The Saints of Kilmadock

St Aedh's Church and graveyard, Kilmadock.

Doune in Stirlingshire, a village famous for its 14th century castle, is the main settlement of the ancient parish of Kilmadock. The parish church has been at Doune since the 18th century, succeeding a much older site two miles northwest on the bank of the River Teith. The river runs through, and gives its name to, a district known since medieval times as Menteith, formerly ruled by a mormaer or ‘great steward’ before becoming an earldom of the Scottish Crown. It is possible that Menteith originated as a province or sub-kingdom of the Picts, with a southern border loosely defined by the River Forth.

The location of Menteith

The old parish church of Kilmadock is now a forlorn ruin, reduced to a single gable-end in a disused graveyard. The entire site lies on a natural mound and is enclosed by a wall of roughly oval shape. Even if we knew nothing of its history we would be in no doubt that this has been a place of Christian worship since very early times. Its topographical setting (at the junction of a stream and a river), its elevated position and its curvilinear wall are key characteristics of an ancient ‘Celtic’ foundation. The name of the adjacent stream, the Annat Burn, derives from the old Gaelic word annaid denoting a church containing relics of a saintly founder. In the words of the place-name scholar William Watson: ‘wherever there is an Annat there are traces of an ancient chapel or cemetery, or both’.

The church at Kilmadock is known as ‘St Aedh’s’, and this is where the mystery begins. No source tells us who this saint was, or when the place was dedicated to him. Several saints called Aed or Aedh are mentioned in Irish ecclesiastical tradition but none has any connection with Menteith. Local lore around Doune makes no mention of Aedh and identifies the saint of Kilmadock as Cadoc, a Welsh priest of the 6th century who allegedly visited Scotland. The element ‘madock’ in the place-name is usually interpreted as ‘Doc’ (commonly believed to be a shortened form of ‘Cadoc’) prefixed by Gaelic mo/ma (meaning ‘dear’ or ‘beloved’) which in turn is prefixed by ‘Kil-’ (from Gaelic cill, ‘church’). Numerous churches in western Scotland have names based on the formula Kil + mo/ma + a saint’s name but it is very rare in the east, in the land of the Picts.

According to place-name experts the Kil- prefix in eastern Scotland indicates a name bestowed before c.1000, perhaps even before c.800. At Kilmadock, it implies a church founded by Gaelic-speaking missionaries from Ireland or Argyll rather than by a Welshman who spoke a Brittonic language similar to the native ‘Pictish-British’ dialect of Menteith. However, Gaelic was undoubtedly influencing Pictish-British by c.800 so it is possible that a Kil- place-name in Menteith could have been coined by Gaelicised Picts at some point in the 9th century, perhaps replacing a Brittonic name of the 6th. This removes an etymological objection to the idea of Cadoc being the founder of Kilmadock. The fact that the place-name is stressed on the final syllable appears to support the local tradition that Cadoc, here abbreviated to ‘Doc’, is indeed the holy figure commemorated. But is the tradition really based on authentic history, or merely on legends and folkore?

St Aedh's Church: the surviving gable wall.

Turning back to the Aedh dedication I wonder if this might be a red herring. It looks to me like an afterthought or back-formation devised from the element ‘madock’ in the place-name. Could the dedication be erroneous, arising from a superficial similarity between ‘madock’ and ‘Maedoc’ or ‘Modoc’? These were alternative names for the Irish saint Aedh of Ferns who died in 632. Such a sceptical view seems justified when we consider the syllable stress noted above: if the original name of Kilmadock was ‘Kil-Maedoc’, ‘Maedoc’s church’, the stress should fall on the second syllable (i.e. Kil- MA-dock) rather than on the final one (i.e. Kil-ma-DOCK, the local pronunciation).

That the original dedication was to a saint called simply ‘Doc’ rather than to Aedh/Maedoc gains support from the prominence in the local area of the surname Dog (now Doig). Genealogical lore suggests that this derives from Gaelic Gille Doig, ‘Servant of St Doc’. A connection between Clan Doig and the area around Kilmadock appears in documents dating back to the early 1500s when Walter Dog was appointed as a royal official in Menteith by Queen Margaret of Scotland. Doig tombstones can still be seen in the old graveyard at Kilmadock and a 17th century example is shown below. Were the ancestors of Clan Doig the hereditary keepers of the church at Kilmadock, perhaps even the guardians of relics of St Doc? Such a role might have been an honorary one granted to this prominent local family by the abbots of the monastery.

Detail from the tombstone of James Dog of Ballingrew, Chamberlain of Menteith, who died in 1620.

But what of St Cadoc? Is he really the mysterious ‘St Doc’ of Menteith?

Unfortunately, we don’t have much reliable information on Cadoc, despite the survival of a vita or ‘Life’ written in the late 11th century. Its author was Llifris, a monk at the monastery of Llancarfan in South Wales. He was not a biographer by any modern definition of the term, nor was he a historian. His genre was hagiography, a form of pseudo-biographical literature crafted to glorify the holiness of saints and to promote the interests of their medieval cult-centres. Although Llifris lived in the decades around c.1100 he was as far removed from Cadoc’s lifetime as we are today from the early 1500s. His knowledge of Cadoc therefore relied on 500 years of ecclesiastical folklore, most of it transmitted down the centuries by word of mouth. How much of the resulting Vita Cadoci is based on fact rather than fiction is uncertain but modern historians generally regard it as being of minimal historical value. As far as Scotland is concerned, the vita describes a journey made by Cadoc to a place citra montem Bannauc, ‘this side of the mons (hill) of Bannauc’, where he founded a church. ‘Bannauc’ is almost certainly the range of hills where the Bannock Burn rises before running down towards Stirling and the battlefield of 1314. It is far less likely to be the Cathkin Hills further south, although these have been suggested. The church on ‘this side’ is usually identified as the parish kirk of Cambuslang in Lanarkshire which, according to local tradition there, was founded by Cadoc. The entire Bannauc episode looks suspiciously like a collection of routine hagiographical motifs. Cadoc’s visit to Scotland might be fictional, a story concocted at Llancarfan to promote the Welsh monastery’s patron saint as a wide-ranging traveller. The date of the dedication to Cadoc at Cambuslang is unknown but, if it was pre-1100, Llifris may have invented Cadoc’s Scottish sojourn to explain it. Such a tale would have served the additional purpose of linking Cambuslang more closely to the primary cult-centre at Llancarfan. This was a well-trodden strategy in hagiographical writing and can be seen, for example, in the vita of St Kentigern written by Joceline of Furness in the 12th century. Joceline describes journeys made by Kentigern from his bishopric at Glasgow to faraway places where churches dedicated to him existed in Joceline’s own time. Most, if not all, of these journeys never happened. Similarly, in the Vita Cadoci we see Cadoc visiting not only Scotland but Brittany where chapels commemorating him existed in Llifris’ lifetime. I suspect Cadoc never actually visited the Breton sites, or that he ever came north to ‘this side of Bannauc’, or that he personally founded a church at Cambuslang or anywhere else in North Britain. Cambuslang is not actually mentioned in the Vita Cadoci so we cannot even be sure that it was the place Llifris had in mind. It is worthwhile to note that Llifris does not mention Kilmadock either. In any case, Menteith is north of the Bannock Burn and could hardly be described by a Welshman as being situated ‘this side of Bannauc’. If Kilmadock really had a Cadoc dedication in the 11th century, Llifris would surely have known about it and mentioned it. Perhaps he ignored Kilmadock because it had no connection with Cadoc at all and instead commemorated a different ‘St Doc’.

This brings us to the key question: Who put the ‘Doc’ in KilmaDOCK?

There are two possible candidates. One is St Docus, mentioned in an 8th-century Irish list of saints where he is described as a British bishop of the 6th century. Alongside two other Britons – the famous saints David and Gildas – Docus is credited with influencing how Mass was performed in Ireland. Closer inspection reveals him to be none other than Cadoc of Llancarfan, who thus returns to our list of possible suspects. The other is the Welsh saint Madoc, an obscure 6th or 7th century figure. Madoc is easily confused with his Irish namesake Aedh of Ferns who, as we have seen, was nicknamed Maedoc or Modoc (and sometimes Madoc!). To complicate things even further, the Welsh Madoc himself has an Irish connection: he is described as a pilgrim who travelled from Ireland to South Wales to establish Llanmadoc, ‘Madoc’s church’, a place whose name looks at first glance like a direct Welsh equivalent of Kilmadock. Unfortunately, as with the Irish name Maedoc mentioned above, the stress in ‘Madoc’ does not fall on the final syllable as it does in Kil-ma-DOCK. Llanmadoc is pronounced Llan-MA-doc, so the St Madoc of Wales might be another red herring as far as our search is concerned. Curiously, a cleric called ‘Maidoc’ appears in Vita Cadoci as a witness to one of Cadoc’s pronouncements. He is usually identified as Aedh of Ferns (‘St. Maedoc’).

The River Teith, from St Aedh's Church.

With so many vague and tangled traditions we are unable to identify the real St Doc of Menteith from whom the ancestors of Clan Doig took their name. And, as if the puzzle wasn’t insoluble enough, the annual fair held at Kilmadock Church until the 17th century was known as ‘St Mittan’s Day’. Setting the various saints aside for a moment, I think we can be confident that the old church beside the River Teith occupies the site of a predecessor founded in the 6th-8th centuries. The original church or monastery lay in an area ruled by a local Pictish aristocracy whose spiritual needs it served. Beyond this we cannot say much more. An archaeological excavation would no doubt confirm the antiquity of the site but not, alas, the name of the founder.

I’ll end this post with a list of candidates, any (or none) of whom could be the patron saint of Kilmadock.

1. St Aedh of Ferns, known as Maedoc, Modoc or Madoc
….who is not the same person as….
2. St Madoc of Llanmadoc
….who founded a church in Wales, just like….
3. St Cadoc of Llancarfan
….who is also known as….
4. St Docus
….and who might (or might not) be the same person as….
5. St Doc of Menteith
….whose name seems to underlie the Scottish surname Dog or Doig. And last of all….
6. St Mittan, of whom nothing is known.

References:

W.J. Watson, The history of the Celtic place-names of Scotland (Edinburgh, 1926)

Simon Taylor, ‘Place-names and the early church in eastern Scotland’, pp.93-110 in B. Crawford (ed.) Scotland in Dark Age Britain (St Andrews, 1996) [includes an excellent study of the Kil- prefix in Scottish place-names]

Llifris of Llancarfan, Vita Cadoci. English translation in W.J. Rees (ed.) Lives of the Cambro-British saints (Llandovery, 1853), pp.309-95

Entry for St Aedh’s Church, Kilmadock at the RCAHMS Canmore database

The Dogs of Menteith (Clan Doig)

Kilmadock photographs © B. Keeling 2010

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6 comments on “The Saints of Kilmadock

  1. The entire site lies on a natural mound and is enclosed by a wall of roughly oval shape.

    This is one of the things that bothers me about early church archaeology in Scotland (the other being that it doesn’t extend often enough to actual digging, Whithorn and Portmahomack being laudable exceptions): doesn’t that indicate, anywhere else, a fortress rather than a church? I realise that churches have been found (not least Portmahomack) that fit the type; but so have fortresses. This case looks likely to be a church, I agree, but I am agnostic about these diagnostics.

    • Tim says:

      Your agnosticism is justified, Jonathan. Churches, fortresses, fortresses-with-churches – it’s a more complex picture than my post suggests. On reflection, ‘we would be in no doubt’ in the second paragraph is too strong (even in the case of Kilmadock).

      To your two laudable exceptions I’d add Govan, Kingarth and Inchmarnock but it would be good to see a few more getting onto the list. One day, maybe, someone will organise a dig at Kirkmadrine or Aberlemno.

      • I should have mentioned Inchmarnock, I used its Viking raid sketch tablet in a lecture only today! Aberlemno would be marvellous, I agree. Fortresses-with-churches is also an exception that I heard about a recent excavation of a specimen of, but now can’t remember where it was. What would you exemplify that case with?

  2. Jo Woolf says:

    Really interesting! I’ve only just found this, from looking for records for the church at Doune. The name of Modoc or Madoc intrigued me too, as it reminded me of St Madog or Prince Madoc in Wales. I’m also intrigued by the St Mittan’s festival. There seem to be too many pieces for the jigsaw! There is a village called Kilmahog just a short distance away, but I’m assuming that this would refer to a different saint altogether?

    • Tim says:

      Hello Jo. A quick glance at Watson’s CPNS (‘History of the Celtic Place Names of Scotland’) shows Kilmahog to be a name of uncertain origin. The first element is certainly the Gaelic word for ‘church’ or ‘monastery’. Watson suggests the older form Cill Mo-Chug might mean ‘Church of St Cuaca’ (an Irish saint) but it’s a shot in the dark.

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