9.6.5 Pilgrimage

The veneration of saints is part of Catholic Christianity, and in the medieval period in the Highlands the cults of saints attracted patronage and pilgrims (ScARF Medieval section 4.4.3; 6.2; Yeoman 1999). The portable archaeological evidence consists mainly of pilgrims’ badges, souvenirs which could be bought by pilgrims at the shrines they visited. These are rare from Scotland, perhaps in part due to post-Reformation reaction against the practices of the Catholic past (Shiels and Campbell 2011, 83-85). In the Highlands, the church at Tain (MHG8689) in Easter Ross containing the relics of the St Duthac was very popular, enjoying strong local devotion from the 13th century; this is reflected especially in the veneration of the saint by the Earls of Ross. Following King James III’s annexation of Ross to the crown in 1476, James III promoted royal patronage of Tain as a mechanism to tighten royal control in the northern Highlands, but it was his son, James IV, who first visited the shrine in 1493 and thereafter almost annually (Oram et al 2009, 31f; 132-3; Turpie 2014). Despite the popularity of the Duthac cult, no pilgrims’ badges are known from the Highlands, nor have any been identified elsewhere which might have been issued from Tain.

The remains of St Duthac’s Chapel, Tain. ©HES

Other Highland cult sites include one to St Gilbert in Dornoch and St Boniface at Rosemarkie/Fortrose, as well as numerous minor local cult sites. Thomas (2018) has investigated cult chapels in the see of Sodor, and it is likely that others like these existed throughout the Highlands. Possible candidates include chapels which are not parish churches with dedications to saints. There are multiple opportunities for the archaeological investigation of such locations throughout the region.

There was also a wider infrastructure of support that was associated with pilgrimage. Major cult centres elsewhere in Scotland – and places where groups of pilgrims assembled along the main routes to them, such as ferry-crossings or bridging-points – are known to have possessed hostel-type accommodation for ordinary pilgrims, facilities for ‘first-aid’ medical treatment and for provision of food and drink. As the focus for large gatherings of travellers, the cult centres saw associated economic development through the spending-power of the pilgrims. The excavations at Whithorn in Galloway found evidence of commercial activity lining the approach to the shrine-church, possibly representing booths from which the pilgrims could buy souvenirs or food and drink (Hill 1997). Similar arrangements are likely to have existed at Dornoch, Fortrose/Rosemarkie and Tain, while at the latter the medieval growth of the burgh is linked closely with the increasing regional, national, and international draw of the Duthac cult.

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