ABERNETHYLINK BETWEEN IONA AND WHITHORNITS POSITIONITS FOUNDINGBUILDINGSCHURCHES OF EARLY SCOTLANDMISSIONARY STAFFEVANGELISTIC TOURSROUND TOWERS.
WHEN Ninian ended his labours and descended into his grave, he left the lamp burning which he had kindled on the promontory of Whithorn. But no sooner was the hand that had tended it withdrawn than its light began to wane, and soon thereafter it disappears from history. At no time had the lamp of Candida Casa illuminated a wide circuit. Hardly had its beams, even when they shone the clearest, penetrated beyond the somewhat circumscribed territory which was inhabited by the Picts of Galloway and the Britons of Strathclyde, and even within that narrow domain it was only a dubious twilight which its presence diffused. The Roman admixture which Ninian had admitted into his creed had proved an enfeebling element. The darkness was repulsed rather than dispersed; and when Ninian's ministry came to a close, and his work passed into the hands of his successors, men probably more Roman than himself, the powerlessness of a dubious theology, drawn partly from the Scriptures and partly from human tradition, became even more apparent. The ground which had been but half won was lost. The incipient darkness of Rome invited the return of the older and deeper darkness of the Druid, and the imperfect evangelisation of the south of Scotlandto designate the country by a name it had not yet receivedmelted away. If not wholly obliterated, it was nearly so.
What helped the sooner to efface the feeble Christianity which Ninian had propagated in this remote corner of the land, was the melancholy fact that the pagan night had again settled down deep and thick on England. That country was then partitioned into several kingdoms, but now all of them were overwhelmed by a common and most deplorable catastrophe. The rush of barbarous tribes from across the German Sea again darkened with their idols, as they subjugated with their swords, the southern portion of our island, and as the territory which we now behold borne down by this double conquest came all round the region in which Ninian had kindled his lamp, its light must have been much dimmed, if not wholly extinguished. In times like these, even deeper footprints than those which the apostle of Candida Casa had left behind him would have run great risk of being effaced.
A century was yet to elapse before Columba should arrive. The light of Candida Casa quenched, or nearly so, and the lamp of Iona not yet kindled, what, meanwhile, was the condition of Scotland? Did unbroken night cover from shore to shore our unhappy land? The time was one in which, doubtless, the obscurity was great, but in which the darkness was not total. At the critical moment, when the light which had burned with more or less clearness for half a century on the rocks of Whithorn was about to withdraw itself, another evangelical beacon was seen to shine out amid the darkness. He that brings forth the stars at their appointed time kindled these lights in succession, and appointed to each its hour and place in the morning sky of Scotland. This leads us to narrate the little that is known respecting the second evangelical school that was opened in our country, and which was placed at Abernethy.
The site of Abernethy, if regard be had to its immediate environments, is picturesque. And if we take into account the panoramic magnificence of its more distant landscape, walled in by noble mountain barriers, it is more than picturesque, it is grand. It reposes on the northern slope of the Ochils, looking down on the Tay, which rolls along through the rich carse lands of Gowrie, broadening as it nears the estuary into which it falls. The wooded spurs of the mountain-chain on which it is placed, and from which rushes down the torrent of the Nethy, lean over it on the south, while the loftier summits, bare but verdant, prolong their course till they sink and are lost in the level sandy downs that hem in the waters of the bay of St. Andrews, some twenty miles to the eastward. On the north, looking, through betwixt the heights that border the valley of the Tay, is seen the great plain of the Picts, now denominated the valley of Strathmore. At Abernethy the kings of the southern Picts had fixed their capital; and truly the position was wisely as grandly chosen. From their palace gates they could look forth over well-nigh the whole of their kingdom, stretching from the cloudy tops of Drumalban to the eastern border of the Mearns. On one side was the Firth of Forth, forming the boundary of their territories to the south; and yonder in front were the Grampians, running along to the eastward, and walling in their dominions on the north.
The seat of royalty, Abernethy now became for a short while the center of the Christianisation of Scotland. Even in this we trace advance in the great work of our country's elevation. Candida Casa, set down on the frontier of Scotland, washed on the one side by the waters of the Irish Channel, and hemmed in on the other by the darkness of Bernicia, the modern Northumberland and Lothian, enjoyed but straitened means of evangelizing the country, at the gates of which it stood. But the new champion, who stepped into the field as the other was retiring from it, to maintain the battle with the old darkness, advanced boldly into the very heart of the land. Placed midway betwixt the eastern and western shore, it was out of the way of the foreign invasions which were beginning to ravage the coasts of Scotland. Under the shadow of royalty the evangelical agency established at Abernethy enjoyed a prestige, doubtless, which was wanting to that which had had its seat in the more remote and provincial district on the Solway.
Abernethy has other and most important significance. Its rise shows us that the new life of Scotland had begun to broaden. That life had flowed hitherto in the channel of individual men; now it begins to operate through the wider sphere of associated workers. For whatever name we give the establishment at Abernethy, whether we call it a community, or a church, or a monastery, what we here behold is simply a congregation of pious men associated for the purpose of diffusing Christianity. Their arrangements and methods of working are all of the simplest kind, and such as are dictated by the circumstances of the men and their age. They are no more like the graduated and despotically ruled confraternities into which monasteries grew up in the tenth and twelfth centuries, than the patriarchal government of early times was like the military despotisms of succeeding ages. The members are voluntarily associated, and stand to each other in only the relation of brothers. Outwardly separate from the heathen population around them, they yet mix daily with them in the prosecution of their mission. The new doctrine which they have received is their law. The teacher from whom they have learned it is their ruler, just as in primitive times the first convert ordinarily became the pastor of the congregation that gathered round him. They are distinguished from the rest of the population by character rather than by dress. The Gospel has sweetened their spirit and refined their manners. And they enjoy certain privileges unknown outside their community. They have the school, they have the Sabbath, and they enjoy the advantage of mutual defense. They are, in short, a new nation rising on the soil of Scotland.
The foundation of Abernethy is commonly referred to the middle of the fifth century. Fordun and Wintoun date it betwixt A.D. 586 and A.D. 597, and attribute its founding to Garnard, the successor of that King Brude who was converted by Columba, and who reigned over the northern Picts. But the legend of its first settlement connects it with the church of Ninian, and attributes its foundation to King Nectan, who is called in the Pictish chronicle king of all the provinces of the Picts, and reigned from 458 to 482. He is said to have just returned from a visit to Kildare, in Ireland, where St. Bridget was held in honour, when he founded this church at Abernethy, and dedicated it to God and St. Bridget. King Nectan is farther credited with having piously endowed it with certain lands that lay in the neighbourhood, so providing for the support of the labourers to be in due time gathered within its walls.
We are curious to know the style of building in which the missionary staff at Abernethy was housed. The Scotland of that day possessed no lordly structures. It could boast no temple of classic beauty like Greece, no Gothic cathedral like those that came along with the Roman worship. The singing of a psalm and the exposition of a passage from Holy Scripture, needed no pillared nave or cloistered aisle, such as banners and processions and chantings require for their full display. The Norman architecture, or rather the Romanesque, the earliest of our styles, had not yet been introduced into Scotland. A cave dug in the rock, or a shed constructed of wattles, served not infrequently in those early days as a place of worship. But about this time edifices of a more elaborate character began to be reared for the use of Christian assemblies. Candida Casa had been built of stone, and it is not probable that the later sanctuary of Abernethy, standing as it did in the immediate proximity of the royal residence, would be constructed of inferior materials. A house, or rather cells, in which the evangelists might reside, a church in which the people might worship, and a school in which the youth might be taught, would probably comprise the whole structural apparatus of the new mission. But all was to be plain and unpretending, such as met the ideas of the times, and such as was adapted to the uses intended to be served. The light which these buildings were to enshrine, and which was thence to radiate over all the territory of the southern Picts, must be their peculiar glory.
The church at Abernethy resembled, doubtless, the early churches of Scotland. The type of these fabrics is not unknown. Two specimens at least remain in the remote western islands of Scotland which enable us to determine the style and appearance of the churches in which the first congregations of Picts and Scots, gathered out of heathenism, met to offer their worship. On the mainland no such remains are to be met with, for this reason, that when the early fabrics fell into decay they were replaced by larger and finer structures, whereas in poor and lonely parts the inhabitants were without the means of erecting such restorations. Judging from the ruins that exist in some of the island of our western seas, the early Scottish churches were marked by three characteristicsa severe simplicity, a diminutive size, and an entire absence of ornament. They were rectangular in form; they were one chambered, and the average size of the chamber was 15 feet by 10. The wall was low, and the roof was of stone. The door was commonly in the west end, and the window, which was small, was placed high in the eastern gable.
The early churches of Scotland did not belong to the European or Continental type. They were of a style that was found only within a certain area, that areas being Scotland and Ireland. Outside these islands no such humble religious edifices were to be seen. Nor were their architecture or arrangements borrowed from the Roman churches. The churches of Rome from the fourth century to the middle of the twelfth were basilicas, i.e., they terminated in a circular apse. Not a single instance of an apsical church is to be found among the remains of the early sanctuaries of Scotland. All of them consist of a simple rectangular chamber, exactly resembling the small and undecorated churches in which the early Christians worshipped while under persecution, but which had perished from the face of the earth, swept away by the fury of Dioclesian, and we ought to add, by the sunshine of imperial favour that succeeded, which reared in their room sumptuous temples, but failed to fill them with equally devout worshippers.
Around the church were grouped the houses of the ecclesiastics. These were equally primitive with the church. They consisted of bee-hive shaped cells, formed of dry-built masonry, the wall thick, and rising to a height of seven feet or so. The roof was dome-shaped, being formed by stone overlapping stone till the circle was roofed in. In some instances a rash, or strong palisading, was drawn round the whole for protection. When we have put this picture before the reader, he will have a tolerably correct idea of the external appearance of the second great missionary school that was set up in Scotland, Abernethy.
Who or what were the numbers of this missionary colony? What was their ecclesiastical rank, and by what titles were they designated? Were they called presbyters, or monks, or were they styled bishops? It is natural that we should wish to be informed on these points, but the legendary mists that have gathered round this early institution and its venerable associates are too dense to permit any certain knowledge regarding them. It is most likely that these fathers bore the early and honoured name of presbyter or elder. If we read of the monks and bishops of Abernethy, we must bear in mind that it is on the pages of writers who flourished in times subsequent to this early foundation, and that in thus speaking they employ the nomenclature of Italy to describe an order of things in Scotland which was far indeed from resembling that which was now beginning to exist on the south of the Alps. These designations, in most cases, would have been unfamiliar and strange to the men who are made to bear them. The community of pious persons which we see establishing themselves on the banks of the Nethy, have not come from Rome. Her scissors had not passed upon their heads, nor have her cords been wound round their minds. The Popes of those days had neither throne nor tiara; the Vandal tempest was hanging at that hour in the sky of the Seven Hills, and was about to burst in desolation over the temples and palaces of the eternal city. Amid the confusions and revolutions of the time, the Bishop of Rome might well be content if his crosier was obeyed on the banks of the Tiber, without seeking to stretch it so far as to the Tay. The associated evangelists at Abernethy formed a brotherhood. The idea that these men were under "rules " which had not then been invented, is inadmissible. It was not till several centuries after this that Rome sent forth those armies of cowled and corded "regulars," with which she replenished all the countries of western Christendom.
The following, picture of Boethius may be held as fairly applicable to this period. "Our people," says he, " also began most seriously at that time to embrace the doctrine of Christ by the guidance and exhortation of some monks, who, because they were most diligent in preaching, and frequent in prayer, were called by the inhabitants "worshippers of God," which name took such deep root with the common people, that all the priests, almost to our time, were commonly without distinction called Culdees (cultores Dei), worshippers of God." In other places Boethius calls these teachers indifferently priests, monks, and culdees. Other of our early historians apply the same appellations indiscriminately to the same class of men, and speak of them sometimes as monks, sometimes as presbyters, and at other times as bishops, doctors, priests, or Culdees. Hence it is clear that the term monk in this case does not mean a lay hermit. These, our primitive pastors, were called monks only by reason of their strictness of life, and their frequent retirement to meditate and pray when the work of their public ministry admitted of their withdrawing themselves. It is possible also that divers of then may have abstained from marriage, solely on grounds of expediency, and with the view of keeping themselves disentangled from the cares of the world, but without enjoining this practice on others.
But these early communities did not disdain the advantages that spring from organization. That order might be maintained, and the work for which they were associated go regularly on, one of their number, doubtless, was chosen, as in the subsequent case of Iona, to preside over the rest. Without claiming any lordship over his brethren, he appointed to each his sphere, and allotted to all their work. They obeyed, because devotion to that work constrained them. Their duties lay outside their monasteryif so we must call itrather than within. They did not think to serve God and earn salvation by singing litanies and counting beads within the walls of their building. On the contrary, they had assembled here that by united counsel and well-organised plans they might diffuse the light of Christianity among their countrymen. They were not recluses; they had not forsaken the world; they had not set down their building in the heart of a desert, or on the top of an inaccessible mountain, nor had they buried themselves in the depth of some far-retreating glen: on the contrary, they had taken up their position at the heart of the kingdom; they had fixed their seat where the kings of Pictland had planted theirs, that they might have easy access to every part of the Pictish territory, and that they might spread the light from the one extremity of it to the otherfrom the foot of Ben Voirloch, which rose in the west, to the rocky shores of Angus and Mearns on the east.
On what plan did these pious men carry on their mission? How engrossingly interesting it would be to read the record of their early missionary tours! and to be told, in their own simple language, or in that of some chronicler of the time, how they journeyed from village to village and from one part of the country to another, telling in artless phrase, such as might win the ear and penetrate the understanding of the sons of the soil, their heavenly message! How, among their hearers, some mocked, and others wondered at the tale! How the Druid launched his anathema, and raised tumults against the men who had come to overturn the altars of their ancestors, and to extinguish the fires which from time immemorial had lighted up their land on Beltane's eve. How, while multitudes scoffed and blasphemed, there were hearts that were opened to receive their words, and how the missionaries rejoiced when they saw men who had withstood Caesar bowing to Christ, beholding in these converts the undoubted proofs that at the foot of the mountains of Caledonia, as amid the hills of Palestine and on the shores of the Levant, the Gospel was "the power of God unto salvation." But, alas! no pen of chronicler records the battles of these soldiers of the cross with the champions of the ancient darkness, though issues a thousand times more important hung upon them than any that depended upon the obscure and doubtful conflicts between Pict and Scot, which form the long and wearisome thread of our early annals. Or if such records ever existed, the accidents of time, the carelessness of ignorance, and the ravages of war have long since scattered and annihilated then. We can draw the picture of the labours of these early preachers only by borrowing from what we know of the method commonly pursued in similar establishments of the period. Affecting neither high-sounding titles, nor costly raiment, nor luxurious living, and fettered by no monastic vow, they went out and in, discharging their ministrations with all freedom, and seeking no reverence save what their piety and their many kind offices might procure from those around them. At the first dawn they left their couch, and the day thus early begun was diligently occupied to its close. Its first hours were given to the reading and study of the Scriptures, to meditation and prayer. They taught themselves, that they might be able to teach others. These exercises they intermitted and varied at certain seasons with manual labour. They did not disdain to cultivate with their own hands the lands of the fraternity, and their fields, waving with rich crops, taught the Picts what an abundance of good things a little pains and labour might draw forth from the soil, and that the plough would yield them a less precarious subsistence than the chase, and a more honest one than the spoil of robbery or war. Others of the brethren practiced various handicrafts, and making no monopoly of their skill, sought to instruct the natives in the art of fabricating for themselves such implements as they needed. Thus they made it their aim that civilisation and Christianity should advance by equal steps, and that the arts of life and the Christian virtues should flourish together.
But they knew that while art is powerful the Gospel is omnipotent, and that the light of heavenly truth alone can chase the darkness from the soul, and lay the sure foundations of the order and progress of a realm. Accordingly, they never lost sight of what was their main business, the spiritual husbandry even. Their morning duties concluded, we see them issue from the door of their humble edifice, and staff in hand, wend their way over the surrounding country. Some of them penetrate into the hills that sweep past their abode on the south, others descend into the strath of the Earn and the valley of the Tay. The wayfarers whom they chance to meet tender them respectful greeting, and the fathers courteously return the salutation. They turn aside into the fields, and sitting down beside the workers, they converse with them during the hour of rest on divine things, or they read a portion of the Scriptures, mayhap of their own transcription, for even already in the Scottish monasteries copies of' the Word of God, beautifully illuminated, had begun to be produced. The budding taste of our country showed itself, first of all, in works of exquisite beauty created by the pencil, before throwing itself on the mallet and the chisel, and aspiring to the grander achievements of architecture.
We return to our pilgrims,humble men, but the bearers of a great message. Nor crucifix nor rosary hangs suspended from their girdle; they buckle on instead, mayhap, some trusty weapon of defense, lest peradventure wolf or wild boar should thrust his attentions upon them when traversing lonely moor or tracing their steps by the margin of dusky wood. They enter the wigwams of the Pictish peasantry. The produce of the chase, or of the herd, or of the stream, hastily cooked, furnish a plain repast, and as the strangers partake, they take occasion to say, "Whoso eateth of this bread shall hunger again, but whoso eateth of the bread that we shall give him shall never hunger." "Give us of that bread," we hear the unsophisticated listeners say, "that our tables may be always full, and that we may never again have to dig and toil and sweat." " That bread grows not on the earth,"we can fancy the missionaries replying, chiding gently their dull and gross understandings; "that bread grows not on the earth, it came down frown heaven. He who made the world sent His Son to die for it, that so He might redeem man who had destroyed himself by transgression. He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life.'' These simple men muse and ponder over the strange saying. They only half comprehend it; and yet it has awakened a hope within them till then unfelt, and which they would not willingly let go. With that story, mysterious and almost incomprehensible as it is to them, a new light has dawned on their path, and should that ray withdraw the darkness around them would be deeper than it was aforetime. The great message has been delivered, the words of life have been spoken, and with the benediction, "Peace be on this house," the missionaries arise and go on their way.
Over all the land do they journey. Some hold their way eastward to where the jutting coast of Fotherif (Fife) spurns back the German tides; and others turning their face towards the Grampians traverse the great plain of Strathmore, and halt only when they have reached the foot of the great hills. This is the vineyard which has been given then to cultivate. Before their arrival it was all overgrown with the briars and thorns of an ancient Druidism. They will essay with spade and mattock to root up these noxious plants, and set in their room that Tree, the leaves of which are for the healing of the nations. They enter the villages that lie on their path. They turn aside to the towns that they may kindle a torch in the centers of the population. We can imagine them lifting up their voice and saying, to the crowds that gather round them, "Seek not God in dark woods: He that made the world, and the things that are therein, dwelleth not in groves planted by the hand of man. He dwells in heaven, and also in the heart of the contrite on earth. We come to make known to you that Great Father. Ye also are His offspring, and He hath sent us forth to bid you, his erring children, return to Him. It is not by the altar of the Druid that the way to that Father lies. We proclaim to you a better sacrifice. It is others whom the Druid binds and lays upon his altar. This Priest offered up himself. His sacrifice expiates your sin; His blood cleanseth your souls. Come to Him and He will make you the sons of this Father, and admit you to the fellowship of a holy and glorious society which He is gathering out of all nations by His Gospel, and which at a future day He will come to raise from the grave and carry with Him to the skies."
So may we picture these early missionaries, their headquarters at Abernethy, traversing the Pictish territory in all directions, and of "these stones" raising up children to Abraham. We see the Pict pressing into the kingdom, while the Jew who had monopolized its honours and privileges so long that his eyes were darkened and his heart was indurated, is cast out. We by no means imagine that the theology of these preachers was systematic and complete. On the contrary, we believe it was imperfect and crude, and their views were narrow and clouded. Nevertheless they had grasped the two cardinal doctrines that underly all theology, even the sin of man and the grace of the Saviour. One great beacon they made to stand out full and clear amid the darkness of Pictlandthe Cross. One ray from it, they knew, would chase away the night and overturn the altars of the Druid. As they gazed on the men who stood round them, encrusted all over with barbarism, brutalized by passion, and their native fierceness whetted by the bloody rites of their worship and the cruel wars in which they were continually occupied, they reflected that thereon was not one of them into whose heart a way had not been made ready beforehand for the Gospel. In the Pict, as in the most barbarous and vicious on earth, God had placed a conscience. And what conscience is it that does not at times feel the burden of sin. Herein lies the strength of the Gospel, and herein consists its infinite superiority as an elevating agency over every other influence. It touches that within the man which is the strongest force in his nature. While letters, science, and philosophy, make their appeal to the barbarian in vain, because they address themselves to the understanding and the taste, and presuppose some previous cultivation of these faculties, the Gospel goes directly to the mighty inextinguishable and divine power in maninextinguishable and divine in the savage, as in the civilizedand awakens that power into action. Conscience can expire only with the annihilation of the being in whom it resides. And herein lies the hope of the reclamation of the race. For without this point of stability, placed so deep in humanity as to be unremovable by the combined powers of ignorance and licentiousness and atheism, the Gospel would have lacked a fulcrum on which to rest its lever, and the world would have lain hopelessly engulfed in those abysses into which at more than one epoch of its career it has descended.
When the first buildings at Abernethy, which were of a very humble description, fell into decay, they were replaced, doubtless, by statelier structures. By this time too, the missionary staff had grown more numerous, and larger accommodation had to be provided for the fathers. It was, doubtless, in connection with these modern restorationsmodern as compared with Nectan's church, but ancient looked at from our daythat the well-known round tower of Abernethv arose. Scotland possesses only three examples of this unique and beautiful species of architecture: one in the island of Egilsay, Orkney; one at Brechin, and one at Abernethy, that of which we now speak. The native land of the round tower is Ireland, and there we should expect to find the specimens in greater abundance. In that country there are not fewer than seventy such towers still entire, and twenty-two in ruins. The Irish round towers are divided into four classes. To the third class belongs the round tower of Brechin. Its height is 86 feet 9 inches. It was built, according to Dr. Petrie, betwixt 977 and 994, and with this estimate of its age agrees Dr. Anderson, who supposes that its erection was later than the first half of the tenth century. It is the more elegant of the two, its workmanship being finer, and its symmetry more perfect than its companion tower at Abernethy.
As regards the question of antiquity, the balance of opinion inclines in favour of the Abernethy tower. Dr. Petrie thinks that it was built by Nectan III., from 712 to 727. Dr. Anderson, however, places its erections somewhat later, deeming its date to lie somewhere between 900 and 1100. The three Scottish round towed are included in the third and fourth class of their Irish brethren; and the era of the Irish round towers Dr. Anderson places betwixt the end of the ninth and the beginning of the thirteenth century.
What was the purpose intended to be served by these round towers? This question has given rise to much ingenious discussion. Some have said that they were simple belfrys. In those ages the bells were made rectangular, and instead of being swung in steeples were sounded from the top of lofty edifices. But if they were bell-towers, why were they so few? There were surely bells at more places than Brechin and Abernethy?
Others contend, and we think with more probability, that these round towers were constructed as safes for church valuables. By the ninth and tenth centuries the church had amassed a considerable amount of treasure. The monastic houses had store of valuables in money, in plate, in church vessels, in gifts of devotees, in crosiers and rich vestments, and these were a tempting prize to the Northmen when they swept down on Scotland. The hut of the peasant could yield them nothing worth their carrying away. Even the dwelling of the chief would not, in all cases, repay a visit; but these marauders could reckon without fail on finding a rich booty in the ecclesiastical establishments, and seldom passed them by unvisited. When sudden danger emerged, the inmates of these places would convey their goods, and sometimes themselves, to the loftier chambers of the round tower, which stood in close proximity to their church buildings, but did not form part of them, and there they would enjoy comparative safety till the torrent of invasion had rolled past, and it was safe to descend. It strengthens the supposition that these towers were erected for some such purpose as this, that their remains exist most numerously in what was the ancient track of the northern ravagers.
We have already shown that the evangelistic operations, of which Abernethy was the center, were not the first planting of Christianity in the region of the southern Picts. The Gospel had found disciples here in the third century, if not before. The numbers of these disciples had been reinforced by refugees from the all but exterminating storm of the Dioclesian persecution. But the seeds of Druidism were still in the soil, and after the tempests of persecution had lulled, there would seem to have come an aftergrowth of this noxious system, covering; up, and all but effacing, the footsteps of the earliest missionaries. The altar was seen rising again under the oaks, and the smoke of the Druid's sacrifice was beginning once more to darken the sky. It was at this crisis that the southern Picts were visited first by the missionaries of Candida Casa, and now by the evangelists of Abernethy, and the Christianity which was on the point of becoming extinct was revived, and the seed sown by the hands of the first cultivators, watered anew, sprang up in a vigour unknown to it before. On the other side of the Grampian range no evangelical lights had yet been kindled. The darkness reigned unbroken, and the inhabitants still served the gods of their fathers, and offered sacrifice to the Baal of Druidism. But in the region occupied by the southern Picts, which was the heart of Scotland, Christianity now obtained such a footing that it never again receded before Druidism. Abernethv kept its place as an evangelical light in the sky of Scotland during the latter half of the fifth century, that is, till a greater light shone out from Iona; nor did it even then become extinct: it merged its rays in those of the great northern luminary.
In due time Abernethy multiplied itself. Branch institutions arose on the great plains on which it looked down, which owned dependence upon it as the parent foundation. We can name with confidence at least Dunkeld and Brechin as its affiliated institutions. These daughters became the praise of the mother by their evangelistic activities, which soon bore fruit in the Christian virtues which began to flourish in the neighbourhood, in the fairer cultivation which markets the district to which their operations and influence extended, and the cleansing of the land from the foul rites which accompanied the worship of the groves and the stone circles.
When Iona rose to its great pre-eminence as a fountain of Christian light and letters, Abernethy fell, of course, into the second place. It ranked as one of the affiliated institutions of the northern establishment. But when Icolmkill began to wane, and its first glory had departed, Abernethy resumed once more something like its early position and influence. About the time of the union of the Scots and the Picts in the ninth century, it became again the ecclesiastical head of the nation. An old house of Culdees, with its abbot, survived at Abernethy the great revolution of David. And a convent of Culdees existed at the same place till the end of the reign of William the Lion, Men they seem to have expired, though in what manner is not certainly known, for no record exists of their transference to St. Andrews, which was the mode of suppression in the case of some other houses. In the charters of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the lands of the Culdee establishment at Abernethy appear divided into two unequal parts. The larger half is possessed by a layman, who has the title of abbot; and the smaller half remains the property of the ecclesiastics, who, with their head, the prior, discharge the duties for which the whole of the estates had been originally assigned.
Abernethy retains now little beside the imperishable interest of its name. This ancient capital, once graced by monarch and abbot, has faded into a lonely provincial town. Lying landward, its solitude is deep. But that solitude is sweetened by the noble landscape that lies spread out around it in all its old magnificence of valley and mountain chain, with the Taythat ancient river, whose banks the Roman has trodden, and whose waters have been so often dyed with the blood of Pict and Scot,pursuing its course amid orchards and cornfields, past village and baronial castle, to the ocean. As it rolled when the Picts crossed its stream on their way from the bloody field near Dundee, carrying the head of King Alpin to fix it on the walls of Abernethy, so rolls it now. But it is not the trophies of victory or the tragedies of the battle-field that give interest to this little town. It owes the fragrance of its name not to the Pictish kings who made it their capital, but to the humble and pious men who fixed here their abode, and made it a fountain of light in the realm of the southern Picts, in the dawn of our country's history.The spot will ever recall to Scotsmen the most sacred and the most touching of memories. For about a century its lamp continued to shine bright amid the shadows of that long morning that in Scotland divided the night of Druidism from the day of Christianity. The one remaining memorial of its old glories is its famous round tower. It is one of the oldest, if not the oldest round tower that now exists. While later and far stronger edifices have disappeared, overturned in the blast, or shaken by earthquake, or thrown down by the violence of war, storm and battle have spared the tower of Abernethy, and to this day, gray with age, it lingers lovingly on this venerable site of early Scottish Christianity.1
1. Skene, Celtic Scotland, vol. i. p. 32; Anderson, Scotland in Early Christian Times, vol. i.[Back]
2. For the reasons assigned in the text, examples of the early churches of Scotland are to be met with only in lonely and uninhabited islands. There is one such specimen in Loch Columcille, Skye.Anderson, Scotland in Early Christian Times, vol. i. p. 94. There is another specimen of an early church in the island, Eilcan-na-Naoimch, one of the Graveloch islands. It is simply a rectangular cell, 21 feet 7 inches, built of undressed stone without mortar. Adjoining it is a cluster of drybuilt cells. It has no enclosing rash; the island furnishing the needed security. The ruins occur in a grassy hollow. There are a number of graves beside it, and some of the grave-stones are considerably ornamented, from which it is concluded that the place was deemed of great sanctity.Ibid. i. 96, 97. In the Brough of Durness occurs a third. In front of the great cliffs that form the magnificent promontory of Durness are the ruins of an early church, 17 feet in length surrounded by eighteen oval shaped cells of uncemented masonry. It was still in the sixteenth century a place of pilgrimage. These examples of the earliest church buildings in Scotland agree with all the historic evidence we possess respecting them. (Ibid. vol. i. pp. 103-104.).[Back]
3. Boeth., lib. vi. fol. 95 v. 40.[Back]
4. Anderson's Scotland in Early Christian Times, vol. i. p. 150. [Back]
5. Ibid. vol. i. p. 156.[Back]