The Portal July 2018 - Page 8

THE P RTAL July 2018 a centre for trade, population, and learning. The church at Whithorn flourished as a centre of pilgrimage. St Ninian’s shrine became as famous as it was popular. Robert the Bruce and James IV were among pilgrims to Whithorn. This popularity continued throughout the Middle Ages.  that was once used as a bakehouse. In any case it was the crypt above the east end of the church above. The cloister has disappeared entirely from view. No doubt its stones were among those taken by locals to build their houses. Although what remains of the nave appears to be almost complete, save for a roof, in fact it is much altered and has suffered many “improvements” in the years since the Reformation and the demise of the once great Cathedral. It has been shortened, and the tower fell down. Yet the south wall is worthy of note. Here it is possible to trace developments from the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries.   In the twelfth century, the church in Galloway was re-organised and Whithorn’s bishopric restored, The Priory came under the rule of the Premonstratensians. Pilgrims increased and brought wealth, and wealth often causes the church problems. This was the case in Whithorn. The church’s lands were gradually spirited away until the Reformation in Scotland was finalised in 1560. The Priory was left a ruin. Local people used its stone for their houses and gradually the Priory ceased to exist, save for the nave which was used as the, Presbyterian, Parish Church. Page 8 Scotland’s oldest Christian Stone Not far away lies St Ninian’s Chapel. From this place one can see the Cumbrian mountains and the Isle of Man. This small chapel was built to serve pilgrims on their way to Whithorn. It is above an ancient landing-stage which was used as good anchorage on the coast. The present building, well ruins really, dates from the thirteenth century, but there is evidence of an earlier building. Following the banning of pilgrimages by Parliament the chapel fell, like so many others, into disuse.  This great Cathedral, Priory and Parish Church is now but a shadow of its former self. Ruaridh Soutar was our flawless guide. He showed us round and was a mine of information. If you visit, (and we hope and pray that you will) be sure to go to the museum Remote from almost everything just by the gate to the site of the is St Ninian’s Cave. It is on the Priory. It is well worth a visit as shore near Burrow Head. It Ruaridh Soutar our Guide it has – among other treasurers - certainly is detached from the the oldest Christian stone yet found in Scotland.  world. The cave has been partly destroyed by cliff falls, but tradition has it that it is the place were St Ninian Although little has survived above ground at retreated from worldly distractions.  Whithorn, excavations have revealed some fascinating evidence of early Christianity here. With the re- Excavations in the cave have unearthed a remarkable establishment of the See of Whithorn in the twelfth amount of cross-slabs dating from the eighth to century, a new church was built. It is this building, or eleventh centuries. So, we may safely assume it was an at least the remains of it, that we see today.Even the important Christian site, a holy place. Following the nave ceased to be used as the Parish Church when Reformation it was used as a store by local fisherman, the present one was built next to it in the nineteenth but now it has been restored a place of pilgrimage. century.  The annual Catholic pilgrimage attracts over 2,000 pilgrims, and is held on the last Sunday in August. At what was the East End of the Cathedral Church,  Visit Historic Scotland’s web site for Whithorn are the remains of what may well have been the shrine for more information -  www.bit.ly/whit-priory of St Ninian, together with a much altered building