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In the Steps of St Moluag

posted 24 Aug 2014, 09:02 by St. Thomas' Church Aboyne   [ updated 24 Aug 2014, 09:02 ]

Close followers of my articles in the Tattler on our local Saints will know from my article in 2012 exactly who St Moluag was, but for those who missed it I can recap quickly and tell them that he was a contemporary of St Columba. They came to Scotland with each other in the 6th century and St Columba concentrated on the western half of the country, founding the Monastery at Iona, while St Moluag, who could speak both Gaelic and Pictish (akin to Welsh), concentrated on the north-east. As well as the foundation at Lismore near Oban, Moluag started foundations at Rosemarkie and Mortlach near Dufftown. Both places became the centre of a Diocese, Rosemarkie the Diocese of Ross, and Mortlach the Diocese of Aberdeen, or at least the Diocese that moved to Aberdeen in the 12th century. As well as these foundations, there are dedications to St Moluag at Clatt, Clova, and more importantly at Tarland. And all this before the better known St Augustine made his foundation at Canterbury. Our Dean has done well to remind us of our ancient heritage.

The Dean, The Very Rev Dr A. Emsley Nimmo, conceived the idea of doing a pilgrimage from Aberdeen to Lismore by foot and by boat to raise funds for the restoration of the fabric of our Cathedral, St Andrew’s in Aberdeen. He started on 5th May and on day two would have been in Aboyne had he not had to officiate at a funeral. But he was accompanied by one of his own parishioners, Steven Boon, who arrived at St Thomas’s dead on time at 1.45pm, and was greeted by a small band of our congregation. He bore with him the beautiful Icon of St Moluag painted by our own Kate Gibson.

I was privileged to be authorised by our Rector the Rev Vittoria Hancock to read a Prayer of Pilgrimage to the small gathering while the Icon was displayed on the altar, before I accompanied Steven on his walk to Tarland along the Tarland Way, he walking, I on my bike. Word has got out, I hear, that I fell off my bike, but only once and to no damage.

We covered the five miles to Tarland in two and a half hours, where Fr Emsley the Dean soon arrived. A slightly larger number of us gathered in the roofless ruin of St Moluag’s Church where the Icon was again displayed on a makeshift altar, and censed and blessed by Fr Emsley. The kind Mary Donald took pity on me and ran me and my bike back to Aboyne.

That’s nearly all I can tell you at first hand, but Fr Emsley and Steven completed their pilgrimage, walking the next day to St Mary’s Church, Auchindoir, a beautiful 12th century ruin between Lumsden and Rhynie where there is a 15th century Sacrament House, then over the Cabrach to Burghead, where they were taken by the local Sea Scouts to Rosemarkie. Thereafter they went down the Great Glen also by boat, and reached Lismore near Oban as arranged. Some wonderful photos of their journey can be seen on the Diocesan website. Although press publicity of their pilgrimage was limited, they did achieve a television spot on TV Alba’s news programme An-La, at Port Appin pier. The programme was partly in Gaelic which is wholly appropriate as Gaelic was one of St Moluag’s languages, as it is one of Fr Emsley’s.

The closing ceremonies of the Pilgrimage were held at St Andrew’s Cathedral on Sunday evening, 18th May. The traditional Great Staff of St Moluag, the Bachuil Mor, was brought to Aberdeen for Solemn Evensong with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. It was brought by Nial, its hereditary Keeper and Co-arb who gave us a homily on the history and works of St Moluag in much greater detail than I could possibly do. The Bachuil Mor, which was processed round the Cathedral along with the Icon, is the very same staff that appears in Kate Gibson’s Icon. 

It only remains for the Diocese to rally to the call for funds for the restoration of our Cathedral. The target set by Fr Emsley was £25,000, but at the date of writing only £5591 has been donated, which with Gift Aid makes the total £6176. Anyone who wishes to donate can still do so on line through the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney website; look for the “Just giving” link.

Hugh Cochran