9th of January – St. Fillan’s Day

SS. Julian and Basilissa, martyrs, 313. St Peter of Sebaste, bishop and confessor, about 387. St Marchiana, virgin and martyr, about 305. St Vaneng, confessor, about 688. St Fillan, abbot, 7th century. St Adrian, abbot at Canterbury, 710. St Brithwal, archbishop of Canterbury, 731.


Born. – John Earl St Vincent (Admiral Jervis), 1734. 
Died. – Bernard de Fontenelle, philosopher, 1757; Thomas Birch, biographical and historical writer, 1766; Elizabeth O. Benger, historian, 1822; Caroline Lucretia Herschel, astronomer, 1848.



St Fillan is famous among the Scottish saints, from his piety and good works. He spent a considerable part of his holy life at a monastery which he built in Pittenweem, of which some remains of the later buildings yet exist in a habitable condition. It is stated that, while engaged here in transcribing the Scriptures, his left hand sent forth sufficient light to enable him, at night, to continue his work without a lamp. For the sake of seclusion, he finally retired to a wild and lonely vale, called from him Strathfillan, in Perthshire, where he died, and where his name is still attached to the ruins of a chapel, to a pool, and a bed of rock.


‘At Strathfillan, there is a deep pool, called the Holy Pool, where, in olden times, they were wont to dip insane people. The ceremony was performed after sunset on the first day of the quarter, O.S., and before sunrise next morning. The dipped persons were instructed to take three stones from the bottom of the pool, and, walking three times round each of the three cairns on the bank, throw a stone into each. They were next conveyed to the ruins of St Fillan’s chapel; and in a corner called St Fillan’s bed, they were laid on their back, and left tied all night. If next morning they were found loose, the cure was deemed perfect, and thanks returned to the saint. The pool is still (1843) visited, not by parishioners, for they have no faith in its virtue, but by people from other and distant places.’ – New Statistical Account of Scotland, parish of Killin, 1843. 

Strange as it may appear, the ancient bell of the chapel, believed to have been St Fillan’s bell, of a very antique form, continued till the beginning of the nineteenth century to lie loose on a grave-stone in the churchyard, ready to be used, as it occasionally was, in the ceremonial for the cure of lunatics. The popular belief was, that it was needless to attempt to appropriate and carry it away, as it was sure, by some mysterious means, to return. A curious and covetous English traveller at length put the belief to the test, and the bell has been no more heard of. The head of St Fillan’s crosier, called the Quigrich, of silver gilt, elegantly carved, and with a jewel in front, remained at Killin with the Dewar family, by the representative of which it was conveyed to Canada. The story is that this family obtained possession of the Quigrich from King Robert Bruce, after Bannockburn, on his becoming offended with the abbot of Inchaffray, its previous keeper; and there is certainly a document proving its having been in their possession in the year 1487. Partly by purchase, and partly by gift, this relic became the property of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland.

A relic of St Fillan figures in Hector Boece’s account of the battle just alluded to. ‘King Robert,’ says he, ‘took little rest the night before the battle, having great care in his mind for the surety of his army, one while revolving in his consideration this chance, and another while that: yea, and sometimes he fell to devout contemplation, making his prayer to God and St Fillan, whose arm, as it was set and enclosed in a silver case, he supposed had been the same time within his tent, trusting the better fortune to follow by the presence thereof. As he was thus making his prayers, the case suddenly opened and clapped to again. The king’s chaplain being present, astonished therewith, went to the altar where the case stood, and finding the arm within it, he cried to the king and others that were present, how there was a great miracle wrought, confessing that he brought the empty case to the field, and left the arm at home, lest that relic should have been lost in the field, if anything chanced to the army otherwise than well. The king, very joyful of this miracle, passed the remnant of the night in prayer and thanksgiving.’



was one of those women who occasionally come forth before the world, as in protest against the commonly accepted ideas of men regarding the mental capacity of the gentler sex. Of all scientific studies one would suppose that of mathematics to be the most repulsive to the female mind; yet what instances there are of the contrary! Jeanne Dumée, the widow who sought solace for her desolate state in the study of the Copernican theory; Marie Caunitz, who assisted her husband in making up his Mathematical Tables; the Marquise de Châtelet, the friend of Voltaire, Maupertuis, and Bernouilli, who published in 1740 her Institution de Physique, an exposition of the philosophy of Leibnitz, and who likewise translated the Principia of Newton; Nicole de Lahiére, who helped her husband Lefante with a Treatise on the Lengths of Pendulums; the Italian Agnosi, who wrote and debated on all learned subjects, a perfect Admirable Crichton in petticoats, and whose mathematical tyreatises yet command admiration: finally, another fair Italian, Maria Catarina Bassi, who was equally conversant with classical and mathematical studies, and actually attained the honours of a professor’s chair in the university of Bologna. Such examples are certainly enough to prove that, whatever may be the ordinary or average powers and tendencies of the female mind, there is nothing in its organization absolutely to forbid an occasional competency for the highest subjects of thought.


In 1798 Caroline Herschel published a Catalogue of Stars, at the expense of the Royal society, which has ever since been highly valued by practical astronomers. After a noble career, Sir William died in 1822; and his sister then went to spend the rest of her days at Hanover. She afterwards prepared a Catalogue of Nebulæ and Star-Clusters, observed by her brother.

It was an event worth remembering, when, on the 8th of February 1828, the Astronomical Society’s gold medal was awarded to Caroline Herschel. Her nephew John, afterwards the eminent Sir J. F. W. Herschel, was President of the Society, and shrank from seeming to bestow honour on his own family; but the Council worthily took the matter in hand. Sir James South, in an address on the occasion, after adverting to the labours of Sir William Herschel, said: ‘Who participated in his toils? Who braved with him the inclemency of the weather? Who shared his privations? A female! Who was she? His sister. Miss Herschel it was who, by night, acted as his amanuensis. She it was whose pen conveyed to paper his observations as they issued from his lips; she it was who noted the right ascensions and polar distances of the objects observed; she it was who, having passed the night near the instruments, took the rough manuscripts to her cottage at the dawn of day, and produced a fine copy of the night’s work on the subsequent morning; she it was who planned the labour of each succeeding night; she it was who reduced every observation and made every calculation; she it was who arranged everything in systematic order; and she it was who helped him to obtain an imperishable name. But her claims to our gratitude end not here. As an original observer, she demands, and I am sure has, our most unfeigned thanks. Occasionally, her immediate attention during the observations could be dispensed with. Did she pass the night in repose? No such thing. Wherever her illustrious brother was, there you were sure to find her also.’ As one remarkable fact in her career, she discovered seven comets, by means of a telescope which her brother made expressly for her use.

It was not until the extraordinary age of ninety-seven that this admirable woman closed her career. Her intellect was clear to the last; and princes and philosophers alike strove to do her honour. The portrait [above] – in which, notwithstanding age and decay, we see the lineaments of intellect and force of character, – is from a sketch in the possession of Sir John Herschel.


On this Day in Other Sources.



“That this was not the saint who gave name to Killallan is proved by the fact that there was a yearly fair1 in the parish on the 9th of January, the festival day of St. Fillan of Glendochart who flourished in the early eighth century.”

Scots Lore, p.254.

1  Origines Parochiales Scotiae, vol i. p. 81, and Old Statistical Account of Scotland, vol. i. p. 316.


“…but the St. Fillan’s Fair at Killallan was held in January. The St. Fillan of the eighth century, who settled in Glendochart, and whose bell and crozier are now in the museum, was commemorated on the 9th of January, and was no doubt the Saint of Killallan.”

Scots Lore, p.287.



The bull declaring the see of Glasgow metropolitan was dated 5th of the Ides [9th] of January 1491. Its suffragans were the Bishops of Dunkeld, Dunblane, Galloway, and Argyle.

Sketches, pp.29-70.



2624. A Requirement by Major-General Campbell to the Provost of Glasgow to deliver up Rebels, Arms, &c., left in Glasgow. Inverary, 9th January, 1745-6.

Memorial Catalogue, Gallery 1.

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