We started the story…

  • …of Inchaffray Abbey, and Bruce’s endowment to it in PART ONE, I talked about Bruce’s decision to give an endowment for a chapel to St. Fillan and a brief history of the early, awful months of 1306.
  • In PART TWO, I got into the detail of the Battle of Dalrigh, which, according to one source, is likely the 1306 event for which Bruce credited Fillan’s help.  I finished with:

Now comes the fun (or frustrating) part of research.  The more answers we find, the more questions arise, and all too often, those answers conflict with one another.  We’ll get into some of those tomorrow, along with more on Inchaffray itself and St. Fillan.

[Yes, I just used the quote feature to quote myself.  Now that I've been quoted, does that mean I'm famous?]The frustrations are that some things we just will likely never know for sure.  And that sources sometimes conflict.  The fun…is the same thing.  Mysteries and questions abound!In the case of Bruce’s endowment for the chapel to St. Fillan, his motivation is given in one paper (The Kingship of Robert I, 1306-29) as being ‘in thanks for the intercession of that saint during Bruce’s flight into exile through Perthshire in 1306.’  His source: S. Taylor’s ‘The Cult of St Fillan in Scotland’, in T.R. Liszka and L.E.M. Walker eds., The North Sea World in the Middle Ages: Studies in the Cultural History of North-Western Europe (Dublin 2001).  Not having access to that source, I don’t know what their basis is for linking the endowment to Dalrigh.

Wikipedia, without citing a source for his motivation in particular, says that the gift was in thanks for the miracle at Bannockburn, while Temple of Mysteries, the website of The Stone of Destiny: In Search of the Truth, says only that Bruce’s building of the ‘priory’ (it is called a priory, rather than a chapel here) so shortly after Bannockburn suggests repaying a favor.  He does not speak to which favor, but I would hazard he means the miracle at Bannockburn.

The remains of St. Fillan’s Priory

Regarding the use of the word priory, one site says Bruce ‘endowed a chapel’ which was ‘attached to’ the Inchaffray Abbey.  Temple of Mysteries says he built a priory.  This may not be different things, although the choice of words might infer different things on first reading.  We do know that the original Inchaffray Priory was created around 1200 by Gilbert, Earl of Strathearn and his first (known) wife.  It became an abbey about 1220.

And here we come to another Fun/Frustrating aspect of research: the rabbit holes!  What is the difference between an abbey and a priory?  In short, so as not to digress, a priory is generally considered a ‘lower level’ or subordinate to an abbey.  If you’d like to go down that rabbit hole yourself, you can read a bit more here.

My guess is that Bruce’s endowment for the chapel to St. Fillan does not need to be assigned as thanks for either his escape at Dalrigh or his miraculous victory at Bannockburn.  It may have been a more general thank you for both of these and possibly for more incidents that have not survived in recorded history.  [We sometimes seem to forget that just because our earliest sources mentioning Bruce praying to Fillan date from a hundred years after the fact, (as mentioned in Temple Mysteries) that does not mean that's the first written mention of it.  It may have been documented in multiple sources that did not survive.]

So my guess is that it was in thanks for both and possibly for more.

Bruce had long had a devotion to St. Fillan.  What becomes the interesting question to me is where this devotion started.  It’s not a question I have deeply researched, but it is mentioned in Temple Mysteries that St. Fillan was said to have suffered from leprosy.  Many sites claim Bruce did, too.  So the suggestion put forth is that the leprosy connection (not to be confused with the Rainbow Connection–Muppet reference for you young ‘uns.) is what led to Bruce’s affinity for Fillan.

I tend to side with those who say Bruce had a skin condition that was often erroneously called leprosy at some historical point or perhaps got garbled in translation somewhere along the line–but was not the Biblical leprosy we think of.  But a man with leprosy would likely not be living among others, as Bruce clearly did.  I suspect even for a king, such a thing would not be allowed, and if he had, he did, and it was–wouldn’t we hear about more noblemen around him having leprosy, too?

While I have not researched it in particular, I have also not, in my years of familiarity with St. Fillan, ever heard that he had leprosy.

I would offer that his devotion to Fillan may have begun with the blessing from the abbot at the Culdee Church and the Dalrigh escape.  Or perhaps it started earlier, which is why he credited Fillan with that escape.  Fillan was one of the great Celtic saints, and Bruce certainly had Celtic roots through his mother.

In the end, what we can safely say is that in the first three months of 1318, Robert the Bruce, King of Scots, endowed something–priory or chapel–dedicated to St. Fillan, in connection with Inchaffray Abbey, in thanks for the Saint’s help at some time or times plural.


As a writer, this gives enough information to be historically accurate and enough room to work it into the story.

More on St. Fillan: Temple of Mysteries  and A Family of Saints by Dmitry Lapa (the picture above is his–it was the only picture I could find anywhere of the ruins; lots of great pictures on his page.)

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