St Fillan, in common with many of the
Scottish church fathers, was actually born in Ireland. The story goes that his
mother was St Kentigerna, later the foundress of a religious community at Loch
Lomond. St Fillan arrived in Scotland with his mother, his brothers and his uncle,
St Comgan. The family settled at Loch Duich, before St Fillan moved south to what
is now Strathfillan where the first of many legends relating to him arises.
engaged in building a church near Auchentyre a wolf killed the ox which had been
carrying building materials. According to the story, Fillan managed to persuade
the wolf that it was following the wrong path whereupon the wolf took up the burden
of the ox. The Holy Pool next to the church was used as a shrine to the saint
for many centuries after.
St Fillan had a bit of the wanderlust in him,
as it seems he travelled extrensively through Scotland. As well as his stays near
Killin and in Fife, he is also known to have spent time in Islay, Perthshire and
in Dumfries and Galloway.
|The road to St Fillan's Cave|
of his life however was spent as a hermit in the cave in the fishing village which
came to be named after him, (Pittenweem means "place of the cave") it
was said that he managed to pray and write in the secluded gloom of the cave by
means of a light which glowed from his left arm as he wrote with his right.
after his death St Fillan's legacy was felt in Scotland. His staff and bell were
taken by the Abbott of Inchaffray to the Battle of Bannockburn, and Robert the
Bruce built a priory in honour of St Fillan in thanks for the spiritual aid provided
by these relics on that day.
Within the cave here at Pittenweem is a Holy
Well, one of many dedicated to St Fillan. St Fillan is the Patron Saint of the
mentally ill, and those suffering from this affliction were taken to the cave
in the hope of cure. Mentally ill patients were bound in the cave and left overnight
alone to await miraculous intervention. If their bonds had been loosed during
the night it was taken as a sign that they had been cured.
After the Reformation,
the cave fell from favour as a shrine, and the cave became a haven for smugglers
as it could only be accessed by boat. The cave was later used as a store for fishing
nets. Thankfully in the last hundred years a greater appreciation was placed on
the cave, and it was rededicated by the Bishop of St Andrews in 1935 and is now
a recognised place of worship.
Directions: from here you are following the Fife Coastal Trail all
the way along the pathway. It's well marked and sign-posted along the
way, though steep and not suitable for wheelchairs in several parts. Stop
for a snack in Pittenweem, or if you can hold-off till Anstruther, get
chips at the end of the walk.