I hope your new year has started out well. Anyone have big travel plans this year? I will be heading to one of my favorite places – Destin, Florida – because these toes are in desperate need of a little sand time! My heart needs a little Scotland time, but it will have to wait just a wee bit longer for that. In the meantime, I have my photos (you seriously don’t want to know how many), lots of wonderful memories, this blog, and you, dear friends, to help tide me over until 2019. So again, thank you for letting this crazy American woman share her passion for a land not her own.
Today, I’d like to share a special find – St. Fillan’s Church. St. Fillan’s is a parish church located about 40 miles to the northwest of Edinburgh in Aberdour, a picturesque, seaside village in Fife. The church sits peacefully beside Aberdour Castle. Views of the Firth of Forth can be seen over the low south wall.
The morning that Mr. C and I set out for St. Fillan’s, it was chilly and gray, the sort of day befitting the exploration of a Scottish church from the Middle Ages. From the parking lot (‘car park’ if you fancy sounding like a local), we walked up the little road that led us toward the castle and the old church.
We strolled through the walled castle garden and came upon a lovely sidewalk where we were met with cheery daffodils and beautiful, tired, time-worn headstones that one can only imagine must have toppled over at some point before being laid to rest against the old, stone wall.
St. Fillan’s Church lay just ahead. We were strangers about to enter a sacred place, outsiders with one foot in the present and one foot that was about to step deep into the past. This holy place of worship was never ours, and yet it was familiar, friendly, and welcoming.
Who Was St. Fillan?
St. Fillan was an 8th century Irish abbot. According to a 2016 Historic Environment Scotland publication, he “was born…to noble and saintly parents. His mother was Kentigerna, daughter of a prince of Leinster. According to legend, he was born disfigured and thrown into a lake at his father’s behest. He was miraculously rescued by St. Ibar, who baptised him.” It goes on to say, “Fillan came to Scotland in his youth and lived for many years as a hermit before being elected abbot of Pittenweem. His left arm was reputed to glow while he wrote. Fillan died on 17 January in Glendochart in Perthshire, where he had retired to resume his life as a hermit.”
Saint Fillan’s is one of the earliest surviving churches in Scotland. It was built in the early 12th century by the de Mortimer family, who also owned neighboring Aberdour Castle. Portions of the church date back to 1140 (possibly even earlier), making it nearly 900 years old -a fact that continues to amaze me. Originally built in the shape of a narrow rectangle, St. Fillan’s was redesigned and altered throughout the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. By 1790, however, the church had fallen into disuse and sadly, had become a roofless ruin. And so it remained for more than a hundred years.
The 1920’s saw a glorious rebirth of St. Fillan’s. Because of the vision and commitment of the local community in 1925, the church was lovingly restored and brought back to life. In July 1926, St. Fillan’s held its first service in well over a hundred years. What a day of rejoicing that must have been! St. Fillan’s continues to function as an active parish church today.
I must confess, I wasn’t expecting the reaction that I had when I stepped through those beautiful wooden doors. I have been in many old churches, but I literally gasped as I stepped inside. I was astonished by its beauty, its size, and the richness of its architecture. It was like walking through a portal to another time. Except for a few minor, modern touches, one could almost hear the voices of the saints of old, raised in song, reverberating between those cold, stone walls. My photos don’t do it justice, but let’s take a peek inside.
Wouldn’t you agree that St. Fillan’s Church is pretty amazing? It was a truly special find. It has stood proud for some nine centuries through years of love and years of neglect, and has served the spiritual needs of the people of Aberdour for over 600 years. May St. Fillan’s continue to be a blessing to its community and to all who happen to stumble upon this incredible treasure.