St Duthac Shrine: Tain: RossShire

St Duthac Old Church

According to the Breviary of Aberdeen, Duthac [1000-1065] was a Native Scot. Tradition has it that Duthac was educated in Ireland and died in Tain. He is the patron saint of Tain. In the past pilgrimages always stopped here to pay homage to his shrine and many great Scottish kings have been included in that number. Tain was a popular pilgrimage site, favoured by local and nobility alike. It reached its height of popularity in the reign of James IV (1488-1513), who visited almost annually after his first visit in 1493. Clearly there was piety involved, but some historians have also pointed out that it was convenient when visiting his favourite mistress at Darnoway Castle in Moray. This patronage resulted in a flow of money and gifts to the shrine.

Given how popular the cult was, it is somewhat surprising how little we know about St Duthac himself. The connection with Tain seems to be simply that a cleric of that name was born and buried there. Few details of his life can be verified. Tain was able to capitalise on the cult by its possession of a number of relics, including his bones, shirt and bell. All of these disappeared after the Reformation.

A chapel was built-in his honor and a sanctuary established at Tain, by the great Ferchar mac in Sagairt, first Earl or Mormaer of Ross in the thirteenth century, and was ministered by the Norbertine canons of Fearn Abbey. A century later, this sanctuary was notably breached by English supporters who captured Robert the Bruce’s wife and daughter sheltering in the chapel. The chapel was burnt later in political violence between regional power groups, namely the Clan MacKay and the Clan Ross. The ruins of the chapel still exist as a centerpiece of a cemetery along the shores of the Dornoch Firth.

St Duthac Old Church 4 St Duthac Old Church 5 St Duthac Old Church 3 St Duthac Old Church 2

Saint Duthac was greatly venerated in Scotland before the (First) Reformation – Celtic to Catholic – and his memory is still preserved in place names, notably Kilduthie; Arduthie near Stonehaven and Kilduich on the Loch Duich. Tain, where he died and was buried, had the Church built specially in his honour. His death is recorded in “The Annals of Ulster” for the year 1065. After many years his body was found to be incorrupt and his relics were translated to a more splendid shrine at St. Duthus Collegiate Church built between 1370 and 1458. They disappeared in 1560 at the time of the Reformation. He was known as the Chief Confessor of Ireland and Scotland (Dubtach Albanach) and his saint’s feast day is 8 March. His shrine was visited by King James IV, Robert the Bruce and his family, plus many other notables.

St Duthac Old 7 St Duthac Old 2

Tain was called Baile Dhubhthaich in Scottish Gaelic or Duthac’s Town and near it stands St. Duthac’s Cairn, although the biennial Fairs called by his name are no longer held in the town.

St Duthac Old 5 looking towards sea St Duthac Old 9

Here is the St Duthus Collegiate Church in Tain, located near to the town centre, where his relics once laid, a museum is also housed by the entrance. Tain is the oldest Scottish Royal Borough and it is where we live.

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