St Just…

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Not only did our last hotel

fail to provide any windows, to speak of, in our room,

  it also failed to provide us with a breakfast…

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Which is just as well, really,

for we were up, and off, and away

long before breakfast would ordinarily

ever have been dreamed of…

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However, by nine bells one might be forgiven

for expecting the local sea-front eateries to be offering

something in the way of refreshment?

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Not so!

So, we headed for St Just…

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How to disguise your sacred monument…

 

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Firstly, cover it with the Dragon’s Breath…

Secondly, consign it to a relatively late historical period…

Thirdly, invent for it a plausible name…

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“What is a miracle play, anyway?”

“It’s a medieval drama based on episodes from the life of a saint.”

“What, like St Just?”

“Yes, just like St Just, Hermit and Martyr.” …

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“And what did St Just do?”

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“Well, apart from displaying his true colours,

and confirming the link between the stonework

of ancient and less ancient sacred sites,

he also reminded us why we’re here.”

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“That’s the church of St Just, what did the real St Just do?”

“Oh, pretty much the same sort of thing, I expect.” …

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A Sacred and Profane Memoir

 by Alfred John Prufrock

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Note on Celtic Saints:

These ancient savants seem of an entirely different cast to their Roman Catholic successors.

Like the Bards of old they travel the land far and wide, taking their entourage with them, seeming reluctant to ever settle…

St Samson, though born in Wales of ‘royal stock’, enjoys legendary status on Caldey, in Ireland, Cornwall and Brittany!

These places are all centres of stone.

The official hagiographies of the saints often seek to conceal much more than they reveal.

One charming account has both Samson and Arthur, as children, playing together in their eponymous Dolmen.

The notion of St Samson as Itinerant Pendragon is greatly appealing.

 

Excerpt from Kith ‘n’ Kin by Stuart France and Sue Vincent…

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Lands of Exile:

KITH ‘N’ KIN

Stuart France & Sue Vincent

The Beeley Stone, ‘liberated’ from the churchyard at Bakewell, stands proudly in the centre of its village green once more. While the locals enjoy the fruits of its restoration, Ben, who had led the daring raid against authority, still languishes in jail.

Don and Wen, arrested and released without explanation in Ireland, now plot an erratic course through the wild places of Wales, while Jaw-Dark and Kraas, seeking the legendary stone of Fergus Mac Roy, have been separated in the most uncanny of circumstances…

As the darkness closes around them, the Black Shade haunts the moors above Beeley and, in the shadowy rooms of the old tower, an ancient and even stranger story begins to unfold…

Available via Amazon UK, Amazon.com and worldwide, for Kindle and in full colour illustrated paperback

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The Great Mystery…

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Approach to the mystery

is silent, solitary

and free from all self-seeking.

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It is silent because in comparison

with the mystery all speech

is feeble and imperfect.

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It is solitary because the mystery

draws closer to us in solitude.

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It is free of self-seeking because

the souls of our ancestors

ascended to the mystery

in wordless adoration.

– Ohiyesa

Dans Maen…

Cornwall Recce, 2018…

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This kind of weather

adds to the atmosphere of these places,

and makes the sun big…

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The Merry Maidens stone circle

is another of those with an attendant legend…

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  Which posits the stones as people

petrified for dancing, or making merry, on the Sabbath,

and which, ‘sort of makes one want to dance here’…

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It is, perhaps, natural to speculate

on the original inhabitant of our next site…

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Given its proximity to Dans Maen,

a short walk away,

and to the road, which would have been a track,

but a few feet…

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It is tempting to ascribe it a hermit’s tomb…

Our notions of that venerable occupation,

today, differ somewhat from the undoubted

reality of the situation…

It is difficult for us to imagine him or her dancing.

 

 

Sidetracked to breakfast

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The Haystack seems a misnomer for the huge rock that sits beside the path that leads towards Backstone Beck and looks down to the Cow and Calf. It is a very special rock. Between archaeology, myth and the stories woven by my grandfather, it has a very unique life for me. It is an altar, a place of ancient sanctity as sacred as any other.

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It stands at the edge of the Green Crag cairn-fields… a place of the dead from a time when the dead were honoured; their presence sought, their wisdom valued, and their place in the Otherworld perhaps not so far removed from the hearths of the living. This huge, altar shaped boulder, covered in carvings stands at the entrance to the necropolis which extends across Green Crag and beyond.

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My grandfather showed me how to pace out the two circles of small, almost buried boulders that surround the stone and told me that this was a place of sacrifice where the groove in the rock carried the blood out to the edge of the moor. In spring you can faintly see a strip of lighter green… Of course, the lurid tale delighted the child I was, sending those delicious shivers down my spine, yet I never saw a problem with sacrifice in essence, only in the bloody practice. It always seemed to me as if they had the right idea, but had misinterpreted the deeper meaning and the death need not be physical. Then, you see, I was an odd child, I suppose, with an even odder upbringing.

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These days, I still delight in sharing that tale, although the circles may now be officially classed as prehistoric walling dividing, perhaps, the realms of life and death. I feel that this may have been an altar upon which the dead rested on their journey to the cairns to be brought to birth in the Otherworld. Perhaps the carvings map the heavens or the journey through the veil to that Land of the Dead… perhaps they map the moor itself… We do not know. My grandfather told me the figure carved there was the sun god… perhaps he was right. Or perhaps it is simply a man… or a woman, a goddess, about to give birth… Or maybe it is something we cannot know. It doesn’t matter. It matters only that it shapes our thoughts and fires the imagination as it points across to the Pancake Rock.

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This stone too is covered with faded carvings. It juts out from the edge of the moor with the necropolis behind it. From one angle it looks like a hawk poised for flight, but most of the time it is the profile of a face, the flat rocking stone on the top his hair, or his hat. It is said that only an honest man can move the rocking stone. It is also said, with a certain amount of local pride, that no Yorkshireman ever has… Some say it is the face of a druid, some that of a god; I was told it is Giant Rombald who sleeps there… he for whom the moor is named… guarding the sleep of the dead. These are the legends and stories of my childhood, and these are the tales I wove into the adventure in Swords of Destiny. So much more could have been written… maybe one day I will, before the old tales are lost.

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We walked down to the beck, drinking first, then washing the peat stains from feet and my shoes… which, made of soft fabric, we already soaked and could dry on my feet. The menfolk were hungry and ready for breakfast by this time. We had been out for around five hours and it was only about nine in the morning. I, however, wanted to show them a hidden place, Rocky Valley, where the great stones cling to the crags like monumental totems. “We’ll never get her down…” I heard the mutter of despair, but set off up the track. They waited a while as I climbed the ridge that separates the valley from the little wood where another godlike creature is carved in a stone, and where memory lay in ashes for me. They joined me in silent companionship and we looked across the beauty of the moor.

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Retracing our steps we crossed the beck a final time. I showed them the little waterfalls and the pools where I had played as a child, where my sons had dammed the stream and where my memories were all of laughter. Then we passed once more through the heather and headed down for breakfast.

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Backstone Beck

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As the sun continued to rise at our backs, the light dancing and changing with every passing minute, the three of us, Steve, Stuart and myself, headed over… and up… towards Backstone Beck. The water tumbles down the moor, over boulders of millstone grit, sparkling clean, yet coloured with the amber of peat and iron. Nothing tastes quite like it, no other drink, for me, assuages the thirst of body and soul like a clear draught taken from these moorland streams, with naught but hands for a cup. Ilkley was famed for its healing springs long ago, and the gentry came from far and wide to bathe and drink the waters described as  “mellifluent, diaphanous, limpid, luminous transparent, pellucid” and “its purity and softness , which makes if more efficacious, by passing sooner and to the utmost and finest limits of the circulation than any water known.” I, however, am reminded of my younger son, a child still, and halfway up Ben Nevis; quenching his thirst at a mountain stream and saying in wonder that he was drinking the clouds. Here, perhaps, it is the earth we drink.

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I know this stream well. I played here as a child, so did my sons, damming the waters… a futile game, of course, as the water always finds a way through the pebbles. But that was never the point… it is the relationship between the child and the land, the movement and the stone, the flowing together of child, rock and water. It is play. It is a place of memory. Odd to think that of the thousands of rocks and pebbles that line the stream, some I have held in my hands, decades ago, and yet they now lie, unrecognised, in the water.

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We crossed the stream, stopping to drink, and followed the path that runs beside it as the moor climbs to the next level. Many visitors look up from the Cow and Calf at the edge of the moor with its steep cliffs and think that is the highest point. Those casual visitors who climb to the ridge seldom leave the path that runs along it… there is, after all, little reason to do so. They might, if they did, find the poet’s rest where we waited a while, watching the sun. The view is spectacular, the heather, when it is in flower, is a sea of purple and there are rocky outcrops, huge stones and cascading streams enough for any walk. For now the fresh green of young bracken cloaks the hills. Yet venture ‘further up and further in’ and the atmosphere changes. Traffic noise… almost non-existent at this time of morning anyway… simply falls into silence. You are alone with the breeze and the bracken, the stones and the sheep, the sky and the songbirds in a place that seems untouched by man, save only for his tracks through the heather.

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Yet look closer and you can see where the old ones walked. There are hut circles, ancient settlements, strange carvings on the boulders; stone circles and cairns dot the moors and if you are lucky, and very observant, you may find the knapped flint tools… arrowheads, blades and scrapers… with which they carved out their lives. Memories in stone that go back nine thousand years. There are older lives in the rock too…of creatures and plants that lived in the sea that covered these high moors four hundred million years ago. In the vast sea of uncurling bracken and nascent heather, that knowledge alone strips you of many masks, leaving you feeling simply a human… being.

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The birds led us onward; tiny meadow pipits, skylarks with their characteristic flight, grouse noisily protesting our intrusion…The small birds hopped and flew, a few paces, a few curling fronds at a time, looking back and waiting, for all the world as it they wanted us to follow them… which, of course, we did, following their lead to find the ‘lost’ Backstone Circle. And all the time the glorious sunrise unfolded behind us.

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Citadel of the Sun…

Cornwall Recce 2018…

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‘There is a certain atmosphere about the place,

an echo of a life that is hidden deep in the recesses of the mind.’

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If our hotel room had any windows we would be able to see St Michael’s Mount, but the tide is at present unfavourable and we will not be able to get there until after-noon.

With more than a goodly number of sites to go at, many of them close to major routes, we are not expecting our morning to be idle…

“Brown Sign!”

The Green Goddess lurched violently as she swung around the almost impossible corner, before her steady growl returned, and then a roar of satisfaction as she contemplated yet another ‘worm-hole’ through the space-time continuum…

“What is Carn Euny anyway?”

“It’s a prehistoric village.”

For the first time that day the mist which had descended with our arrival began to show signs of lifting.

And beyond it, the sun…

It was hard to believe that anyone else could have found the place but in amongst the well positioned stones and wild grasses, a lone baseball cap bobbed.

Patience can be key but when patience fails a well turned chant usually does the trick.

We did have a date with the tides to consider, after-all…

“And the Fogou?”

*

*

“Is up for grabs.”

“Grain storage?”

Snort

“Last line of defence?”

Snort again.

“I’d say this was a sweat lodge.

*

*

Bring in hot stones. Pour on water…”

“…And journey to the Spirit World.”

“It still retains its air of sanctity.”

And just as we started to chant the sun shone in…

*

*

… We had been at the mercy of the tides before.

At Lindisfarne we were stranded on the ‘island’ for eight hours.

This time we were ‘stranded’ on the mainland…

There is something about cause-wayed isles that speaks to the soul.

*

*

We wonder why anyone would choose to sail over.

Our fellow ‘pilgrims’ have, for the most part, dressed for the sun and they set off over the causeway before the tide has fully receded.

They appear largely unaware of the ‘why’ of their presence there. So we watch the birds instead. And they explain to us how the ‘line’ does not pass through the castle…

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The Mysterious Road to Tain (4 – End) : a simple man

(St Duthac: a simple ‘peregrini’. Note his staff is ‘alive’ and has seven projections and his arm is folded into a 90 degree shape, indicating his ‘rightness’. Is he holding the book for himself, or for us?)

The young missionary – a peregrini, meaning one on a life-pilgrimage – wore two crosses; but not around his neck nor on his simple, woven robe. The Celtic designs were tattooed onto his eyelids so that, when he slept, the original Cross of Christ was projected from both his sleeping eyes into the world… Truth never sleeps.

(Above: The Celtic Cross – the original Christian Cross, prior to the Roman dominance of the design)

A Christ that he had reached out and touched, as though it were his deepest friend…

It was hot, the day he came back to Tain. May was giving way to June, and the weather had changed for the better. For years, the discomfort of the monk’s robe – a white tunic covered by a cowl – had become a thing of the background, not allowed to intrude into his finely trained consciousness. A consciousness filled with the magic of refined thought and the devotion of a mind entirely turned to the good.

In addition to the Scriptures, the Brothers of Ireland had given him everything they had: well structured and beautifully crafted writing in the universal language of Latin; a deep understanding of music and the special numbers that made it harmonic; an observation of the sun and stars so acute that he, even alone, could calculate the correct dates in the cycle of the religious year.

The mind the Irish brothers had bestowed on him was full of ‘knowing’ – his to transform to wisdom – but it was not at the expense of the practical, the how to do

(Above: The original chapel of St Duthac – the place of his birth and the pilgrimage destination of King James IV of Scotland, the ‘pilgrim King’)

Soon, if his mission was allowed to take root in this land of his fathers, he would be building a chapel. He had all the necessary skills to transform stone, metal and wood for that purpose; and, beyond that, strong hands as delicate as a feather, when needed.

First, he had to make his tools, but for that he needed the help of a local forge. If his childhood friend, the son of a blacksmith, had survived to adulthood, he hoped to trade an education of the man’s children for the strength of metal.

Ahead of him, now, was the last of the ridges that led to Tain. His leather sandals, made by his own hands, were wet with dew and dirty. His feet were sore from the weeks of walking across Scotland from its west coast fishing village where the tiny boat from Ireland had left him. But it was a joyous pain, and no match for the joy in his heart at smelling the sweet scents of home.

He crested the last rise and stopped, fighting back tears as he looked down on the place whose people he wanted to serve for the rest of his days. The small town of Tain was just waking, the sun climbing on the horizon and painting the calm sea with a line of shimmering gold. This way, it called, as it had a hundred times on his long walk. This way…

———-

This is fiction, but as close to the spirit and facts of St Duthac’s early life as my research has been able to take me.

Duthac was a real figure, yet the details of his life can be elusive. He was born in AD 1000 and died in 1065. Despite devoting his life to Tain, he did not die there. In his final years, something pulled him back to Ireland, presumably to the school of God and Selfless Love that had given him his spiritual wings. In 1253, long after his death, his ‘relics’ – mainly bones – were returned from Ireland by unknown benefactors, to the same tiny chapel he built in Tain.

Much later, the relics were transferred from the abandoned chapel to what is now the St Duthac Memorial Church. Much of St Duthac’s published story is based on the same potted text, some of which is incorrect. It’s an important fact that the ‘relics’ of the saint came back to the original chapel that he had built by hand and where he worked and taught.

St Duthac was one of Scotland’s most revered and well-known saints. The Scottish Reformation, in 1535, brutally erased the saints and their worship, removing all ritual and replacing decoration with plainness. Music was also banned, replaced only with the chanting of psalms.

The memory of St Duthac was removed from history… To the victors, the spoils. The truth of the long human story is constantly altered in this way. Curiously, unlike other saints – such as Columba or St Andrew – Duthac’s name was only ever preserved in Tain, the town he served and loved, and which hosts his name and his works to this day. St Duthac’s relics were later moved within Tain to the first of two churches built in his name. The relics were mysteriously ‘lost’ during the reformation, and never seen again…

Most of his life is lost to history, but much of Duthac’s appeal and status can be inferred from the folk tales that come down to us from ‘his people’. Two of his ‘miracles’ are illustrative of this.

In the first, when a young child, he was asked to transport some ‘blazing coals’ to start another fire. He did so with his bare skin, remaining unburnt. Here we have to look beyond the literal for the meaning. Certain parts of the detail stand out, in the way of such stories:

He was a child – a young soul. His life lay ahead of him, the blazing coals are symbolic of a ‘fire’ that would burn others, yet were not a danger to him. Through the gift of a ‘high nature’ – earned or by birth – he was able to hold and transport that fire. The fire can be read as deep spiritual knowledge; the transportation as teaching. It was a power that was his to transform so that it would inspire, but not burn others. He was the higher vessel. His duty was to use it wisely and to teach those ready to receive.

St Duthac is said to have been of noble birth, yet no records remain to support this. Perhaps this, too, is symbolic, and fits with the above interpretation.

In another of the ‘miracles’, a man asks one of Duthac’s younger disciples to carry a gift of some meat and a gold ring to the saint. The disciple is careless and lets a bird of prey steal them. Arriving, crestfallen, at the chapel, the young man recounts his sorry tale. St Duthac forgives him and summons the eagle. He lets the bird keep the meat, but takes the ring.

The lesson is to cherish the true and perfect ‘gold’ of the ring and let the ‘lower’ – the meat – be left to nature’s cycles of birth, maturity and decay. Duthac’s status (of ‘noble birth’) is one of mastery of nature, i.e. working completely with it. Nature is then content to conform to this ‘noble’ human will. The Creator is recognised; reflected in the Man, but governed by the degree that the man conforms to ‘God’s will’, i.e. the Good.

History tells that Duthac became Bishop of Tain, but we might want to examine this. His training in Ireland was entirely within the Celtic Christian tradition – one that would send missionaries out across Europe to found some of the most important centre of learning in history. It may have been that the Roman church tradition that drove Celtic Christianity back to Ireland, made Duthac, posthumously, into a bishop to show his historical conversion to the standard faith.

(Above: St Duthac from one of the key windows in his Memorial Church)

‘I saw the Holy City coming down from God out of Heaven, and he said unto me write’

In the three previous posts, (see list at end of post) we have considered each of the buildings associated with St Duthac. The history of the later Memorial Church warrants further attention. During its time as the main church of Tain, it was a more complex building.

(St Duthac Memorial Church, drawn in 1819, and showing (left) the elevated ‘lofts’ accessed from exterior steps)

The black and white drawing, above, shows how the interior of the church once looked. Note the elevated ‘stalls’ on the left.

(Above: a plan of 1815 shows six separate exterior gallery stairs which led to doors struck through the ancient windows to the numerous lofts, one of which was the Guild Loft)

The construction and use of the north wall is curious. The above plan of 1815 shows separate exterior gallery stairs into the building. These gave direct entry to ‘lofts’ or galleries belonging to Tain’s trade guilds. The guilds oversaw apprenticeships and were the guarantor of the quality of work done by their craftsmen. They were a key part of the orderly government of the town, and linked strongly with the authority of the local church.

(Above: the only surviving intact Guild Loft in Scotland)

Tain is unique in Scotland in having an intact set of Guild ‘coats of arms’. These are displayed on the north wall of the St Duthac Memorial Church, just beneath the high window (below) containing the stained glass rendering of St Duthac, gazing up at the Citadel and the four letter of the Tetragrammaton (below). To my mind, a link is implied…

(Above: high in the north wall of St Duthac’s Church is this mysterious window. See also larger image, earlier in post)

It would be appropriate to bring this series of posts to an end with a return to the mysterious stained glass window high in the north wall of the Memorial Church, (see images above and below) to consider if any of these last threads of mystery can be unified.

(Above: four very special Hebrew letters, inscribed on the ‘Citadel’s dome’

At the very top of the mysterious window over the Guild plaques, on the the dome of the ‘Citadel’ is written (left to right) something very special in Hebrew: Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh. It derives from ancient Hebrew wisdom and is an integral part of Kabbalistic teaching.

Its name of Tetragrammaton is the Hebrew ‘highest name of God’. Jewish scholars will not speak this name, as it is taken to be sacred, even though formed of four of the standard Hebrew letters of the alphabet.

We can safely assume that this is not a legacy of the Scottish Reformation. What, then, is it doing high on the north wall of the Memorial Church of St Duthac?

Western mysticism is not so silent on the subject, though the sanctity of the inner meaning of Tetragrammaton is preserved. In Kabbalistic teaching there are four ‘worlds’ of continuous creation which result in the ever unfolding ‘now’. Each of these worlds is represented by one of the four letters of Tetragrammaton.

(Above, right to left: The four ‘worlds’ of the Kabbalistic (Qabalistic) scheme of continuous creation, each represented by its own Hebrew letter and its own Tree of Life. Conceptually, the ‘Trees’ are all stepped, vertically, but not simply one upon the other, Image Wikipedia)

This mysterious stained glass window was part of the 1870-1882 restoration of the church. The design and creation were carried out by James Ballantine and Sons, Edinburgh. Ballantine was a brilliant artist and, to me, it looks like he was given particular freeway with the style of this, window, which is nothing like the others.

(Above: all the other stained-glass windows are similar to churches, elsewhere. Only the image of St Duthac and the Citadel stands out as different – and dramatically so)

There are other examples of the Tetragrammaton used in highly ceremonial church and cathedral buildings, such as Winchester Cathedral. Its use in so small a building as the St Duthac Memorial Church is extremely rare. I could be completely wrong, but I sense the presence of another protector of Duthac’s legacy, here – one that arose from the chasm of the Scottish Reformation that did everything possible to destroy the saint’s legacy – the Freemasons.

The Freemasons arose, mysteriously, after the Reformation. Early records were not kept in order to protect their members. They modelled themselves on a stonemason’s guild, but added their own origin myth. They prosper today and benefit from their own carefully-crafted rituals, and progressive degrees of learning. Their higher degrees contain detailed references to Kabbalistic learning, and the Tetragrammaton is an important symbol in this. I can only suggest that they may have been the sponsors of this very different window, and, by this act, ensured that the spirit of Duthac’s work was honoured into modern times and its potentially mystical nature not lost to history.

(Above: the local Freemason’s Lodge building is a short walk away from the Memorial Church of St Duthac, Click here for a history of the Lodge)

To this day, they are well known for their generosity in preserving key aspects of history in their respective Lodges.

There is no suggestion, here, that the spiritual world of St Duthac was related to that of the Freemasons. Duthac’s world was based on a teaching in Latin, not Hebrew. The ‘Celtic’ Christians of Ireland had a rich and sophisticated teaching method, based on an individual’s ‘sense of belonging’ with Christ. The Freemasons have a broader ‘church’, in which a man is urged to better himself through application and dedication to the highest principles ‘he’ can discover within himself. In that, they are related, but the Celtic Christian oath of having no luxury, not even that of travelling by anything other than foot, is very different from our modern notions of piety.

I am not a Freemason, but have admiration for their work.

Esoteric history is full of different, but related, systems of thought, each showing us a part of the inner wisdom in a form we can remember and use. There is no single system of teaching that has all the answers. Each has its own emphasis, based upon the teaching preferences of its founder(s).

The spiritual journey is personal. Others can help, but the excitement is in discovering that everything of real importance belongs to each of us, alone.

And that is a paradox… but the most beautiful one we will ever encounter.

The Silent Eye will return to the world of St Duthac via a modern ‘pilgrimage’ to be offered sometime in 2022, subject to possible Covid restrictions. We will follow a route (part walking, part driving, in stages) from the Black Isle, across the Cromarty Firth, and explore the Tarbat Peninsula, before finishing in Tain at the Pilgrimage Centre.

If you would like to be kept up to date with plans for this, you can register your interest at rivingtide@gmail.com

(Above: built in the 11th century and still standing. St Duthac’s original chapel)

End of series.

Other posts in this series:

Part One, Part Two, Part Three. This is part Four.

©Stephen Tanham 2021

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

The Mysterious Road to Tain (3) : the protectors

“Saints don’t just disappear!” Bernie was getting a little exasperated with my poor attempt at stringing together a viable theory to account for the cultural disappearance of St Duthac. “There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation… we just have to find it.”

I’d already found it, But I wasn’t letting on. It’s not that I’m cleverer than she is, but one of the sources I’d been studying on the iPhone, overnight, had given the game away.

We were driving back to Tain the day after our first encounter with the abandoned Chapel of St Duthac. Our short holiday was coming to an end. Returning for a second look at Tain’s clues showed how much we had become fascinated with our mystery.

We had a puzzle…

The most popular saint in Scotland had vanished from the records of its history; yet within three hundred years, three of Scotland’s kings were making visits to his grave; one of them, James IV, making more than ten pilgrimages, and travelling across land and water with a sophisticated entourage that was part scholarly, part circus… plus one unescorted dash on horseback and in disguise, taking less than two full days to journey from Edinburgh to Tain. Quite an achievement, and not one you would undertake lightly.

“It’s probably the Reformation… the Scottish Reformation, which was different to the English one.” Bernie looked pleased.

She’d got it, and without the help of the scholarly text on which I had been relying. The Scottish Reformation, like its English counterpart, broke the hold of the Catholic Church, which it accused of widespread corruption. Martin Luther’s Protestantism ushered in a long era of ‘plain-ness’ across Europe. No singing – except psalms; No decorated churches; few rights for women, many of whom were suspected of being behind Scotland’s widespread witchcraft problem – something that paralysed several of the kings with terror.

And no saints…

(Above: The Monymusk Reliquary – containing the names of all the saints. Source Wikipedia; Public Domain)

All of them bundled off to oblivion, their names written secretly by loyal families, who stored these treasures in decorated boxes as the ‘plain persecution’ swept the land, and dour Kirks replaced Chapels. It was not to last forever, of course, though Scotland went through its own equivalent of the English Civil War, with powerful factions fighting over the future of the country, and even executing rivals.

Now on the final leg of the car journey to Tain, we discussed the Scottish Reformation and its effects, concluding that St Duthac was lucky to have lived centuries before it…

(Above: The ‘Pilgrimage’ at Tain. It had been closed on our last visit…)

We parked the car close to The Pilgrimage. We had been here the day before, but it was late in the afternoon and the church-like structure was closed. This was our last chance to tie up some of the loose ends about the life of St Duthac, the vanishing saint.

(Above: Tain’s ‘The Pilgrimage’ and St Duthac’s (former) Memorial Church)

To our surprise it was open, though the visitor centre was still closed due to Covid restrictions. We had the entire complex to ourselves, including the interior of the building, which felt a little strange, as though they were carrying out repairs.

I’ve learned to ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ – in a purely photographic sense, when faced with this kind of opportunity. We knew this building held most, if not all, of the answers to our questions.

What had looked like an unremarkable and recent church, re-purposed to be a pilgrimage centre, turned out to be something far more remarkable and germane to our search.

St Duthac Memorial Church was built between the 14th and 15th centuries by William 5th Earl of Ross, a very powerful Scottish nobleman and Lord of the Isles. He owned Balnagown Castle, the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan Ross in Kildary, Easter Ross.

In 1457 a chaplaincy was endowed, associated with the church by King James II – something we had spotted on the ferry sign at Nigg, that had prompted the whole search for St Duthac. King James III continued the endowment, and by 1487 the the church had gained full collegiate status, meaning it was dedicated ‘to the singing of masses for the souls of the founders.’ – in this case, the King, his family and heirs.

A Papal Bull of Pope Innocent VIII confirmed the foundation charter for the church and town was issued in 1492. There was a copy in the nearby (closed) museum.

(St Duthac Memorial Church, drawn in 1819, five years after the church fell into disuse)

The notice board states that King James IV visited the church at least 18 times over a period of 20 years, before being killed at the battle of Flodden.

And then another reference that shocked us:

‘Alhough St Duthac was born a Scot in about the year 1000, nearly two hundred years later, in June 1253, his relics were returned to Tain from the site of his death in Ireland…’

We had some more answers… and a lot more questions.

We now knew that St Duthac had, at the end of his life and before his peaceful death, returned to Ireland, the place where he received his spiritual training – very likely in the traditions of the old Celtic Christian faith. That he did this, knowing he was leaving his beloved Tain for the last time, must have been prompted by deep feelings. What was this long-lasting relationship to whoever introduced him to the depth of spirituality that led to him being declared a saint?

We knew, now, that the various pilgrimages by King James II, III and IV were made to the place of his relics – where his bones were – in the ‘new’ church built to house them, St Duthac Memorial Church.

(Above: St Duthac’s 11th century chapel, long abandoned, and now we understood why)

We had found out why the original chapel in which St Duthac had carried out his ministry and performed his miracles had been left to ruin. The newer memorial church had taken its place, and provided a more refined site for the Kings’ pilgrimages. Hopefully his spirit was unperturbed by this display of the grandiose…

(Above: the plain interior of the Saint Duthac Memorial Church), built in the 14th and 15th centuries)

We took advantage of the empty church to look around, The interior was empty of pews and furnishings. It was a place no longer used for its original purpose… but, we suspected, still an active place of pilgrimage. It still had some very fine stained glass windows.

(Above: high in the north wall of St Duthac’s Church is this mysterious window)

One of the stained glass windows caught my eye. It looked more modern than the rest and stood out, dramatically, high in the north wall of the church. It was a detailed image of St Duthac looking skywards to God and clutching a pen. The inscription reads:

‘I saw the Holy City coming down from God out of Heaven, and he said unto me write’

(Above: St Duthac from one of the key windows in his Memorial Church)

I had only the iPhone with me, so there was little chance of getting a clear telephoto shot of the very top of the glass, where I could see what looked like an inscription.

(Above: four very special Hebrew letters, inscribed on the ‘Citadel’s dome’

I was astonished when I looked at the picture and saw how well the phone had captured the detail. There, on the dome of the ‘Citadel’ was written something very special in Hebrew: Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh. However, I had never seen the Tetragrammaton ‘name of God’ written on a church stained glass window, before.

But I knew of its deeper mystical significance. And I knew it was a frequent motif of another organisation that had also emerged from the ‘plain’ years of the Scottish Reformation, remaining strong, independent and supportive to this day. Perhaps another ‘protector’ of St Duthac lay close by…

Series to be concluded in next week’s post.

©Stephen Tanham

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.