Sunday, 21 February 2016

The Early Church in Monikie, Monifieth and a girl called Mouren

The lands around the Tay were a crucible for early Christianity, though we know that other saints, mostly Irish, penetrated into Angus:  St Buitte in Kirkbuddo, St Drostan in Glen Esk, St Fergus at Glamis, plus St Donald in Glen Ogilvy, to name a handful.  But places on the River Tay and further down the Fife coast have a special place in this probably un-writable story of Pictish conversion. Abernethy and Invergowrie feature in this story, but another intriguing area is Monifieth and its neighbouring parish of Monikie in Angus.
     


  One of the intriguing mysteries is how St Andrew came to be the patron saint of Scotland, trumping the powerful challenge of Colum Cille or st Columba of Iona.  One respectable theory says that the Picts picked this foreign saint in an effort to resist the cultural take-over from the 'family of Iona', centring his cult in the place which became known as St Andrews.  But what truth is there in the legend that one St Rule came by sea from Constantinople to Pictland, bringing this apostle's holy bones with him?  There are several versions of this 'St Andrews Legend' and all of them are frustrating.
   In the year 834, the Pictish king Angus [II] mac Fergus died and some sources credit him with the foundation of the cult centre of St Andrews at Kilrimund, following the arrival of St Rule (or Regulus) with his followers.  To muddy the water, the monastery at this place, also known as Cendrigmonaid, may in fact have been founded during the reign of the first Angus mac Fergus (c. 729 x 747).  Leaving that annoying anomaly aside, the version of the legend we should consider is contained in the St Andrews abstract, and there it is stated that the account derived from a memorial written by a cleric named Thana son of Dudabrach, in Meigle, during the reign of the Pictish king 'Pherath son of Bergath' (839 x 842).  It is interesting that Meigle, a parish which sits in Perthshire but juts into Angus, was a very early Pictish Christian site, comparable to St Vigeans near Arbroath in Angus.  The local connection perhaps helps to authenticate the tradition.
   Thana stated that Regulus met the Pictish king and his three sons at Forteviot in Perthshire, which was indeed an important royal Pictish power centre.  Then they travelled to meet Queen Findchaem (or Finchem) at a place named 'Moneclatu, which is now called Monichi', where the queen gives birth to a daughter named Mouren, who was afterwards buried at Kilrimund, and Findcaem gives this place to God and St Andrew.  They then journey across the mountains to a lake called Doldencha.  Then the saint returns with the king across Moneth to Monichi, Forteviot, and Kilrimund.  Part of the intention of the story was doubtless to justify the later ecclesiastical possessions of St Andrews. The place across the Moneth is reckoned to be Kindrochet in Braemar, Aberdeenshire (dedicated to St Andrew).  But Monichi is probably not to be equated with Monikie in Angus, similar as the names are, because that parish was in the possession of the see of Brechin, not St Andrews.  Next door, in Monifieth parish, there was an ancient church called Eglis Monichti, in the see of St Andrew.  The Latin derived eglis (ecclesia) points to a very significantly early Christian foundation.  We also have to admit the presence of St Andrews Well in Monikie.  For many centuries there was a Trewell Fair held in Monifieth, the name being a contraction of St Rewell or Ruil, possibly the St Rule of the St Andrews Legend.  This St Rule may ultimately have been a real person, the Irish cleric St Riaguil of Muicc Innis.  His feast day  corresponds with the date of the fair, the second Tuesday in October.  It was this Irishman who showed significant interest in our area by composing a poem celebrating King Brude's victory at the Battle of Dunnichen in 685.  Was the Irishman recast as a Continental by Picts anxious to escape the shadow of Iona?

   Further evidence of the early church in the area is attested by the presence of the arcane order known as the Culdees (celi de, 'servants of God') at Monifieth.  In the year 1242, Matilda,Countess of Angus, gifted to the church of Arbroath all the land on the south side of Monifieth which the Keledei had held in the time of her father.  Malcolm, Earl of Angus, issued a charter 22 years earlier, and one of the witnesses was a Nicholas son of Bricus, one of whose titles was abthein of Monifeith, an ancient Cletic church role.  While it cannot be proven that there was a continuous Celtic Christian settlement here from Pictish times, right through to the 13th century, the case for some kind of continuity is compelling.

   And, if nothing else had been learned, at least we have the first known named child who was born in Angus - Princess Mouren.  It was conjectured (by Bishop Forbes in Kalendars of Scottish Saints)that the place of birth of this princess was at the ancient chapel and settlement of Eglismonichtie now long since vanished.
 
The Tay Coast close to Monifieth.



 

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Forgotten Sons of Angus: In Search of Lewis Spence

James Lewis Thomas Chalmers Spence, journalist, writer and folklorist, is one of those artists whose memory still exists in a kind of limbo, sixty plus years after his death in Edinburgh in 1955.  A prolific author, whose most popular books (though perhaps not his best) are repeatedly reprinted, he remains an elusive figure, perhaps because the concerns of his generation are now mostly ill remembered.  He was born in Darlington Cottage in Broughty Ferry on 25th November 1874, the son of James Edward Kendall Spence and Barbara Charlotte Chalmers. Though this James Spence (born in Edinburgh in 1848) was primarily involved in the insurance business, his father, another James Spence (1812-1882) was an eminent professor of surgery in Edinburgh.  This family tradition perhaps influenced Lewis to study the allied subject of dentistry at Edinburgh University after going to Higher Ongar School in Essex.  On his mother's side of the family (she was Barbara Charlotte Chalmers), Spence was related to that other Angus luminary, James Chalmers (1782-1853), inventor of the adhesive postage stamp.

View of Broughty Ferry in the early 1900s

   But soon the calling of writing made Lewis Spence settle first into a career in journalism, becoming a sub-editor at The Scotsman, in 1899, the year in which he married Helen Bruce (the marriage produced one son and three daughters). The Scotsman years overlapped with a period as editor of The Edinburgh Magazine (1904-1905), then Spence moved on to become editor of The British Weekly (1906-1909), based in London.  It was during this period that folklore and mythology, also with a fascination for some areas of occultism, set his imagination alight. His first published book was Mysteries of Britain:  Secret Rites and Traditions of Ancient Britain Restored (1905).  This was followed by more than forty books, with his studies of mythology alone ranging from Babylonia and Egypt, to the Rhine and Spain and Native North and Central America.  While he was nearly as prolific as his near contemporary and fellow Scot Andrew Lang, this writing of mythology has stood the test of commercial reading taste well while Lang's works on fairies and folklore has largely not .  The incipient mysticism Spence shared with a whole set of other writers including W. B. Yeats, Algernon Blackwood, Fiona McLeod.  Although Spence was a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, and Vice-President of the Scottish Anthropological and Folklore Society, he was also given an honorific title as 'Presider' of the Ancient Druid Order. It is important to note that he was probably not a practising druid, let alone an occultist or neo-magician. (Recognition by the druidical order was probably prompted by books such as The History and Origins of Druidism (1938).)

   The classes of Spence's works include several notable firsts, including the ground-breaking Encylclopedia of the Occult (1920) and the first book to delve into the murky world of Nazi fascination with esoteric lore, The Occult Causes of the Present War (1940).  But the fever which Lewis Spence caught most profoundly was the once alluring mystery of the lost continent of Atlantis. Always a left-field area, the allure of Atlantis began to swell in the late Victorian age and flourished in the early part of the 20th century.  Spence jumped into this probably lucrative area of knowledge with both feet and his books on the subject came thick and fast.  There was The Problem of Atlantis (1924, also known as Atlantis Discovered), Atlantis in America (1925), The Problem of Lemuria (1932), Will Europe Follow Atlantis? (1942), and The Occult Sciences in Atlantis (1943), plus his editorship of the journal Atlantis Quarterly (1932).   If Atlantean studies was a niche market during his time, it has shrunk to a very limited stump now, though these works too have been frequently reissued.
   An interesting light on Lewis's studies on Atlantis and how they related to his views on the anthropology of the Scottish 'race' was given by S. B. Tucker in his article 'Warlords of Maclantis: Scottish Nationalism's Undersea Kingdom' (The Fortean Times, 17th September 2015).  This well-researched piece tied in Spence's beliefs that the original stock of Scotland were linked to the lost continent.  This tied in Spence with the wilder fringe of nationalism, not only in Scotland, but also in Europe in the 1930s, though Tucker quite rightly refutes any suggestion that Lewis Spence had fascist tendencies.  In fact he seems to have been an ardent, if moderately right-wing Scottish nationalist of the type which was later cruelly characterised as 'tartan Tory'.  But Lewis Spence was ardent in his support of Scottish home rule and was a founder member of the Scottish National Movement and the National Party of Scotland, the forerunners of the Scottish National Party, serving as vice-chairman of the NPS.  He was this party's first parliamentary candidate, standing at the Midlothian and Peebles Northern by-election in 1929.  But he polled only 842 votes (4.5% of the vote), losing his deposit.  Later disagreements with the redoubtable left-leaning Hugh MacDiarmid and others led to his withdrawal from politics altogether.

First public meeting of the National Party of Scotland in 1928.  Lewis Spence is conspicuous by his absence.

   As well as turning his hand to magazine pieces, plays and stories, Lewis also found time to write poetry in Scots and English, published in volumes such as The Phoenix (1923), The Plumes of Time (1926), and Weirds and Vanities (1927).  Many of his verses celebrated various places and themes concerning Edinburgh, where he made his home, first in Arden Street and latterly at 34 Howard Place (Inverleith Row).  A picture of the writer's remarkable discipline and work rate was given by his friend Charles Cammell in his book Heart of Scotland (1956) [a summary of which,written by Philip Carr-Gomm, can be read at the Druidry.org website.

   In retrospect, Spence's most enduring legacy seems to be his volumes on British insular mythology and tradition.  Particularly good is The Fairy Tradition in Britain (1948), but other admirable works in this category include The Magical Arts in Celtic Britain (1945), British Fairy Origins (1946) and The Minor Traditions of British Mythology (1948) and Fairy Tradition in Britain (also 1948).

   Anyone who has unwanted copies of Scottish Ghosts and Goblins (1952) or any of the above works can readily donate them to me!

   In the end, Lewis Spence, despite his voluminous body of works and 80 years on this planet remains an elusive character these days.  A search of the internet for images of him reveals a scanty few, including the photo below.  Lewis Spence died in Edinburgh on the 3rd March 1955.  Gone but not forgotten.





Friday, 12 February 2016

Lost Drinks of Angus? Mmm, refreshing!

This post was going to be the first in a series of a hundred entries on the lost drinks once made in Angus, from ales and beers, to whiskies and soft drinks...On second thoughts, we won't bother with that and instead focus on an old advert, the first of a series that may pop up every now and again on the blog.
 
   Today's great lost product is Pola Cola, and the memories of this amazing Dundee-born soft drink can first be sampled in the archive of the amazing Retro Dundee blog, featuring vintage adverts and photos, including the famous mural in the Dundee street where the legend of Pola Cola was written large.  This particular advert below is an older relative of those on Retro Dundee, not so snazzy as later versions, but with a primitive early 1960's charm:

   But was Pola Cola any good?  Some commentators have sadly pointed out its rather 'unique' flavour and tendency to lost its inborn effervescence at an astonishing rate.  But foods and drinks are magical triggers for the memory, trapdoors to the psyche.  Think of Marcel Proust and his search for Lost Time, spurred on by a simple Madeleine dipped in wine.  
   Is it a good idea to resurrect legendary taste sensations from the dim and distant?  Take the example of Krakatoa Foam, a fiendish recreation of the holy Cremola Foam, of blessed memory.  Does it taste the same as it always did?  Yes:  delicious, with a hint of nastiness.  Mmm.

   And another thing about taste and the tricks its plays with the mind.  Writing from the far corner of Cornwall, the mind years for delights such as proper morning rolls, white and red puddings, Forfar Bridies, steak sausages, steak pies...the stuff of life only to be found in Dundee and Angus and thereabouts.
   But I'll stop now before this food-memory torture thing drives me daft.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Sister Blog Site: The Ghosts of Glamis!

Great news for those who like their folklore wrapped in the straight-jacket of site specificness (if that makes sense?).  Glamis Castle is the most haunted site, allegedly, in Scotland and deserves its own tribute blog, and here it is:

                          The Ghosts of Glamis

The following post also makes its appearance there:



   Sir Walter Scott visited Glamis Castle twice, the first time in 1793.  In his Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft he mentions a Secret Chamber, one of the cornerstones of modern folklore about Glamis Castle. (Can a secret chamber function as a cornerstone, metaphorically or architecturally?) Scott stated that the chamber was known only to the earl, his heir and a third person and admitted that the night he spent at Glamis left him feeling 'too far from the living, and somewhat too near the dead'. Next morning Scott took a draught of liquor from the Lion Beaker (or Lion Cup), a lion shaped silver beaker.  The poor writer became so drunk that he lost his way outside and had to ask the minister's wife about the direction of the road back to Meigle where he was staying.  The Beaker is said to have caused misfortune for the Strathmore family - some thing perhaps resented this object passing from its original home to Glamis.

   The great number of Glamis legends sprung up after Sir Walter in the 19th century, through the writing of luminaries like Robert Chambers, Augustus Hare, Lord Halifax and a host of others less well known, all catering for the Victorian taste for gothic mystery.
   Former servants form one (under)class of ghosts at Glamis.  One maid was caught drinking the blood of a man and was rather harshly walled up alive as punishment, but she still roams the district in search of fresh victims.  A more pathetic visitant is the little African page boy who sits by the door of the Queen Mother's bedroom.  Mistreated when he was alive, he has become liberated by mischief in death and likes to trip people up as they walk past.  A butler who hanged himself lingers in the Hangman's Chamber.  Four servants who were caught drinking and gambling were put to death, but they assuredly return on the anniversary of their demise, terrifying the whole house with their hideous screams.

   A part of the castle battlements was named Lover's Leap after a high born female servant cast herself off the building here and joined her ghostly lover:

                                              The Lover's Leap!  Ane grues to see
                                              the awesome thirty ell;
                                              God grant that we nae sic death may dee
                                              as did puir Christabell!
 
   You have been warned, but if you fail to take heed, please head over very soon to:

                             The Ghosts of Glamis

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

In Search of King Nechtan in Angus and Elsewhere

It seems like a fool’s errand to try to gauge the characters and personalities of our possible predecessors from the dawn of history, in the so-called ‘Dark Ages’, but here goes.  Despite all attempts to the contrary and arguments that the Picts were just another barbarian collective from northern Europe, their culture and history remains stubbornly opaque.  Certainly a professional historian would never attempt to weave the few threads of early medieval Pictland into a coherent narrative.  There is a recent, strange tendency among the modern school of Scottish historians to exercise caution to the point of neurotic refusal to work with the materials that they have at their disposal it is better to come to no conclusions at all about the age of the Picts because there are too few clues remaining.  Far be it for me to say that this amounts to professional neglect, but the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of caution from the adventurous theorizing of Victorian historians like W.F. Skene.

   Anyway, some threads are so bright that they have to be picked up.  This is the case with King Nechtan, whose name is perhaps found in Dunnichen (‘the fort of Nechtan’) and the English name for the battle where the Northumbrians were defeated by the Picts nearby, Nechtansmere.  Before we consider which Nechtan Dunnichen is named after, there is the matter of confirming this as the place of the battle in 685 AD.  To the Northumbrians the site of their national disaster was called Nechtan’s Mere, signifying the swamp or shallow lake in the shadow of Dun Nechtan.  But the Welsh, who spoke a very similar language to the Picts, called the body of water Llyn Garan, the Pool of Herons.  Was this the original name of the place or did it somehow have two names? (The Irish, meanwhile called it the battle of Dun Nechtan.) It would seem to cast a fragment of doubt over the identification of Dunnichen as the battle site.  In fact Dunnichen was not positively identified as the place of the conflict until the connection was made by George Chalmers in his Caledonia in 1807.  Chalmers pointed out that the ‘eminence’ on the south side of Dunnichen Hill, still visible in his day and known as Cashili or Castle Hill, must be the ‘fortress of Nechtan’.  Chalmers also speculated that the neighbouring hill of Dumbarrow, ‘the hill of the barrow’, signifying notable burials there (Caledonia, I, 155.)

 [Note also the King's Well on the east side of Dumbarrow Hill.]
The view towards Dunnichen Hill.

   So, if it seems likely that there was a stronghold in the seventh century on Dunnichen Hill which was named after someone called Nechtan, who was this person?  Obviously it points towards the name of a chieftain or king and there are several kings named Nechtan in the surviving records of the Picts.  The second known King Nechtan was son of Dereli  and was king in the late 7th century and again for short periods in the early decades on the next century, when he was involved in a four way struggle for the Pictish throne.  Defeated in this civil war, Nechtan retired to a monastery.  Clearly, this ruler seems too late to have given his name to the stronghold at Dunnichen.  The most likely ruler to have given his name to the fort in Angus was the ruler known as Nechtan Morbet, son of Erp (or Irb/Wirp), who seems to have been in power in the late 6th century.  According to the Pictish Chronicle he ruled for twenty-four years and he was given a number of other epithets in the kings’ lists:  Celchamoth and Magnus (Latin ‘the great’).  A powerful ruler, in legend at least, he is credited with founding the major Christian centre at Abernethy in Perthshire, on the south coast of the Tay. According  to the Pictish Chronicle:

In the third year of his reign, Dairlugdach, abbess of Kildare, came from Ireland to Britain, in exile for Christ.  In the second year of her arrival, Nechtan offered up Abernethy to God and to St Bridget, in the presence of Dairlugdach, who sang Alleluia over this offering... Now the cause of the offering was this.  Nectonius...when his brother Drust expelled him to Ireland, begged St Bridget to beseech God for him. And she prayed for him, and said, 'If you reach your country, the Lord will have pity on you.  You will possess the kingdom of the Picts in peace.'

   Some historians believe that Nechtan died around the year 481.

   What can’t be denied is that Abernethy was a very early Christian settlement and the whole lands around the Tay, in Fife, Perthshire and Angus are jewelled with dedications and traditions of early medieval Christian activity by Irish and continental missionaries and saints.  And before we look at the traces of Nechtan the king in Angus, there is a remarkable trace of Nechtan in the Fife place-name  of the historic barony of Naughton, some thirteen miles east of Abernethy, near Balmerino, not far again from the Tay coast.  In 12th century records, this place is known as Hyhatnachten Machehirb (àth Nechtain meic Eirp/Irb) ‘ford of Nechtan son of Irb’, showing there was a precise local memory of this long dead ruler here, some six hundred years after his death. This impressive survival has prompted some Fife patriots to claim that the Battle of Nechtansmere was fought in this vicinity.

Naughton Castle, north Fife.

   In Angus, a King Nechtan figures in the version of the Life of St Boniface which found its way into the 16th century Aberdeen Breviary.  According to this legend, Boniface was a saint from Palestine who went on a divine mission to Pictland, accompanied with an evangelical task force of other saints, clerics and holy maidens, including one Triduana, who we will hear about again very shortly.  This Christian army were guided by a divine sign and reached Restenneth, in the land that would later be Angus, where they most humbly started singing the litany.  Meanwhile, King Nechtan had also seen the holy sign and came to the same place with an army.  He was so amazed by these strangers that he immediately submitted to baptism, as did his officers and commanders.  Restenneth was given to St Boniface, in the name of the Holy Trinity.  The notice of St Triduana also in the Breviary states that this saint came to Pictland in the entourage of St Rule or Regulus and settled at Rescobie where she lived with her two associates Potencia and Emeria.  Enter Nechtan, called the ‘petty tyrant’ of that region, who was immediately smitten with Triduana. To escape his attentions the saint fled to Dunfallandy in Atholl, but his messengers reached her there.  Triduana asked what it was about her that attracted the king the most and when she learnt it was her eyes she plucked them out and sent them to the king impaled upon a thorn.  Then she retired to Restalrig near Edinburgh.  Nechtan here has a stock role of secular villain which many rulers (up to and including King Arthur) found themselves tarred with in saints’ lives.  A further twist on the Boniface legend identifies him with St Curetan and states that he came with his followers to the mouth of the small stream named the Gobriat, which may be the stream which flows into the Tay at Invergowrie on the border of Angus and Perthshire.

   In all the above legends there may be some, perhaps considerable, confusion between the earlier ruler named Nechtan and the later one.  It has been thought that Abernethy was in fact founder around the eighth century by Nechtan son of Derile and not his predecessor. (A further, competing story about Abernethy states that it was actually founded under the auspices of the Pictish king Garnard son of Dompnach, during whose reign St Bridget came to the site from Ireland with nine saintly maidens.)

   But the tale we can probably put most faith in (if we can trust any of them) is the 12th century tale of St Buite son of Brónaig, the Irish saint who was the founder of Mainister, Monasterboice in County Louth.  Like many of his countrymen, Buite was reckoned to have been an international traveller, spending some time with St Teilo in Wales and also journeying to Italy and Germania. While returning to Ireland from Europe, he crossed the land of the Picts (according to his vita) and came to the house where the Pictish king was lying in state, having recently died.  Invited to pray for him, the Irishman shut his followers outside - a strange detail - and snatched the monarch from the jaws of death. Restored to life, Nechtan gave the cleric the house in which the miracle happened, ‘and all that pertained to it’.  This place was consecrated as a church and Buite left one of his followers to look after it when the time came for him to go home.  W.F. Skene and others since his time have believed that the place in Kirkbuddo, or Carbuddo, in Angus, a short distance from Dunnichen. The theme of the holy man being gifted the royal site and turning it into a Church is also a constant theme in early lives, and if it is objected that the name Carbuddo cannot mean ‘the fortress of Buite’ (as W. J. Watson pointed out in The History of the Celtic Place-names of Scotland (1926), while admitting the place may be named after a diminutive version of the saint’s name), surely it is compelling that Rescobie, Restenneth, Dunnichen, Kirkbuddo all lie within a few miles of each other.  (Also worth noting in Angus is Abernethan Well near Kirriemuir, named after either of the royal Nechtans or the similarly named St Nechtan.)

Monasterboice


   Where exactly was the site of Carbuddo?  The ruined church-yard does not occupy a particularly prominent site, but it is significant that a supposed Roman marching camp known as Hare Faulds is close by.  As well as occupying royal sites, early saints were known to have occupied similar fortifications in some instances.  The first element in this name actually means grey, though former antiquaries derived the meaning of the place as ‘the ditches of the strangers’.  Another informal name for the place is similarly wide of the mark:  Norway Dikes.  Whether this was a ‘genuine folk-name’ believed by locals or an invention by an antiquarian favouring tales of Viking battles is debatable.

   The later Nechtan, son of Dereleli, features in the work of the Venerable Bede, asking the Northumbrian king to send him masons so he can build a church in the Roman style, and it is thought by some that a portion of this building exists within the priory of Restenneth near Forfar.  It could be that this Nechtan is remembered in a tradition from outside our region. To the north, as reported in the late Affleck Gray’s Legends of the Cairngorms (1987).  Dunachton, in Badenoch,Inverness-shire (on the western shore of Loch Insh), was named possibly after a Pictish King Nechtan.  Nearby is a hill reputedly named after a Viking King Harold, and there were stories noted that the Picts and Vikings clashed in the vicinity.  Other traditions state that the elderly ruler Nechtan fought a pretender to his authority here, and this would tie-in with the recorded internecine wars between Picts in the early 8th century.



    Does this get us any closer to unravelling the stories behind Nechtan Morbet in Angus?  Truthfully, no.  St Buite is said by some to have died on the very day that St Columba was born, in the year 521.  Interestedly, Columba’s biographer St Adamnan attempted to bring his friend, the Pictish king Brude son of Bile – the victor of the Battle of Nechtansmere – back to life in the late 7th century.  But his fellow monks objected to the putative miracle.  The underlying message seems clear:  the Irish church had no further need of outlandish miracles to convert the Picts, as the task of Christianisation had long been accomplished.

   Buite’s name is said to be commemorated in the burn named the Kerbet  which runs from the Sidlaws through Angus and past Kinnettles Church.  He is the patron on Kinnettles kirk.  The united churches of Dunnichen-Kirkden-Letham have been ‘twinned’ with that of Buite’s foundation of Monasterboice.

Window from Lowson Memorial Church, Forfar, depicting St Buite praying beside the body of King Nechtan.