After the battle of Mortlach, Malcolm returned to Forfar and remained there for some time, but in the same year, forgetting not his vow, he caused the three lengths of his spear to be added to the church; and not satisfied with the mere letter of his promise, he took measures to have it erected into a bishop’s see, and by “charter confirmed to God and the blessed Mary and all the saints, and to the Bishop Boyn of Murthlac, the church of Murthlac, that there a bishop’s see may be erected, the lands of Murthlac, the church of Cloveth with its lands, the church of Dulmeth with its lands, as free as he held them, and in pure and perpetual charity.“ This charter was granted at Forfar, in the sixth year of his reign, and consequently was in 1010—the same year in which the battle was fought, and shows how reverently the pious king attributed his victory to the intervention of the high power he had invoked in the hour of trouble. Indeed, the ancient writers, while extolling the piety and munificence of the king, pretty generally attribute his erection of Mortlach into a bishop’s see to divine in­spiration, and at the same time affirm it to have been the second diocese erected in Scotland—St Andrews being the first. That there were persons who enjoyed the title of biship before either St Andrews or Mortlach had been converted into a see is, however, certain, for we find, from the Chronicles of Scotland, “ that such as were reputed of virtuous behaviour, and knowledge meet for the office, used the authorise and roome of bishops in what place soever they were resident;“ but the same authority informs us that though this was the case, yet, “the realme was not divided into dioceses till the days of Malcolm, &c.” But as the late Rev. G. Gordon, Roman Catholic minister of Mortlach, in describing the altar-piece of the present Roman Catholic Chapel, in an address to his congregation, gives a more particular account of the bishops who occupied the episcopal chair of Mortlach than we can, we shall avail ourselves of his MS., which has been kindly placed at our disposal by the Rev. Mr Kemp: –

“It was as a tribute of gratitude to the Almighty for his success on this occasion, and in consequence of his vow or promise made to God by the King, while invoking the assistance of heaven, that Mortlach was erected into an Episcopal See, and Malcolm, after rid­ding the country of its enemies, did not delay fulfilling his promise. He, over and above, endowed the church with additional revenues, and at the same time improved the structure by enlarging its dimensions. He likewise founded a monastery or abbey here, in thanksgiving for his victory, and no doubt in the view for this, that It might serve as a place of residence for the dignified pastor as well as for the religious who might occupy it —that being the usual way in which bishops chose to accommodate themselves in this and other countries for a series of ages.


“The name of the person who occupied the episcopal chair was St Bean, or Bain, who was parish priest here at the date of the battle. How long he had held the charge before that event, is not known. A.D. 1015 is given as the year of his instalment, and his con­secration is said to have been performed by the hand of the sovereign pontiff, Pope Benedict the 8tb. He ruled the diocese, which extended from the banks of the Spey to those of the Dee, for 32 years afterwards, and the character which our writers gave of him is that ‘he administrated his charge with that prudence, that in­tegrity, and all those other virtues which became a true pastor of souls, so that neither the honour to which he had been raised prejudiced in the least his humility and contempt of himself, nor any external occupations took off his attention to, and familiarity with his God,’ “


“St Bean went to receive the reward of his labours in the year 1047. At what time he may have been cononized —that is to say declared to be in bliss, and proposed to the veneration of the faithful—does not appear, but his name occurs in the Roman Martyrology, or Calendar of the Canonized Saints, on the 16th December. It is on the 26th October that he is placed on the Scottish Calendar, which seems to have been the day on which his festival was observed throughout Scotland. In the traditions, customs, observances, local designations, or other cir­cumstances in this neighbourhood, I find no reference to either of those days, although I find a marked connection between certain established usages, and the Other days of those saints who had been adopted as the patrons of the parish. Your ‘lady fair,’ which happens about the feast of the assumption, evidently refers to the blessed patroness.

The other old market seems, in like manner considering the time at which it was held, to point to the patron, St Molock.

            “It will surely occur to any of you to ask how it came to pass that St Bean, having been resident bishop as well as parish priest here—possibly, also, a native of the district, and likewise a canonized saint—was not selected preferably to other blessed saints for patron of this church? The answer will be obvious to most of you, because it was already dedicated to God, under the in­vocation of other saints, when St Bean was still in his mortal career—probably long before his time— St Molacus, the other patron, having flourished nearly 400 years before the time of St Bean—viz., A.D. 600. In order to this, the original patronage must have been altered; but notwithstanding manifest and great reasons, such as I have mentioned, it was thought more fitting to con­tinue the ancient invocation. In doing so you will ob­serve that the natives found a very pressing inducement in the recollection of the glorious victory which was gained in this valley over the Danes, and which was at­ tributed to the intercession of the original patron. We cannot, however, doubt but that the memory of his (St Bean’s) virtues was kept up here, and his feast observed as a day of particular devotion.

“I find, indeed, that his memory was greatly vene­rated among people who had not the same opportunities as those of this parish of witnessing his virtuous example and instructive lessons. There is still to be seen in Strathglass, the walls of an ancient church which had been dedicated to him. It has been described to me as being about the size of this place [the present Catholic Chapel], or but little larger. The tradition respecting it is, that it was erected in St Bean’s time and blessed by him. In process of time, after he became a canon­ized saint, it had been dedicated to him; and such was the veneration in which his name was hold in that part of the country, that to the present time the day of his passing to eternity—the 26th of October—was observed as a holiday. No servile work was performed, and over and above, the Catholics, who are pretty numerous in that district, were wont to assemble within the walls of the ancient church, under a temporary covering, in order to honour his memory and obtain his prayer by the celebration of divine service. I cannot say what the custom of that country is under the present pastor; but under his predecessors it was I have just now described it, and seems to have been uninterrupted through a series of ages, and through all changes of religion and government, as far as circumstances would permit.


“With respect to the precise situation where St Bean was interred, accounts differ, and are totally at variance. Spottiswoode, and other annalists after him, state that the three Bishops were buried at the postern, or back floor of the church. That back door was closed up many years ago, and in consequence of the alterations which have been made on the church at two different periods, is not now discernible. Its situation is known, though little more than three or four feet of its original height is now to be seen, in consequence of the hollow ground adjoining to it having in the course of these alterations been up; and a sharp eye will still readily discern its arched head, at the foot of the steps which led up to the gallery on this, the north side of the church. [The last time the church was harled, this arch was covered up, but many of our readers will remember to have seen it.] Boece, on the other hand, states that the popular traditions of his time pointed to some spot on the rising ground east of the church, as being the depositary of these dignitaries. He makes no mention of a postern or back door. This statement of Boece, though apparently at variance with local circumstances, as well as with Spottiswoode, is in my opinion that which merits most the consideration of the critic, and most to be depended on.” Mr Gordon, after enumerating many reasons why Boece’s account is more worthy of credit in all, save that east ought to have been north, goes on to prove by the customs of the country that such a mistaking, or rather misnaming, of the points of the compass, was customary at the time of that writer. He also states that “when   the first alterations were made on the church, A.D. 1796, an excavation was made there (at the back door), to a considerable depth. Some valuable treasure was looked for, but neither that nor any indication that St Bean or any other person had been interred in that place, was found.” An effigy of St Bean was formerly to be seen on the north wall of the church, near to the back door, looking towards the mound where his remains are sup­posed to be interred.


“After St Bean, I find a succession of three other bishops governing the diocese of, and residing at, Mort­lach; and all of them famed for their learning, as well as piety—Donorce,(alias Barnack,) Cormac, and Nectan. The first two administered this charge for 42 and 39 years respectively, and both seem to have been venerated as saints, although I do not anywhere find that they were formally canonized, or regularly proposed to the venera­tion of the faithful. They were buried in the same place as their predecessor, St Bean. The two bishops I have just now mentioned—Donorce and Cormac, along with St Bean—compose the three that are alluded to in the popular traditions among the inhabitants of this parish; and only three, it is observable, are ever men­tioned. The reason, no doubt, is that Mortlach was the depository of the mortal remains of only these three bishops, and excepting these, cannot claim the honour of the personal residence in it of any other bishop, through the whole of his pontificate; I say, through the whole of his pontificate; because a fourth bishop, whom I have named Nectan, filled the episcopal chair, and resided at Mortlach for the space of 14 years, after the demise of Cormack, the third in succession. In the 15th year of his pontificate, the episcopal seat was removed from Mortlach to Aberdeen. That removal took place in consequence, and formed part of a new distribution of the episcopal districts, which was then made for the better administration of the same, with the concurrence of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities. Aberdeen being a town, and the most considerable in the diocese, was deemed, no doubt, the more suitable residence for the ecclesiastical superior. That distinction it continued ever after to enjoy, so long as the first order of the hierarchy was respected in Scotland; and from that time the bishops and diocese were styled, of Aberdeen, or rather of Aberdon, the episcopal residence being in the Old Town, which is situated on the banks of the Don.

“But although Mortlach, after the removal, ceased to be the usual abode of the ecclesiastical superior, it ap­pears, however, that it still continued to be honoured by his occasional residence. In the fourteenth century, I find Bishop Kininmonth was making it his quarters for the winter season, till the approach of Easter, when various duties required his presence in his cathedral at the principal seat—a circumstance which affords some presumption that Mortlach then, as well as now, was not without its attractions and its comforts, and that it con­tinued to be looked up to and revered on account of having been the mother seat from whence the successors of St Bean drew their origin, and sanctified by the virtues, the examples, and the instructive lessons of that prelate. While these recollections and the attractions of the place might invite, and the necessity for the ex­ercise of the episcopal powers might require their occa­sional presence here, it is likewise to be observed that the bishops had a considerable temporal interest in this neighbourhood to look after, for no small part of their revenues was derived from those which belonged originally to the see of Mortlach.


“There is still extant a genuine bull of Pope Adrian the Fourth, addressed to Edward, the suc­cessor of Nectan, whom I have mentioned, confirm­ing to him, as Bishop of Aberdeen, all his rights and privileges. Among other sources of revenue are mentioned—’The town’ (villa, no doubt the Kirktown) ‘and monastery of Mortlach, with five churches, and the lands belonging to the same: Item, the monas­tery of Clova.’ The ruins of this monastery are to be seen westward of the present house of Clova. The monastery of Mortlach stood unquestionably almost on the stance of the present distillery, turning across the road, at the north end, in place of descending, like that building, at the other end, towards the river. The last remnants of the foundations, which had been seen in a more entire state by many in this parish still living, were turned up by the erection of the distillery and the formation of the public road along it. The name which a spot at the farthest extremity has retained to the pre­sent day—the Bishop’s garden—shows that the monas­tery here, according to the primitive custom, formed the episcopal palace. Certain traditions still current in this parish would induce a belief that this house was kept up and occupied for some time after the dissolution of the religious houses in this country. Even the name of one of the occupants has been handed down, along with an anecdote relating to him. The garden, at any rate, appears to have been kept up; for the bushes with which it bad been planted were still growing when the above road was made through it. That circumstance, while it proves the spot to have been a garden, helps to show that the house to which it was attached had been occupied at no very remote period.

“With respect to the five churches mentioned in the bull, one must have been the church of the parish; a second, that attached to the monastery for the daily duty of the religious, and the private devotions of the bishop; the third, if we search for it within the bounds of this parish, I should place on the farm of Laggan, for there is on that farm a spot which tradition states to have been a depository for the dead, and as such, has hitherto been respected in the customary way, by making it a deposi­tory for useless and encumbering stones. But wherever there was a churchyard, it follows, of consequence, that there must have been a church. St Wollock’s Church, commonly called Walla Kirk, on the farm of Upper Dalmeth, near Beldorny, and the church attached to the Monastery of Clova, which authentic documents attest to have formed part of the revenues of the Bishop of Mortlach, complete the number of five churches, which the Bishop of Aberdeen, from his connection with Mort­lach, could claim as his property. The landed property belonging to the Bishop of Aberdeen in this parish alone, was considerable. Little Pitglassie, with its mill; Pittivaich, with the same accompaniment, and its privi­leges; Laichy, and a craft on Parkbeg, with a brew-house there—all these Lands I find mentioned in a document dated A.D. 1559, by which Wm. Gordon, the last Catholic Bishop of Aberdeen, disposes of the same to the Earl of Athole, the proprietor, at that time of the Lordship of Balvenie.

“After removing to Aberdeen, Nectan lived to go­vern the diocese for seventeen years, which he appears to have administered greatly for the benefit of religion. His name is mentioned with honour by all our ancient historians. He is described as being not only a pious, learned, and vigilant pastor, but also as a gentleman of great address, and as possessed of first-rate abilities. St David, our king, and the first of that name, venerated him as a parent. He consulted him in all matters of importance, even in state affairs; and, on more occa­sions than one, employed him in settling differences and negotiating treaties with foreign princes. The pontifi­cate of Nectan was nearly commensurate with the reign of David, which lasted from the year 1124 to the year 1153. The name of his successor was Edward, who does not appear to have degenerated from his predecessors in the character which they supported at Mortlach. After these I find a long and uninterrupted suc­cession of bishops at Aberdeen, till the era of the Reformation. As the first bishop of this diocese had been parish priest here, so the last Catholic pastor here but one, before the change of religion, was dignified with that title. I allude to John Lesly, Bishop of Ross—a name familiar to every person who has read the history of his country, especially of the unfortunate Queen Mary, whom he served very faithfully. He survived her some years, and died at Brussels, in Flanders, in the year 1595.”