January 9

It is St Fillan’s Day. Fillan was an 8th-century Scottish saint,  known for his piety and good works. He spent a considerable part of his holy life at a monastery which he built in Pittenweem. While engaged here in transcribing the Scriptures, his left hand sent forth sufficient light to enable him, at night, to continue his work without a lamp. For the sake of seclusion, he finally retired to a wild and lonely vale, called from him Strathfillan, in Perthshire, where he died, and where his name is still attached to the ruins of a chapel, to a pool, and a bed of rock.

The uses to which the locale was put tell us much about the treatment of mental illness in Medieval Scotland: At Strathfillan, there is a deep pool, called the Holy Pool, where, in olden times, they were wont to dip insane people. The ceremony was performed after sunset on the first day of the quarter, and before sunrise next morning. The dipped persons were instructed to take three stones from the bottom of the pool, and, walking three times round each of three cairns on the bank, throw a stone into each. They were next conveyed to the ruins of St. Fillan’s chapel; and in a corner called St. Fillan’s bed, they were laid on their back, and left tied all night. If next morning they were found loose, the cure was deemed perfect, and thanks returned to the saint. The pool visited  in the nineteenth century, not by parishioners, who had no faith in its virtue, but by people from other and distant places.

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