Portmahomack: Monastery of the Picts

By Martin Carver | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 8
Aftermath: St Colman’s Church

Macbeth was killed by the Cumbrian prince Malcolm, son of Duncan, that Malcolm Canmore who established a dynasty that would rule Scotland until the death of Alexander III in 1286. Among the eight children of Canmore’s second marriage – to the English princess Margaret – was David, who, with his mother, was to redesign Christianity in Scotland. From David’s accession as David I in 1124, and especially after his conquest of Moray in 1147, we can expect the arrival of a new order in Portmahomack.1 The Christian churches encountered by the reformers exhibited a fine diversity of married priests in secular, monastic and culdee communities:

There were countless shrines, chapels, hermitages, possibly even small churches, bearing
ancient dedications to an enormous variety of saints, the overwhelming majority of
whom were of Celtic origin … Only a small proportion of these sacred sites were
selected for permanent parish kirks and we hardly ever know why one site was preferred
to another.2

In the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries this liturgical gallimaufry was visited by a rigorous transformation: ‘A high degree of uniformity was imposed generally on the whole of western Christendom … As a result the peculiarities of many regional churches of the west, that of Scotland among them, were ironed out’.3 So

when did the cleansing fire reach Easter Ross?

Alexander Grant feels that our region was not properly incorporated into the Scottish kingdom – and thus the broader Christian Europe – until the appointment in 1215 of the first Earl of Ross, Farquhar MacTaggart: ‘the frontier between Ross and Moray was still, in many respects, the effective frontier for the kings of Alba.’4 Geoffrey Barrow points out that, although Rosemarkie was the site of the ancient see, there is no record of any bishop’s church in Moray before the thirteenth century, and it was in the thirteenth century that a functioning cathedral church for Caithness was opened for business at Dornoch. The dioceses of Ross, Moray and Caithness were created by Alexander I or David I, and ‘it is hard to be sure how far parish churches in any recognizable sense existed in Scotland before c. 1120’.5 Farquhar MacTaggart (‘son of the priest’), who defeated invading Irish Norse on behalf of Alexander II, crushed the Galloway Rebellion of 1235 and was father-in-law to Olaf of Man, was a player on the international stage. In the 1220s he founded Fearn Abbey on Tarbat.6 His profile as first Earl of Ross seems to attract the logic that things should start with him.

These are influential thoughts for placing the new beginnings, the building of the first parish church, at Portmahomack. Was it really not until 1215 that St Colman’s

-151-

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Portmahomack: Monastery of the Picts
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures vi
  • Plates ix
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Abbreviations xv
  • Part 1 - Exploring 1
  • Chapter 1 - Welcome to Portmahomack 3
  • Chapter 2 - Designing the Expedition 16
  • Chapter 3 - What We Found 37
  • Part 2 - Age of Fame 71
  • Chapter 4 - The Monks Arrive 73
  • Chapter 5 - Carvers and Thinkers 94
  • Chapter 6 - Architects and Artisans 118
  • Chapter 7 - Serving New Masters 136
  • Part 3 - Legacy 149
  • Chapter 8 - Aftermath- St Colman’s Church 151
  • Chapter 9 - Ritual Landscape, with Portage 173
  • Chapter 10 - A Holy Place in History 191
  • Digest of Evidence 203
  • Bibliography 227
  • Index 235
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