Religious activity in medieval Perth and Kinross was of course not restricted to ecclesiastical buildings. The wider landscape was marked by people’s beliefs and rituals. Freestanding crosses were placed in significant locations, while a number of wells had religious associations, and even some trees, such as the Fortingall yew (MPK442), probably had religious significance. Interdisciplinary study is likely to prove key to understanding this wider religious landscape.
Crosses and wells are frequently mentioned in charters and written records, providing valuable insights about their location and meaning. Around 20 holy wells are currently listed in the Historic Environment Record for the region, but this is probably an underestimate of the number that existed in the Middle Ages. A combination of documentary research and place-name evidence could prove helpful in mapping the sites of lost crosses and wells.
Some wells are still readily identifiable in the landscape. For example, the main spring at Scotlandwell is perhaps where King Robert I sought to be cured from leprosy in 1329 (MPK11832; Perth and Kinross Council 2009). Archaeological investigation of the area around medieval wells can prove productive. In the 1970s St Magdalene’s Well, which was associated with the site of the hospital at Hilton Hill near Perth was excavated; a cobbled area, a water stoup and a stone with an inscription were discovered (MPK3486; Bowler and Perry 2004). Excavation at the holy well at Inchadney, Kenmore produced an interesting body of votive offerings now held in the National Museums Scotland, including many items from the post-medieval period (MPK362; Gillies 1938, 56–7; Stevenson 1988, 92; Hall 2016, 151). These later artefacts demonstrate a continuity of ritual practice even after the Reformation. To date, Inchadney and St Magdalene’s Well are the only two holy wells in Perth and Kinross that have been excavated. There is considerable popular interest in sacred wells, but at present we lack a systematic study of these sites in Perth and Kinross.
The role of pilgrimage in medieval Perth and Kinross also deserves more detailed investigation. Dunkeld Cathedral had relics associated with St Columba, and Columba’s shrine and crozier were focal points for veneration in the Middle Ages (MPK2445; Yeoman 1999, 85–7; Hall 2005a, 64–72). Meanwhile Scone Abbey had the head of St Fergus, which was visited by James IV in 1503 (MPK3308; Hall 2005a, 85–7). Pilgrims also travelled through the region to shrines further afield, such as St Andrews, and even religious centres overseas. Reconstructing Scottish pilgrim routes is a challenging task, but a combination of written records and landscape study might further our understanding of faith and travel in the Middle Ages (Hall 2005a; Hall 2007; Hall and Spencer 2012).
Similarly, much more research is required into church property, and how ecclesiastical ownership impacted on land and buildings. There has been some study of monastic estates in Perth and Kinross (Hodgson 2016). However, research into the holdings of other types of ecclesiastical institutions and benefice holders, such as prebendaries, chaplains and parish priests, has been very limited. There is extensive and underused written evidence for the property owned and managed by a wide spectrum of clerics. Efforts to link this documentation to the physical evidence could prove highly revealing.
There were many different facets to medieval religion in Perth and Kinross. Despite the considerable attention that historians and archaeologists have paid to religious topics, there is still much more to research. Ritual and belief were woven into the lives of individuals and communities, sometimes in unorthodox ways (M Hall 2005b; 2007; 2011; 2021). More investigation of the relationship between the policies of central ecclesiastical authorities and the material and written evidence for the practices and attitudes of local communities should be a priority. One notable expression of popular religious identity was of course through drama. There is considerable written evidence for the Corpus Christi plays in Perth, which were financially supported by craft and trade incorporations (Hunt 1889). The Corpus Christi play was a burgh-wide performance, and linked together the burgh’s key religious sites with more secular spaces. Previous research into this major burgh festivity has noted that the Corpus Christi procession culminated at the ‘playfield’ at the end of the High Street (M Hall 2005a, 220–4). Further study of the playfield’s location, and of how religious festivities reflected and influenced the wider social and religious topography of the burgh, could be of considerable value.