St. Fillan and Glendochart

Have I mentioned that historical research is both fun and frustrating?  If not, let's just make a note of it here.  It's both frustrating...and fun.  Today's questions revolve around the chapels, plural, of St. Fillan.  What was there in 1318, when Bruce made the endowment for a chapel?  What does Niall see when he visits Strathfillan?

St. Fillan's Chapel, Scottish history
Photo from Canmore
Just How Many Churches Were There?

As always, digging into a question often raises more questions.  And one issue with researching this time frame is that things seem to have multiple names--and multiple places also share names.  So in digging through numerous sites, I find these associated with Strathfillan, St. Fillan, and the Bruce:
  1. There was an Augustinian priory at Kirkton Farm.  It was restored in Bruce's time.  Source: Wikipedia on St. Fillan
  2. 'In later times, St. Fillan's Priory was built near the present Kirkton Farm on the east end of Auchtertyre.  That priory is now in ruins, many of its stones having been used to build the farm buildings.  Source: Clan MacNab
  3. Bruce established St. Fillan's Priory in Strathfillan.   Undiscovered Scotland
  4. Strathfillan is a priory founded by Bruce in thanks for divine help from Fillan.  This is said by MacPherson in Geographical Ilustrations, and by Spottiswoode in Account of Religious Houses. Source: Historical Notes of St. Fillan's Crozier and of the Devotion of King Robert Bruce to St. Fillan, John Stuart, Dec 4, 1886
  5. "There was a chapel of St. Fillan in Bruce's time in Glendochart, to which he gave the five pound land of Auchtertyre."  Source: Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Volume 32: One Hundred and Eighteenth Session 1897-98:
  6. The original chapel of St. Fillan himself was upriver, slightly northwest of the Augustinian priory, close to the farm of Auchtertyre near Tyndrum, and beside a pool known as St. Fillan's Pool.  Sources: Wikipedia Clan MacNab Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, Volume 32
  7. A small church of Strath Fillan, 'a church of the Culdees,' whose abbot blessed the Bruce just before the battle at Dalrigh.  Source: Melodies Plus 
  8. In various sources, we read about churches of St. Fillan in Killin, Glendochart, and Strathfillan.
Google maps tells me the distance from Tyndrum to Crianlarich (or Crianlarich to Tyndrum, if you prefer) is 4.8 miles.  St. Fillan's Pool and his original chapel sit just about midway between the two.
On the map above (found at Canmore and powered by Open Street Map), the priory ruins stand where the blue dot is, right under the words Strath Fillan running along the river.

Zooming in, we get a closer look:

And still closer:

Give the scale of these maps, we can guess that despite the many names and descriptions used by different sources--Strathfillan Priory, an Augustinian priory, St. Fillan's Priory--there was probably only one priory there, apart from St. Fillan's original chapel.  And indeed, Canmore calls it Strath Fillan Priory, while listing alternate names as St. Fillan's Church, St. Fillan's Priory, and Kirkton.

The question then becomes:

What existed on that site in the early months of 1318? 

Wikipedia's article on St. Fillan says St. Fillan's monastery was restored by the Bruce, while its article on Strath Fillan Priory says the priory was founded by the Bruce.  Canmore, in its archaeology notes section, says: "[Strath Fillan Priory] was founded in 1317/18 although a church was already in existence at that date."

Scottish Places gives perhaps the best summation of events.  
  • St. Fillan built a monastic settlement near Auchtertyre in the 8th century.
  • In 1306, following the disastrous battle of Methven, Bruce received sanctuary at the old chapel there.
  • In thanks (presumably for the sanctuary, which differs from all other accounts which specify his gift was in thanks to St. Fillan for heavenly assistance at the battle of Dalrigh), Bruce "gave land to build a new foundation, and the church at Killin, to the Augustinian monks of Inchaffray Abbey on condition they maintain the new priory," such that...
  • We now have St. Fillan's Priory, next to Kirkton Farm, established by Bruce near the site of an older foundation.
So St. Fillan himself built a settlement in the 700s.  In the late 1200s and early 1300s there was a church there--the same one Fillan himself built?  That is not clear.  Bruce took sanctuary there in 1306, received a blessing, and in 1318 gave a grant to build a new church on an old foundation.

So it seems there would have been a church there when Niall visits in 1318 to discuss Bruce's endowment.  St. Fillan's original or a newer one, yet one that Bruce still felt could use some rebuilding, restoration, or updating?  The answers are not 100% clear, but we're off to...a start!

A bit more on St. Fillan's church tomorrow.

For some great pictures of the area, see this flickr site.

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