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Who were the Culdees and why were they in Muthill?

Added: Monday, February 11th 2019 at 11:51pm by ceilede

Who were the Culdees and why were they in Muthill ?

CaledonCol's Tales and Pics
September 09, 2018

1900 pic of Muthill Parish Church

1. Culdees in Muthill    

I have  a particular interest in the religious  sect  known as the Culdees . I lived for a number of years in an old  stone  house in Muthill called “ Little Culdees ” It had been built circa 1790 using stones from the remnants of Culdees Castle in what is now the farm and estate of the Maitland Gardners . A somewhat be- turreted idiosyncratic dwelling located over a flowing burn and distinctive  but with its  stone slabbed flooring perhaps the coldest house I have  ever lived in!

" Little Culdees " from a painting by my old friend the late Norman Aiton of Muthill

Who then were the Culdees ?  Culdees were holy men who loved solitude and lived by the labour of their hands. Gradually they came together in a community, still occupying separate cells, still much alone and in communion with God  but meeting in the refectory and in the church, and giving obedience to a common superior.  In the Irish language the word was written Ceile-De, meaning companion or even spouse of God .The Latin equivalent in the plural was Colidei, anglicized into Culdees; in Scotland  it was often written Kelidei.

Known as “ hermits “ they were in fact  the old Celtic Church and occupied  such Holy places as Iona Abbey and  closer to home , Inchaffray Abbey near Madderty .The Synod of Whitby in the 7th Century  saw them lose out to the Catholic Church over what date  Easter  should  be celebrated . Although this  seemed to signify their gradual decline , the Culdees  hung on and indeed  shared many of the  buildings with the Augustinian brothers   (Inchaffray in particular ).

What then was their significance to Muthill ? We know that in 1235 a Charter was signed by Padin who was the Presbyter of Muthill , concerning the connections  between the Abbey of Lindores and Muthill Church .This same document was  witnessed  by Maurice  , Prior of the Kaledei or Culdees at Muthill. The Culdees  had  been in Muthill  for some time  They  did  not occupy what is the Parish Church but had  their own Monastery  “ somewhat apart ” ( Shepherd ) .

Where then did  the Culdees hang out ? Research ancient and modern  points  firmly to Culdees Estate ( Maitland Gardner ) and the  following is  recorded under the Canmore heading in the Scottish Antiquities  website :

NN81NE 4 c. 881 159.( OS reference )

A House of Culdees at Muthill. A prior and two brethren are mentioned 1178-95. The latest specific reference seems to be 1236 but a prior of Muthill witnessed a charter probably of 1284-96.

D E Easson 1957

Traditionally a church of the Culdees existed on the west end of Culdees estate (NN 8816).

S Korner 1858

The traditional site of the church is within the area centred on NN 881 159. An avenue of trees to the SE, known as the Monk's Walk, leads to an old orchard at NN 884 157 called the Monk's Garden (Mrs Maitland Gardner, Culdees, Muthill).

Visited by OS (RD) 19 May 1967.

 2. Michael Ochiltree Priest of Muthill and suppressor of the Culdees.

( Extract from Episcopacy in Strathearn by JH Shepherd ( Scottish Chronicle Office , Dumfries 1907 )

One of the most famous incumbents of Muthill before the period of the Reformation was Michael Ochiltree . He was Dean of Dunblane  and Priest at Muthill in the year 1425. The Church of Muthill was partly rebuilt by him ..He was also builder of what is still known as the“ Bishop’s Bridge”  over the Machany near Muthill . He  built another bridge , now disused over the Knaik at Ardoch . He was appointed Bishop  of Dunblane  before the year 1439 and was still Bishop in 1447 .

Bishop's Bridge c  1900

For the next 100 years  from 1447  the history of Muthill is blank . From the time of St Fergus ‘s preaching down to the days following the reign of Queen Margaret ( about 1100 ) , the form of Christianity in Scotland  was that of the  Celtic or Culdees Church . That Church had its own  Bishops, Priests and Deacons as was the case everywhere else in Christendom , though its Bishops occupied a somewhat anomalous position in the matter of Government .

About the beginning of the 12th Century , mainly through the works of the sons of Queen Margaret and through fear of England , the influence of the Bishop of Rome ( the Pope ) began to be felt , and this was gradually increased in the most natural way possible ,until Scotland came to be looked upon as “ the special daughter “ of Rome “ . From the 12th Century to the middle of the 16th Century marks the limits of Roman power . During that period , Church life at Muthill must have been similar  to Church life elsewhere . The Priest at Muthill , after the suppression of the Culdees , was always a man  of some importance , and was usually Dean of the Diocese .. The ordinary round of services was followed ,and the parishioners learned  their faith from the regular  recurrence of the Church Festivals .Christmas, Easter , Ascension Day , Pentecost and numerous  Saints’ days  throughout the year brought  the people to Church , andtheirwholelifewaspenetratedby religious  observances,  of various  sorts .

(Culdees Castle was built in 1810 for Charles Drummond, whose clan was rewarded for fighting with Robert the Bruce, with lands in Perthshire, including that of Kildees and designed by James Gillespie Graham as a 2-3 storey mansion house . It was baronialised and extended with a new wing and chapel in 1867. The castle has been owned by the current family for 95 years. It was last lived in 1968.  [www.galbraithgroup.com])

Read more here.

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