Fillan (DNB00)

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FILLAN, FOILAN, or FELAN (with other varieties of form), Saint (d. 777?), was an Irish missionary in Scotland in the middle of the eighth century. The date of his death has been conjecturally assigned to about 777. His commemoration day in the Scottish calendar is 9 Jan. He was the son of Feredach, a prince in Munster, and Kentigerna, daughter of Kellach Cualann, king of Leinster, and sister to St. Congan. His mother died in A.D. 734. Being thrown into a river on his birth on account of deformity, he was rescued by St. Ibar. He became a monk at first in one of the monasteries of St. Munnu Fintan, and subsequently went from Ireland to the part of Argyll afterwards called Ross, where two churches, Kilkoan and Killellan, derive their names respectively from his uncle Congan and himself. A cave and a church were also named from him in Fife. But he seems chiefly to have made his abode at Killin in Perthshire, where a river, a strath, an abbey built by him and Congan in Glendochart, and a church, all perpetuated his name, and where stones supposed to be consecrated by connection with him are still preserved at the mill.

Two precious relics of this saint are treasured at Edinburgh in the museum of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland. They are his crosier and his bell. Of the crosier the earliest existing record is found in an inquiry (of which the original is preserved in the Breadalbane charter-room at Taymouth Castle), held before a jury at Glendochart on 2 April 1428, as to the privileges attaching to its possession, it being then held by Finlay Jore (Dewar), and it was found that every inhabitant of the parish was bound to contribute annually a certain quantity of meal in proportion to his holding, the possessor of the crosier being bound, in return, to go with the relic when called upon in search of lost or stolen goods. The name by which the crosier was then called was the coygerach, or, as in a later form, the quigrich; the word is supposed to mean a stranger, but why it was thus applied is not known, unless as marking that the crosier was of foreign origin. It next appears in letters patent of James III, dated 11 July 1487, which testified that it had been in the possession of the same family from the days of Robert Bruce, and which letters were registered at Edinburgh by Malice Doire (Dewar) in 1734. In 1782 the Malice Doire who then held it was a mere day labourer, and it was seen in his cottage by an English tourist, whose description was communicated to the Scottish Society of Antiquaries. The owner, after 1795, emigrated to Canada, and all trace of its locality was long lost, until in 1859 Dr. Daniel Wilson of Toronto happily succeeded in finding it in the possession of a descendant of the emigrant, a well-to-do farmer named Alexander Dewar. He, at the age of eighty-seven, being desirous that the relic should be restored to Scotland and secured from injury, sold it on 30 Dec. 1876, to be kept in the museum at Edinburgh, ‘in all time to come, for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of the Scottish nation.’ It is of silver gilt, and ornamented with filigree work; but upon examination the silver was found to form an outer case enclosing an older staff of bronze or copper. The second relic, the bell (which weighs 8 lbs. 14 oz.), is thought by some to be pre-Christian. It was long preserved in an ancient churchyard in Strathfillan in Perthshire, where it was regarded as possessing great curative powers, especially in cases of insanity. It was in most shameless frolic stolen thence by an English traveller in 1798, and carried by him to his house in Hertfordshire, where it remained lost to the world until 1869, when it was restored to Scotland by the means of Bishop Alexander Forbes of Brechin. Hector Boece has linked the saint with the winning of the battle of Bannockburn, and consequently with the history of the Scottish nation, by a legend, of which he is the sole narrator, that Bruce was accustomed to carry about with him an arm of St. Fillan, set in silver, as an amulet insuring good fortune; that the chaplain to whose care it was entrusted brought only the empty case to the field, faithlessly fearing that the fortune of war might lead to the loss of the precious contents; but that the night before the battle the case was suddenly heard to open and close of itself, and on examination it was found that the arm had returned to its place. And Boece puts in the mouth of the king a reference to this miracle in his speech to his army before the battle. That the veneration for the saint was in some way connected with Bruce is shown not merely by his reign being assigned (as noticed above) as the time at which the Dewar family were entrusted with the crosier, but also from an entry in the ‘Exchequer Rolls of Scotland’ (1878, i. 214) of the payment in 1329, the year of Bruce's death, to his natural son, Sir Robert Bruce, of 20l. towards the building of St. Fillan's church.

[Breviarium Aberdonense, 1854, pars hyem., propr. ss., ff. 24 b–27 b; Miscellany of Spalding Club, iii. 239, 1846; Black Book of Taymouth, 1855, pref., p. xxxv; Bishop A. P. Forbes's Kalendars of Scottish Saints, 1872, pp. 341–6. The history of the crosier is given, with engravings, in Archæologia Scotica, Transactions of Soc. Antiq. of Scotland, iii. 289–91, 1831; Proceedings of the same society, iii. 233–4, 1862, and with all the documents, and an exhaustive description by Dr. John Stuart, in xii. 122–82, 1878. Both the inner and outer cases are described and engraved in Joseph Anderson's Scotland in early Christian Times, i. 216–24, 1881, where also the bell is figured and described at pp. 186–94.]

W. D. M.