Centre of Religion

Centre 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.

St. 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.

It was 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 Abbey.

Dedicated 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.

Possibly 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

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The Battle of Mons Graupius.
Centre of Religion
Hugh de Brechin: The Amorous Priest
Royal Connection: Henry de Brechin
Battle of Stracathro
Brechin and the Scottish Wars of Independence
Sir Thomas Maule: Hero of the Castle
Treason at Brechin
Walter Stewart, Lord of Brechin