Saint Fillan, Filan, Phillan, Fáelán (Old Irish) or Faolán (modern Gaeilge & Gàidhlig) is the name of probably two Scottish saints, of Irish origin. The career of an historic individual lies behind at least one of these saints, but much of the tradition surrounding Fillan seems to be of a purely legendary character.
The name Fillan probably means "little wolf" in Irish / Gaeilge , being formed on a diminutive of faol, an old word for the animal. In Irish/Gaeilge the name Faolán is pronounced 'Fway-lawn'.
The other, who is commemorated on 9 January, was specially venerated at Cluain Mavscua, County Westmeath, Ireland, and at the villages of Houston and Kilellan, Renfrewshire, Scotland and so early as the 8th or 9th century at Strathfillan, Perthshire, Scotland, where there was an ancient monastery dedicated to him, which, like most of the religious houses of early times, was afterwards secularized. References to the feast of St. Fillan being on 19 January occasionally appear and agreement upon which is correct has not been reached.
St. Fillan of Munster, the son of Feriach, grandson of Cellach Cualann, King of Leinster, received the monastic habit in the Abbey of Saint Fintan Munnu and came to Scotland from Ireland in 717AD as a hermit along with his Irish princess-mother St. Kentigerna, his Irish prince-uncle St. Comgan, and his siblings. They settled at Loch Duich. Fillan later moved south and is said to have been a monk at Taghmon in Wexford before eventually settling in Pittenweem (the Place of the Cave), Fife, in the east of Scotland later in the 8th century.
St. Fillan was the abbot of a monastery in Fife before retiring to Glen Dochart and Strathfillan near Tyndrum in Perthshire. At an Augustinian priory at Kirkton Farm along to the West Highland Way, the priory's lay abbot, who was its superior in the reign of William the Lion, held high rank in the Scottish kingdom. This monastery was restored in the reign of Robert I of Scotland (Robert the Bruce), and became a cell of the abbey of canons regular at Inchaffray Abbey. The new foundation received a grant from King Robert, in gratitude for the aid which he was supposed to have obtained from a relic of the saint (an arm-bone) on the eve of the great victory over King Edward II's English soldiers at the Battle of Bannockburn. The saint's original chapel was up river, slightly northwest of the abbey and adjacent to a deep body of water which became known as St. Fillan's Pool.
St. Fillan was credited with powers such as the healing of the sick and also possessed a luminous glow from his left arm which he used to study and write Sacred Scriptures in the dark.
St. Fillan is the patron saint of the mentally ill. As late as the 19th century, such people were dunked in St. Fillan's Pool, bound and left overnight tied to the font, or possibly to a pew, in the ruined chapel. If the bonds were loosed by morning it was taken as a sign that a cure had taken place.
A story is told that while St. Fillan was ploughing the fields near Killin, a wolf took the life of the ox and thus Fillan could not continue. A geis was put on the ox, which meant the wolf had to take the place of the ox and do its work. The story may be considered more of a parable than historical truth, but the connection with the origins of Fillan's name remains obvious.
The Mayne was an arm bone, now lost, enclosed in a silver reliquary or casket. Legend has it that King Robert the Bruce requested the bone be brought to the Bannockburn battle site. The deoir, hereditary keeper of the relic, and the Abbot of Inchaffray Abbey left the bone behind and brought only the reliquary because they didn't want the relic to fall into English possession. On the eve of the Bannockburn battle, as the deoir, the abbot and Robert knelt in prayer, a noise came from the reliquary. They looked at the reliquary as the door opened and the bone fell to the floor. The Bruce won the battle the next day and he established a monastery to thank St. Fillan for the victory.
The Quigrich, or saint's staff, crosier, also known as the Coygerach, was long in the possession of a family of the name of Jore and/or Dewar (from the Gaelic deoir), who were its hereditary guardians in the Middle Ages. The Dewars, or deoiradh, certainly had it in their custody during 1428, and their right was formally recognized by King James III in 1487. The head of the crosier, which is of silver-gilt with a smaller one of bronze enclosed within it, is in the Museum of Scotland.
The Bernane, a cast bronze bell, is also preserved in the museum and was placed over a sufferer's head during healing rituals in order to heal such afflictions as migraine headaches and more. During the Middle Ages the bell was kept in the care of deoiradh at several Glen Dochart farms. Legend has it that the bell would come to St. Fillan when called. One day a visitor who was unused to seeing bells flying through the air was startled and shot it with an arrow, causing a crack. The Bernane was used in the coronation of King James IV at Scone on 24 June 1488. Another story came about only in the early 19th century, concerning an English tourist who stole the bell. The bell was recovered by Bishop Forbes of the Episcopalian Diocese of Brechin 70 years later, in 1869, who had it placed in the Scottish National Museum in Edinburgh for safe keeping.
Still kept at the woollen mill in Killin are a set of river stones which were believed to have been given healing powers by St. Fillan. A particular sequence of movements of an appropriate stone around the afflicted area was believed to result in a cure. Each stone cured a specific part of the body.
St Fillan's Cave in Pittenweem in Fife, has long been associated with Fillan; however there are several stories of saints with a similar name from the area. The cave contains a spring and a well named in his honour and has a colourful history. Pilgrims conversed with hermits (and possibly Fillan himself) inhabiting the cave on their way to nearby St Andrews. It was also used by smugglers for some time, as a store room for local fisherfolk (Pittenweem has been a fishing village since the time of early Christian settlement and later a harbour was constructed) and it was used as a rubbish tip which probably resulted in its disappearance for some time. While ploughing in the area, a horse apparently fell down a hole which allowed the cave to be discovered. In 1935 the shrine was emptied of centuries of debris, then re-dedicated. In 2000 the cave was again refurbished and reopened to visitors while, on occasion, the Holy Eucharist continues to be celebrated. The cave is owned by the Bishop Low Trust, is entrusted to St John's Scottish Episcopal Church in Pittenweem; the entrance can be found on Cove Wynd.
An ancient church dedicated to St. Fillan (now ruined) exists in the former Parish of Killellan (the name deriving from Kil, or cell, of Fillan) now part of the combined parish of Houston and Killellan in Renfrewshire, Scotland. In the other village, Houston, the Catholic parish church of St. Fillan was established in 1841. In the adjacent village of Kilmacolm, the local Scottish Episcopal church is also named after St. Fillan. St Fillan's parish church in Aberdour, Fife was first recorded as being associated with St Fillan in 1390; parts of the church date to at least 1123, possibly even predating nearby Aberdour castle with which its history is so closely intertwined.
The legend of the second of these saints is given in the Bollandist Acta SS. (1643), 9 January, i. 594-595; A. P. Forbes, Kalendars of Scottish Saints (Edinburgh, 1872), pp. 341–346; D. O'Hanlons Lives of Irish Saints (Dublin), n.d. pp. 134–144. See also Historical Notices of St Fillan's Crozier, by Dr John Stuart (Aberdeen, 1877).
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