BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

29 October 2014
Accessibility help
Text only
where I live

BBC Homepage

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!

St Fillan's Cave
St Fillan's Cave
A dark cave off a small side street may not seem like the most obvious visitor attraction, but St Fillan's Cave is one of the most significant sites in the Christian Church in Scotland.

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.

While 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
The road to St Fillan's Cave

Most 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.

Long 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.

Go to the top of the page


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

The walk's stages

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy