Here again reader, I am afraid that the medieval fabulists have clouded much of what might be known of Ternan with veils of inventiveness to the extent that it is difficult to know how much, if any, of the quoted histories carry any truth. Much of the suggested truth comes from the Aberdeen Breviary which, in itself, must make us question the facts with great care!
St Ternan is commemorated at Banchory-Ternan in the lower Dee valley and at Arbuthnott, among other places in Scotland. He is also commemorated in the Irish martyrologies as Torannán where he is said to have been a sixth-century saint from Scotland. The Martyrology of Donegal states that he was abbot of Bennchor and of Tulach Foirtceirn in Leinster. It is also suggested that he was an older contemporary of Colum-Cille (St Columba).
Another set of sources gives St Ternan as one St Ninian's successors and third ab of Candida Cassa (Whithorn). Ternan is said to have followed the short abbacy of St Caranoc the Great; Ternan himself being succeeded by Nennio, the little monk. This story must be a serious contender for the truth since it would explain why Ternan travelled to the north-east ... in the steps of his master St Ninian. It would, however, suggest a much earlier date for him, i.e. mid to late fifth-century. What is, of course possible, is that we are dealing here with two separate people - one who lived in the fifth century (Tervanus or Ternan) and one who lived and worked in the sixth century (Torannán or Ternan). However, one writer (Scott), somewhat less charitably has the following to say about the Roman fabulists' work in which they tried to gloss over the true history of St Ternan in order to show a Roman genesis for the Brito-Pictish Church. He says, "they began their perversions by bestowing on him (Ternan) the unwarranted and anachronistic title Archbishop of the Picts." At least one Roman hand, however, held more closely to the truth. In the Martyrology of Aberdeen, which bears evidence of a Moray scribe's hand, St Ternan is titled "Archipraesul" which, in this instance, means president of the chief and parent community (Candida Cassa).
The truth ... ? Well, this is what I would humbly suggest as being Ternan's true history, as drawn from the original sources. There was but one Ternan. He was a Pict of the Mearns in Alba who was converted during St Ninian's Pictish mission, he was educated at Candida Cassa, he was baptized in early manhood by that disciple of St Ninian whom the Roman writers confused with Palladius, whose native name is Pawl Hen or Paul the Aged. Paul was a missionary, a Briton, and worked with St Ninian. He survived into the early years of the sixth century and thus lived long enough to meet St David, but he could not see him because he was blind with old age.
Ternan, having been third ab of Candida Cassa, founded a banchor (place of Christian learning) where is today the town of Banchory and, indeed, there are remains of a Celtic foundation to be seen in a number of carved stones close by the old grave-yard.
Celtic cross set into a wall in Banchory
It was here that St Ternan is said to have taught his convert, the Pict St Erchard. If the reader ever wishes to understand how culture in Pictland suffered from the invasions of the Danes and Vikings, simply visualise Banchory and other like places in the fifth century with their schools, their manuscripts, and active missionary teachers, spreading the Gospel and Christian civilisation; and then think of the state of these places five hundred years later!
What was thought to be Ternan's skull, and his copy of St Matthew's Gospel in a case richly adorned with gilt and silver, are said to have been preserved at Banchory until the 16th Century. So also was his bell called Ronecht, said by tradition to have been given to him at Rome by the pope (where have we heard that before!), and to have miraculously followed him to Alba. It was under the care on an hereditary keeper, as in the case of similar relics associated with Celtic saints. Its dewar or keeper, in virtue of his office, had a piece of land known as the Deray Croft of Banquhori-terne. During the construction of the old Deeside Railway a small square cast-iron bell was dug up by the workmen, but, sadly it was eventually lost sight of. This may have been Ternan's Ronecht, so carefully preserved in medieval times.
Press here to see a large image and information.
An image of Ternan, (dressed in archepiscopal robes no less!), is preserved in one of the great treasures of Alba - the fifteenth-century Arbuthnott Missal.
Besides the churches at Banchory-Ternan and Arbuthnott, that at Fordoun was dedicated to St Ternan and there was also a chapel bearing his name at Findon in Banchory-Devenick parish. The latter was built upon a rock and had near it a spring known as St Tarnan's Well. A chapel to St Ternan once stood in Belhelvie parish, to the north of Aberdeen, standing close to a piece of land called St Ternan's land. The parish of Slains in Aberdeenshire had the saint as patron with another St Ternan's Well lying in the garden of the manse.
Ternan's feast day is commonly taken to be 12 June.
1. "The Pictish Nation, its Prople and its Church", Archibald B. Scott, T.N. Foulis of London, 1918. To the enthusiast, this must be one of the soundest sources of information regarding the early church in Pictland of Alba.
Return to top of page
© 2005 Cushnie Enterprises