A pictish saint of Deeside.

Died: 678AD

The ancient story of this most ancient of Pictish saints is one of the most colourful of all that we have given you so far!

St Nachlan, known as St Nathalan and St Nauchlan, was a native of Deeside and as some would have it he was of noble birth from within one of the local Pictish tribes. He became famous in the district round Tullich for his great knowledge of how to grow crops and the success he had was a wonder to behold when many others' crops around him were seen to fail. He gave thanks for the wonder to God and was glad he had enough to give to others at these hard times. However, Nachlan was not made of pure spirit - he had a little of the temper of his people within his breast still. When, on an occasion when his crops failed as well, he gave vent to his anger and blamed God in no uncertain terms! It was not long before he was filled with remorse and sadness at such a failing in his faith and he determined to do great penance to try to make up for his sins. He straightway bound his hand and arm to his side and fixed the chains with a padlock. In this fashion he determined to go to Rome and beg forgiveness of the Pope himself. Needless to say, just to make things a little harder, he threw the key to the padlock into the nearby River Dee! A swampy hollow on the left of the road leading from Tullich to Ballater, believed to be part of the old bed of the Dee, is locally known as Pol-n'-euchrach, "the Key Pool", a topographical reminder of the saint's penance.

Ruins of a later church built over Nachlan's at Tullich.

{Press HERE or on picture for full-size image}

Much later, having travelled for many weeks, Nachlan arrived in Rome and was overpowered by the holiness of the city. In a market place he came across a small boy who was selling fish. Nachlan purchased one from the unsuspecting urchin and upon opening it he found the key he had thrown into the Dee so many hundreds of miles away and so many months before. With much joy, he unlocked the padlock and freed his arm again, rejoicing that this was surely a sign of his forgiveness by God. On hearing the story the Pope is said to have instantly made Nachlan a bishop as a mark of his obvious favour with God.

What was known as'St Nachlan's Cross' long stood on the market stance of the old village of Tullich. The monument is said to have been about 12 feet in height and was broken up by the modernizers of the mid-1800's and the fragments used for building purposes! In 1541 King James V instituted a fair to be held in Tullich on St Nathalan's day, 8th Januuary, which was altered to the 19th on the change of the calendar in 1752.

Apart from the very ancient settlement at Tullich, Nachlan founded churches also at Coull at the entrance to the Howe of Cromar and at Bothelnie (otherwise, Bal-Nathlan), known since about 1684 as Oldmeldrum, north of the River Don. He was held in special reverence here because he is believed to have saved the parish from plague by his fervent prayers while going round its bounds on his knees. The local burying-ground of Bothelnie was credited with containing his remains. A large ash tree, locally styled the Parcock Tree, in the corner of a field at the head of the Lang Causeway, now King Street, was a landmark in the parish, for beside it, according to tradition, St Nathlan finally left this earthly life. As at Tullich, the saint's day, 8th January, was long held in Bothelnie as a holiday, and even in quite modern times it was customary to refrain from work on the occasion.On the hillside near the Parcock Tree games were held in honour of the festival.

The reader must be cautious with regard to the church at Coull since some ancient sources show its dedication to have been to St Brioc. The confusion, it is said, comes from the old chapel at Cowie, near Stonehaven. This chapel is well documented and its remains still stand as a silent testament to the wilds of the North Sea. In ancient times Cowie was called Collie and its chapel was dedicated to St Mary and St Nathalan. A rhyme formerly current in Cowie says:

"Atween the kirk and the kirk ford

There lies St Nauchlan's hoard."


The remains of the old Kirk of Cowie

The hoard is thought to be concealed in a bull's hide. The old belief, which cannot have had the effect of encouraging anyone to the quest, was that a rope is tied round the hide, and that it will be used to hang the finder of the treasure! In 1541, as in Tullich parish, a fair was instituted at Cowie by King James V to be held annually on St Nachlan's day.

Returning briefly to the old church which still stands within a circular burying-ground at Tullich, there is certainly evidence that it is a site of great antiquity since, just outside the north wall there are several ancient symbol-stones. One is a symbol-bearing slab of blue slate, while five others are granite slabs having incised crosses of very old design. Nearby the church there is also a souterrain. It can not be doubted that Tullich was a Christian site in very early times but there is less evidence to date the life of Nachlan himself. He is mentioned in some of the early Irish martyrologies and is said in one to have lived and worked either in the fifth century, or, according to others, about the seventh century.



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