The Hand of St Fillan

The faithful born in ages past were often persuaded by their Priests that they might be spared some portion of their time in Purgatory by purchase of some Holy Charm: a bone, a braid of hair or scrap of skin from some ancient seer or Holy Man. These clerics span many a sinful superstitious tale to trap the foolish and part them from their gold. One such relic was the Hand of St Fillan, which played - if local legend is to be believed - a vital part in Robert Bruce's victory at the Battle of Bannockburn.

_tales - hand-of-st-fillan-cambuskenneth-abbey_4.jpgFillan was an Irish monk, a sage and worthy man who dedicated all his days to copying of Holy Writ.

So fierce did Faith burn within his heart, his fellow clerics claimed, those who held his age-browned finger-bones would find their own hand guided by Divine Will.

In Thirteen Hundred and Fourteen that revenant rested in the care of the monks of Cambuskenneth Abbey. Word came to the Abbot of that place that Robert Bruce had need of aid, for with the coming dawn his tattered troop would face the might of Edward, England’s King – him that cried himself the ‘Hammer of the Scots’.

Bruce was burdened by a guilty heart.

Not long before he’d served proud Edward’s father, old ‘Longshanks’, and set his sword against them that now he led. He’d slain his cousin, John Comyn, and others that had opposed him on his path to princely power – and for that sin, and many more besides, he and the nation which he now led were Excommunicated by the Kirk of Rome…left, alone and friendless, to their fate. 

“Bring me Fillan’s hand!” the King had cried “That mine might be guided by God’s own!”

But was bold Robert worthy of this boon, the Abbot wondered? He’s once sworn fealty to the English, after all, and called King Edward ‘brother’, ‘’friend’, and more. Might he, again? And, if he did – his sword now guided by the force of Fillan’s faith – might Scotland’s cause and Scotland’s liberty be lost?

The fearful Abbot bid the bones be hid away, then, locking tight their empty cask, he sent it, empty, to King Robert’s camp. His Friar told the King it was folly, amid the chaos of the camp, to risk the safety of so powerful a prize. It was best, he stuttered, that the bones should bide within their casket until the bloody day ahead was done.

But, no. Bruce declared he’d look upon the bones right there and then. He swore he’d touch them, too – that, hand in hand with God’s own power he might lead the Scots to victory.

He snatched the casket from the Friar’s grasp, snapped the lock and found it…empty.

“Fool!” He raged. “Might Scotland’s cause be lost because of this?”

The Friar fell, then, to his knees…begged for mercy…braced himself for the swift and fatal blow he knew must come…but never did. In the sudden stillness of the night, he opened wide his eyes

There stood the King - still, silent, a look of puzzlement upon his brow as he gazed in awe-struck wonder at the casket in his grasp – perplexed as to how it was the box he held should seem to grow so heavy in an instant. He opened wide the lid, and there – where nothing was before – were Fillan’s bones.

By what mystic means was the relic brought so sure and swift to Bannockburn? In Faith or Magic should we credit Fate? No matter. Suffice to say that Bruce prevailed, and sent King Edward – as the song and story goes – homeward, to think again!

Catchy line, that.

More Information

The Bannockburn Heritage Centre is open to the public every day, and is operated and maintained by the National Trust for Scotland visit their website at www.battleofbannockburn.com

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