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PLATES IN THE BOOK OF DEER.
Illumination of the Evangelist St. Mark
XVII. „ 846. End of his Gospel, and two Human Figures—Clerics 1
The Plates are numbered in the order of their occurrence in the Manuscript, but a
INTRODUCTORY—MONASTERIES OF ST. COLUMBA—ONE OF THEM AT DEER— CHURCHES FOUNDED BY NATIVE SAINTS—ST. FERGUS, ST. DROSTAN—THE BOOK OF DEER: ITS HISTORICAL VALUE—THE LATER CISTERCIAN ABBEY OF DEER.
Amid the darkness which enshrouds those missionaries who imparted to the heathen tribes of Alba the blessings of the Christian faith, the form of St. Columba stands out with exceptional clearness of outline; and the popular Instinct has not erred which ascribes to him the largest share in the great work, and traces to his mission the most enduring results.
The almost contemporary pages of his biographer, St. Adamnan, enable us to realise to ourselves the system adopted by the great missionary in his enterprise. When he first took possession for Christ of the little island of Hy, which, under the name of lona, was to become illustrious for all time from its association with him, he founded upon it a monastery, in conformity with the system which then prevailed, not only in the country of the Scots from which he came, but throughout Europe.
Every fresh settlement which the saint effected as he pushed his Christian conquests, whether in the islands of the Hebrides or in the mainland country of the northern Picts, consisted of a monastery for a body of clerics, from which they might disperse themselves in circuits among the surrounding tribes, returning to their home for shelter and mutual support.1
One of these monastic settlements was that of Deer, in Buchan, a district of Aberdeenshire, which, projecting into the German Ocean, forms the most easterly point of Scotland; and the legend in the Book of the Gospels of this house preserves in traditional detail the circumstances which marked the infancy of the establishment .
It represents the anival at Aberdour, a sheltered bay on the rocky shores of Buchan, of St. Columba, accompanied by his pupil Drostan; but we are left to conjecture whether the strangers arrived by sea in one of the frail coracles so much in use with the saint and his followers, or were on a landward circuit through the northern districts.
The mormaer or ruler of the district of Buchan, who seems to have been on the spot, made an offering to the clerics of the " city" of Aberdour with freedom from mormaer and toisech.
There are reasons for believing that a considerable population was gathered in the country around the rocky coast of Aberdour2
1 The same course was followed in the Northumbrian monasteries. Of St. Cuthbert we are told that, leaving Mailros, he would spend sometimes several weeks together among the people settled in the glens and hillsides of the Cheviots and the Lammermoor, returning afterwards to his monastery for repose and the refreshment of society, as the bird to the ark; and of St. Aidan's wanderings we also hear in the pages of Venerable Bede (B. iii. c. 17), who elsewhere describes the practice of the time, "Erat quippe moris eo tempore populis
Anglorum, ut veniente in villam clerico vel presbytero cuncti ad ejus imperium verbum audituri confluerunt."—(R iv. cap. 27.)
5 In the country, about a mile inland from the bay, numerous hut-foundations have been discovered, some of them under a great depth of moss. In some parts of the moss, trees and roots have frequently been turned up, apparently the remains of an early forest. Similar hut-foundations have been found along the coast in the country southwards.
and the red-Dun1 which overlooked its southern side; and as we are frequently able to trace the progress of the Roman armies through places of dense population, where their " ways" were led amid the raths and abodes of the Britons, so we may infer from the numerous churches dedicated to Celtic saints, throughout Scotland,2 in sites of early settlement, that the missionaries
1 The colour of the rocks at Dundarg is of a dark red, and the neck of the Dun was cut off from the land by transverse earthworks, of which portions still remain.
8 Of these there are two classes—first, the churches actually founded by the saints themselves in the course of their missions; and next, the foundations of later date dedicated to the memory of the saints by their spiritual successors. The names of St . Ninian, St. Kentigern, and St. Columba, were held in reverence throughout the kingdom, and churches were dedicated to them in all parts of Scotland. In other cases, the dedications are more restricted in their range, and suggest their origin in the circuit of the patron saint himself.
Of this character are the churches dedicated to St. Fergus, which seem all traceable as original foundations by himself in the course of his labours, as they are related in the Breviary of Aberdeen (Part. Estiv. fol. clxii.) According to this authority, St. Fergus, after having performed the office of a bishop for many years in Ireland, came on a mission to the western parts of Scotland, in company with a body of presbyters or clerics. Arriving in the neighbourhood of Strogeath,
he and his friends settled there for a time, leading a somewhat solitary life; but seeing the country good and suitable for settlement, St . Fergus put his hands to the work, and erected three churches. From thence he pursued his course to Caithness, where he preached to the rude people of the country, and drew them to the faith, not more by the truth of his doctrine than by the greatness of his virtues. Again, leaving Caithness he arrived in Buchan, in the place which came commonly to be called Lungley, and where the church which he built is dedicated to his memory. Forsaking Buchan for the country of Angus, he settled at Glammis, where he erected fresh cenobia to God, choosing this as the place of his rest. Here accordingly he died, and here, after his death, many miracles were wrought by his relics. So great were these, that in course of time an abbot of Scone, with much devotion, removed his head from his tomb, and placed it in his own monastery at Scone, where, in like manner, miracles were wrought through the merits of St. Fergus.
This is the legendary account of the saint, and many circumstances concur to prove its substantial accuracy.