SNAPSHOTS FROM THE PAST
of Religion It is impossible to determine when Brechin first
became a religious centre or holy place but there is ample
evidence to indicate that the Druids had a presence and
might have made it their northern capital particularly after
their expulsion from Wales. Pittendriech is identified with
Pit-an-druach meaning place - or even burial site - of the
Druids. Over the years ancient graves have been found within
the parish of Brechin and in 1837 several burial cists were
found in the vicinity of the East Mill Brae. The advance
of Christianity saw the demise of the Druids.
Ninian, a Briton, has been credited with the conversion
of the southern Picts to Christianity in the tradition of
Rome while, later, St. Columba did likewise with the northern
Picts but in the ways of the Celtic Church. Whether or not
St. Ninian was ever personally involved in the Brechin area
cannot be established but it appears that one of his followers,
St. Drostan, was active in spreading the gospel in the area.
Archibald B. Scott suggests that Drostan was active in the
Brechin area for about thirteen years during the reign of
Nechtan and that his retreat was in Glen Esk. At any rate,
by the sixth century A.D. the Picts seem to have been entirely
converted, but because of the increasing dominance of the
Scots it was the Celtic Church that they followed.
the Culdees (cele Dei i.e. vassals or clients of God), an
order of the Celtic Church, who perpetuated Brechin's role
as a religious and cultural centre for the next few centuries.
Eventually, however, the expansion of the Church of Rome
could not be held back and gradually the Culdees were absorbed
into the 'new' church, co-existing for some time before
disappearing from Brechin by the twelfth century or early
thirteenth century. The last Culdee prior appears to have
been Malbrid who possibly held office until 1218 by which
time there were likely to have been non-Culdees attached
to the Brechin church by then under the control of a bishop
of the Church of Rome. It also appears that in1242 the lands
that had been held by the Culdees were transferred to Arbroath
to God by King Kenneth II in the tenth century, Brechin
was created a bishopric by King David in the twelfth. Alexander
J. Warden discounts claims that early in the eleventh century
Malcolm II erected a monastery in Brechin dedicated to the
Virgin Mary. However, it appears that a monastery did exist
at some during the early years of the second millennium.
David D. Black and J. M.Mackinlay both refer to the church
of Kilmoir (i.e. St. Mary) which apparently stood on the
north bank of the River South Esk within the grounds of
Brechin Castle and very near to the Cathedral. The rector
of this church resided in a house 'at the foot of Chanonry
Wynd'. Another church also existed at Bathurgil or Buttergill
(area now known as Burghill) at least from the 14th century.
Both these churches were prebends of the Brechin church.
In the thirteenth century Sir William de Brechin founded
the Chapel of Maison Dieu, a remnant of which still exists,
and in 1572 James VI founded a hospital for the relief of
the destitute. All these erections confirm Brechin as having
been an important religious centre.
more important was the fact that as an ecclesiastical burgh
it had gained considerable rights, including the setting
of tariffs, and, even before its official charter granted
in 1641, it appears to have gained most of the privileges
of a Royal Burgh. In the Middle Ages bishops and abbots
were not infrequently younger sons of the noble families
providing the holder with considerable wealth independent
of his family. Towards the end of the 13th century, for
example, a scion of the aristocratic Comyn family was Bishop
of Brechin. Not surprisingly, then, the bishops were as
powerful and influential as the earls, frequently playing
an important part in the government and administration under
the king. The scholarly but tragic James I appointed the
Bishop of Glasgow as his chancellor and for some time John,
Bishop of Brechin was the king's ambassador to the Pope.
Copyright Brian Mitchell 2000