Standing amongst Saints…


I live in a lovely place.

Most days in the course of my work, I travel around Argyll- and I often visit the island of Bute.

Bute is an interesting place. It is the most populated of Argyll’s many islands- with a busy capital. It is not without it’s problems, like many small communities. The island has a rich history.

Last week I took a lunch break, and drove out to one of my favourite places- the church of St Blane.

It is a special place. Cupped in a south facing hillside on the south tip of the Island, overlooking the island of Arran, and its small neighbour, Holy Island, another early Christian site, now used as a Buddhist retreat .

The site was thought to be the location of a monastery established by St Catan, contempory of St Columba. He was one of the Ulster missionary saints who journeyed to Scotland to convert the wild Celts in the mid sixth century. St Blane was thought to be his nephew, who took over as abbot after Catan. Blane established other Monasteries, including one on the site of Dunblane Cathedral.

What might life have been like for these early saints? How did they make sense of life and faith and mission?

The site on Bute is rarely busy. It is surrounded by mature trees, full of the sound of rooks croaking. Centre stage is a medieval ruin, which fell out of use around the reformation. The story goes that the minister refused to have any truck with this new fangled religion…

In 1560 the parish priest, Sir James McWararty, refused to embrace the Protestant faith, and he also refused to relinquish his occupation of St Blane’s. He was still living in the nearby manse in 1587, and it seems that the response of the authorities was simply to leave the church to fall into disuse rather than tackle Sir James directly.

He must have been a formidable bloke.

And here we are, at another set of crossroads in the history of faith in Scotland. I wonder what marks we will leave that people might read in another 1500 years?

And if we make any- what they will make of us?



3 thoughts on “Standing amongst Saints…

  1. I love this spot too,
    I’ve been leading an Impact mission team on the Island the last 2 years, working with the United Church of Bute to develop their Youth Ministry. As a team we often retreat here at some point during the week to reflect upon what we’re doing and who for.
    The atmosphere is so amazing peaceful and calming.

    • HI Chris

      It always helps me find peace too. I always think of that Celtic tradition of ‘thin places’ when in places like this.

      I had not heard of the Impact mission team- I’ll look out for you. What time of year does it happen?



  2. I live on Arran and am involved in the restoration of Sannox church (see which is opposite Bute on the northend of the Island. I have just discovered my great, great grandfather was a ploughman in Kilchattan bay and that his surname McMillan is from the followers of St Cathan. Named after the tonsure or Maol – shaved head. I wonder if he knew this as he ploughed the land soaked in the prayers of this saint?
    Sannox saw revival in the early 1800’s but I am sure Christianity came long before this and possibly through St Cathan?
    I will need to explore and walk the land we see from Arran.

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