of the Forth & Clyde. The tribe who peopled Fife was the Horestii. In the year 83 Agricola, having crossed the Forth at Queensferry, attacked and vanquished this tribe at Loch Orr. He then proceeded to reduce Fife, and subsequently enrolled a large body of the conquered natives as his auxiliaries – a plan resembling that pursued by the British in India. It appears probable that the Romans occupied our district of Fife. At Craigiehill, in the parish of Leuchars, there was laid bare in 1808 an earthern jar containing nearly a hundred Roman coins of the reigns of Severus, Antoninus, and others. Near the village of Balmerino a silver coin of he reign of Tiberius was found in a good state of preservation about forty years ago. The religion of the Celtic tribes was the same as that of the ancient Gauls, to whom they were allied in race. Their priests were called Druids, from a Celtic word, signifying a sage. They taught the existence of one God, whom they named Bel or Be’al, a word apparently akin to the Phoenician Baal. It is believed that they did not bow down to idols. No “graven image,” worshipped by them, has ever been found in our island. They believed in the immortality of the soul so firmly, that it is said they gave each other loans of money, to be repaid when they should reach the Island of the Brave – their so-called heaven. They held the oak and mistletoe in great reverence; and their temples were merely groves of oak trees, within which were erected circles of “standing stones,” with a large one in the centre, on which, as some assert, they offered their sacrifices. On certain great occasions they filled with living human beings huge images of wickerwork, and then set them on fire to propitiate the Deity. They had two great annual festivals. One was held on the first of May, which was the beginning of their year, when they kindled a large fire on the top of a hill in honour of the sun, which luminary they regarded as a symbol of the Deity. This festival was called Beltane, or fire of Bel, which was till recently in the Lowlands, and still is in the Highlands, the name for Mayday. Their other chief festival was called Samhainn, or fire of peace, at which justice was administered, and disputes settled. It was held on what is now called Hallow E’en, which is still called Samhainn in the Highlands – a proof how slowly ancient customs yield to change.

About the year 364 the inhabitants of Fife appear under the name of Vecturiones, who, no doubt, were also Celts. Soon afterwards the name of Caledonians disappears from history, and the people are called Picts. Fife formed the most important portion of the Southern Pictish Kingdom, of which Forteviot first, and afterwards Abernethy was the capital until the year 843, when the Pictish rule gave place to that of the Scots, and the name of Picts fell into disuse. In the year 685, the Saxons of Northumbria, whose kingdom extended to the Forth, fought a battle with the Picts at a place called Dunnechtan, when Bridei, the Pictish King, slew Egfrid, King of the Saxons, and thus preserved to the Picts the dominion of Fife. Mr Leighton thinks that the scene of the battle was Naughton, in Balmerino parish; but Chalmers, the learned author of “Caledonia,” and [one of] the best authorities, with more probability identify it with Dunnichen in Angus, which is believed to be a corruption of Dun-Nechtan, the fortress of Nectan. At what period the inhabitants of this district first received the Christian faith it is impossible to determine with certainty. We know, however, that their primitaive clergy were the Culdees, a word derived either from a Celtic word cealdeach meaning a recluse, or monk, or from Gille De, which signifies servants of God. The conversion of the Pictish people of Fife, and the origin of their Culdee clergy, are by some of our old historians traced to St. Regulus, or St. Rule, and by others to St. Columba. According to the well known legend, Regulus, bishop of Patrae, in Achaia, in the fourth century, having in his custody the bones of St.Andrew the apostle, was directed by an angel to sail with these relics to the west, and wherever his vessel should land, to build a church in honour of St. Andrew, He accordingly sailed westward through the Mediterranean and having reached the German ocean, he and his companions were wrecked in the country of the Picts at a place called Muckross, afterwards Kilrymont, and now St. Andrews; but they succeeded in saving the precious relics. They afterwards travelled through the Pictish territory, and founded churches at various places. The first place they visited was Forteviot. Thence they went to “Monechatu, which is now called Monichi,” and from that to “Doldancha, which is now called Chondrochedalvan,” situated beyond the “Moneth,” an ancient name for the Grampians. Returning to Kilrymont, they dedicated a church there to St Andrew, to which King Hungus, at the same time, gave a large territory as its “parish.” This district is described as including “all the lands lying betwixt the sea called Ishundenema and the sea called Sletheuma, and in the adjacent province, bounded by a line drawn from Largo to Ceres, and thence to Hyatnacten Machchirb, which is now called Hadnacten. [Naughton].” Such is the legendary origin of St Andrews and of the Culdees of Fife. The editor of Sibbald’s history of Fife interprets that author as asserting that one of the churches said to have been founded by Regulus was at Naughton, which he identifies with the place called Doldancha or Chondrochedalvan; and from this source has been derived the statement contained in several recent works that there was anciently an establishment of Culdees at Naughton. But Dr. Adamason is here in error, having been misled by Sibbald’s careless style and punctuation. It does not appear that Sibbald ever intended to identify Chondrochedalvan with Naughton; and if he did so, the extracts which he quotes from the old Register of St. Andrews would not substantiate their identity. It is plain that Chondrochedalvan was somewhere north of the Grampians. Mr Skene supposes it to have been Kindrochet in the Brae of Mar, which was

dedicated to St. Andrew. As to the value of the legend itself, that part of it which narrates the bringing of the relics of St. Andrew to Scotland itself is apparently fabulous. But from the circumstantial manner in which the latter part of the legend is told, it is difficult to avoid the conviction that it rest on a basis of facts. The lists of the Pictish Kings – whatever value is to be attached to them – contain no such name as that of Hungus in the fourth century. But there is a Hungus who resigns from 820 to 834; and it was in all probability he who founded St. Andrews (where there was certainly a Culdee establishment in the ninth century), attached the above mentioned district to it, and adopted St. Andrew as the patron saint of Scotland. We may therefore reasonably conclude that Naughton was known by a name of which its present one is an abbreviation as early as the middle of the ninth century; and that, though not then the site of a church, it was included in the district placed under the care of the Culdee clergy of St. Andrews. This is the first mention made of it in any writing, and it therefore comes into notice by name at an earlier period than any other place in this district. The origin of the Culdees, who were undoubtedly settled in Fife long before the ninth century, is more probably to be traced to the celebrated Columba and his followers, whose missionary labours, from near the end of the sixth century onwards are well known. His clergy lived in monasteries, generally to the number of twelve in one place, besides the abbot; but they practised neither the austerities nor the vices of Romish monasticism. They were not bound to celibacy, and where wholly independent of, and differed in many respects from, the Church of Rome. Their monasteries may be described as missionary colleges, and they had large grants of land made to them. But their practise of transmitting the office of the ministry by hereditary succession, and other causes eventually led to their degeneracy, and to their being supplanted by the Romish monks and clergy. Whatever was the origin of the Culdees – for the name seems to have been applied to the early Christian teachers of Scotland generally – it is certain that they has an establishment at Abernethy more than two centuries earlier that than at St. Andrews is known to have existed; that is, towards the end of the sixth century. It is a curious fact, however, that our knowledge of the state of Christianity in Scotland before the seventh century is much greater than during the four or five centuries following, which were ages of darkness and confusion. During that long period Scottish church history present almost a complete blank, so that we are unable to follow out the progress of Culdee evangelisation. But it shall be shown in the sequel that about the end of the twelth century the lands forming the original parish of Balmerino probably belonged to the Culdees of Abernethy. At what period this connection of Balmerino with Abernethy began we do not know, and it would be vain to form decided opinions as to the events of a period of six centuries of which so little is known. Yet is seems not an improbable supposition that our parish may have been Christianized by the Culdees of Abernethy long before Naughton was placed under those of St. Andrews. We may at least conclude that it was from one or the other of those venerable Christian establishments that the light of the gospel first penetrated into this district, and that the period was not later than the ninth century. Near the end of the tenth century the Danes, who harassed Scotland by repeated incursions on its coasts, appeared with a numerous fleet in the Tay, but after a fierce battle, with heavy loss on

both sides, were defeated near Luncarty. Traditions asserts that during their retreat they were several times attacked by Kenneth III on the south bank of the Tay, and, amongst other places, on a eminence west of the village of Gauldry, still called Battle Law, and compelled to take refuge in their ships. In confirmation of the tradition, cairns existed till recently on this field, which, when cleared away, were found to contain human bones. At the east end of Gauldry there were also several mounds called the “Graves,” in which, when opened, were discovered “stone coffins” or cists, human bones, and broken swords. On the farm of Peacehills, about a mile and a half north-east of the Battle Law, and in the line of retreat which the Danes would probably pursue, two ornaments of pure gold, valued at about £14 sterling, were found, one in 1818, and the other in 1826. One of them was a ball, which appeared to have formed the knob on the hilt of a sword; and the other, which is in the possession of Mrs. Morison of Naughton, is a hollow cylinder of a curved form, tapering towards each end, and having a rod of copper running through it, and three rows of raised reticulated work from one end to the other on the outer side of the curve. It probably formed an ornament on the helmet of some chief who had fallen in the retreat. Cairns or mounds at the same place were found to contain several human skulls, each being enclosed in a square cist formed by four stone. Other antiquities, commonly assigned to the period of those Danish inroads, exist in the neighbourhood. Near the western side of St Fort woods, in Forgan parish, there is an ancient camp still in excellent preservation. It is of an oval shape, and surrounded by two, and in some places by three, trenches. On the northern side it is further defended by a steep bank, with a small sheet of water at its base; and on the south by a gentler declivity across the Leuchars road. There are entrance-ways at both the east and west ends. Its traditional name is the “Danes” Camp. To the same period are commonly assigned the forts on Norman’s Law, and on the chain of heights running eastward from it, as well as several of the other prehistoric memorials which have been mentioned in a previous section. Some of them may, however, be of vastly older date. This opinion is much strengthened by the fact that the ancient British name of Norman’s Law, now fallen into disuse, was Dunmore, meaning the “great stronghold, or fortress” and pointing to a period probably long anterior to that of the Danish inroads. Popular explanation, seeking to account for things by the easiest method, frequently assigns such antiquities to some event well known in history, with which they have, in many cases, been proved to have no connection. This remark holds true especially of sepulchral memorials, which are generally referred either to the Roman or Danish periods, as if there had been no battles or deaths in this country till the Romans and Danes landed on its shores. Most of the ancient forts, also, are more probably of British than of Danish origin, and older than the time of the Danish invasions. The native tribes had internal, as well as foreign foes to resist, and it may be presumed that those who occupied the country for so many ages would leave more numerous traces of their presence than would mark the hasty incursions of strangers from beyond the seas.

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