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Medieval Scotland

Medieval Scotland

St Columba


St Andrews

Dunfermline Abbey











Medieval Church in Scotland

The Medieval Church By the 6th century Christianity had a strong foothold in Scotland. The Church became a powerful political force and affected the daily lives of everyone. Scotland was part of Christendom, presided over by the Church of Rome, a far-reaching international organization. The Church touched every person and every place in Scotland. Its priests and personnel were seen as essential links with God. We do not know exactly when Christianity reached Scotland. A British bishop called Ninian, 'that reverend and saintly man', was based at Whithorn in Wigtownshire in the second half of the 5th century. Further north Irish missionaries, particularly Columba in Argyll from 563, spread the word.

Ninian and Columba were sanctified. Traditions and relics kept alive the memory of early Scottish saints. These were linked with Scottish church's Irish and Celtic beginnings, and gave the medieval church in Scotland a character all its own. These traditions survived long after the Celtic influence on the Church had subsided. This is highlighted by the cult of St Fillan.

The crozier, a pastoral staff modelled on a shepherd's crook, became a symbol of Christianity. This crozier drop, the front part of the crozier head, was found in 1993 near the shore of Loch Shiel, in Moidart, near St Finan's Isle. Like Columba, St Finan came from Ireland, possibly in the 7th century. The style of the crozier drop suggests it was made in the 12th century.

By the 9th century the cult of St Andrew had joined that of St Columba as an influential force in Scotland. The cult soon became well established, and many people went on pilgrimages to St Andrews, its centre. Another Scottish saint, Queen Margaret, wife of Malcolm III, started the free ferry across the Firth of Forth to carry pilgrims to St Andrews. Pilgrims also sailed from North Berwick. Badges signified that the wearers had visited a place of pilgrimage.

The belief was that the relics of St Andrew, one of the apostles, had been brought by St Rule to the place now known as St Andrews. St Andrew gradually replaced St Columba as Scotland's patron saint, and his cross, the saltire, was adopted as a national emblem. Pilgrimage was important in medieval religious life. Churches associated with saints and their relics became centres of pilgrimage. St Andrews was visited not only by Scots but also by pilgrims from England and continental Europe.

Among other centres were those of St Margaret in Dunfermline, St Kentigern in Glasgow, St Ninian in Whithorn and St Duthac in Tain. Scots made pilgrimages overseas, especially to Rome, the Holy Land and the shrine of St James at Compostela in Spain. Like travellers everywhere, pilgrims acquired objects linked with their travels, including badges and items of personal devotion.

The Pope, based in Rome, was the head of the Church. Documents came from Rome with directives and information for the Scottish Church. Seals are evidence of the paperwork involved in running a complex organization. They were signs of the Church's huge authority, combining the functions of signature and logo to show that documents were genuine.

Bishops were key figures in the Church. Their concern for the spiritual welfare of their people is symbolized by the crozier, modelled on a shepherd's crook. The bishops' wide range of duties included supervising the parish clergy. Bishops also had a political and administrative role. Their importance was often reflected in objects of some splendour.

Like the rest of Europe, Scotland was divided into bishoprics or dioceses. A bishopric was divided into parishes, each with its own church and priest. The role of the priest was pastoral, looking after parishioners. The religious houses were located throughout Scotland. These included monasteries, friaries, priories, convents and nunneries, and were run separately, with life dedicated to prayer.

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