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Tom Turpie, Kind Neighbours: Scottish Saints and Society in the Later Middle Ages (Brill, 2015)

Tom Turpie, Kind Neighbours: Scottish Saints and Society in the Later Middle Ages (Brill, 2015). ISBN: 9789004298224, 207 pp., €99,00.

Reviewed by Claire Harrill

[1] Tom Turpie’s monograph considers the relationship between Scottish saints and Scottish society across the later imagesMiddle Ages, focussing on the ‘Kind Neighbour’ type of saint, as defined by Eamon Duffy as those who were called on to explain and cure sickness in humans and animals, to provide aid in cases of extreme weather, and to deal with the everyday difficulties that medieval medical science was ill-equipped to remedy (p. 2, & FN 7: Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (London: Yale University Press, 1992), 161.) Turpie’s book contextualises the varying popularity of Scotland’s most prominent saints both regionally and across time as devotional habits changed in accordance with the shifting political landscape.

[2] Turpie begins with a consideration of the relationship between patron saints and identity, particularly national and political identity. He traces the establishment of St Andrew the Apostle as national patron saint from the early Middle Ages (eighth century) to the twelfth and fifteenth century when Andrew’s status as patron saint was fully confirmed due to royal involvement (p. 15). Turpie argues for the wide-ranging political implications of this choice of patron saint. The possession of the relics of an apostle – something only three sites in Western Europe could claim – formed one of the bases through which Scotland’s churchmen attempted to assert their autonomy from the English church (p. 16, 18). Turpie goes on to consider unofficial Scottish patron saints Kentigern and Columba. Kentigern had a strong association with Glasgow, and Columba with the Western Isles rather than mainland Scotland and its royal dynasty. The Bruce and Stuart dynasties favoured the shrines at Dunfermline and St Andrews to the shrines of Kentigern and Columba (p. 31). Turpie argues strongly that royal devotion to St Andrew was essential to the establishment of Scottish sovereignty and the consolidation of both Scottish regnal and ecclesiastical power. While Turpie’s argument for St Andrew’s importance is thorough and convincing, I do wonder if the dismissal of St Margaret of Scotland as ‘an ancillary patron, important primarily as the progenitor of the royal house,’ throughout misses the opportunity to draw productive comparison between the patronage of these two saints and the way they were both used politically, especially since Turpie does consider the political importance of the shrines and Royal Mausoleum at Dunfermline Abbey, which was the centre of Margaret’s cult (p. 39).

[3] The second chapter engages with the ubiquity of saints in daily life: patterns of work and rest, rents, debts and wages were all shaped by their feast-days (p. 48). Turpie breaks down the idea of ‘Scottish saints’ as a homogenous group and instead considers local and institutional interests in more detail. Only Ninian, Duthac and Kentigern had reputations for attracting significant numbers of pilgrims into the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (p. 63). Among these, Ninian was the only one who consistently attracted large numbers of domestic and international pilgrims (p. 64). In this chapter, Turpie also discusses some of the sources that can tell us about the popularity of saints. Cathedrals and small chapels appear to have reflected which saints were fashionable at the time of building, whereas medium-sized churches were less susceptible to this (p. 88). Turpie points out that despite the local prominence of Ninian, Duthac and Kentigern, there nonetheless seems to have been no nationwide royal campaigns to rejuvenate interest in Scottish saints in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as devotional habits shows the same shift towards Marian and Passion cults as seen elsewhere in Europe (p. 93).

[4] Chapter Three is concerned with what shaped saints’ cults in the later Middle Ages. Royal patronage had a very large role to play, but the impact was not necessarily long-term. Devotion to most of the medieval Scottish saints, including many of those included in the Aberdeen Breviary, was largely limited to the shrine of that saint and its surrounding area (p. 94-95). St Ninian was the most popular Scottish saint of the later Middle Ages, and Turpie focuses on the political opportunities offered to patrons of Ninian’s shrine at Whithorn. Royal patronage of Whithorn was used to integrate Galloway into the Scottish kingdom in the Middle Ages (p. 99). Ninian’s popularity even crossed the Anglo-Scottish border; shrines to Ninian survive in the North of England, in County Durham and Yorkshire, but Turpie emphasises that this was a direct result of royal patronage. Ninian was made popular in England by Richard III, and as such much of the English devotion to him is post 1477 (p. 113). The second most popular saint of the later middle ages was Duthac, who was popular with merchants and associated with Scottish independence. James IV was a supporter of Duthac’s cult, probably because of Duthac’s strong connection with warfare – James even possessed Duthac’s hair shirt, which had a reputation for protecting the wearer from harm. Royal favour had more of an impact on the smaller cults of lesser saints Fillan, Monan and Triduana. Of particular political interest is David II’s royal chapel to Fillian in Fife. This chapel likely had a political agenda, since it ‘helped to reinforce royal control over the lucrative earldom, which was a bone of contention between David and his rival, Robert the Steward (the future Robert II) in the 1350s and 1360s’ (p. 130). Before David II, there is only limited evidence of a local cult. Political changes in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries led to the decline in the cults of Columba and Kentigern, though Bower’s Scotichronicon gives a false impression of the enduring importance of St Columba, since he wishes to present the saint as protector of Inchcolm, the foundation over which he was abbot. Of these saints, Ninian was really the only one who endured. Ninian had cross-border, and survived into the later Middle Ages when many of the smaller Scottish saint cults had been replaced with pan-European Marian and Passion cults.

[5] The final chapter considers in more detail the specific political uses to which saints’ cults were put by the Scottish monarchy in the later middle ages. For example, James IV marked feasts and owned relics, and Bruce political policy included patronage of St Ninian at the shrine at Whithorn. James II and III made use of patronage to bolster their political interests, but it was James IV who was particularly interested in promoting Scottish saints, for which Turpie points to James IV’s specification in a patent issues to Chepman and Millar in 1507 that Scotland’s first printing press should prioritise books of the legends of ‘Scottis saints’ (p. 146). Scottish kings also used domestic pilgrimage as a method by which to remind their subjects of their presence. Only the reformation would break the link between Scottish saints and the Scottish royal family.

[6] Over the course of this monograph, Turpie demonstrates that royal patronage and nationalistic agendas might have gone some way to shape devotion to saints in Scotland in the late middle ages, but the landscape was ultimately determined by the broader changes taking place across Western Europe. The most important contribution of this book is, I believe, its focus on the local importance of these different Scottish saints and its demonstration of the importance of the physical location of shrines to political and community life in medieval Scotland. Much is gained from breaking down both Scotland and the category of Scottish saints into individual localities and figures. Through this approach, Turpie has been able to demonstrate that both domestic and international politics shaped local and national patterns of devotion to these various Scottish saints.

[7] Turpie’s monograph also opens up some interesting questions about the roles of other, more overtly political and politicised saints. In particular, discussion of the political role of saints might in future be expanded to include comparison with Scotland’s only royal saint, St Margaret of Scotland. There are moments in the monograph that indicate the political role of saints in Scotland is complex and in need of further study. For example, Turpie says that Robert I’s 1329 burial at Dunfermline was a ‘search for legitimacy’, through a connection with St Andrew, to whom Robert I attributed his victory at Bannockburn (p. 30). Dunfermline Abbey was a royal mausoleum, and burial there would connect Robert I with the dynasty he sought to claim descent from, but Dunfermline was the shrine, burial-place and foundation of St Margaret of Scotland, not of St Andrew. A consideration of the political and devotional significance of Scotland’s only officially canonized saint, only significant female saint and only royal saint might provide a productive counterpoint, and fit well with Turpie’s nuanced and precise analysis of the deeply personal and localised nature of devotion to saints across the Middle Ages.

The University of Birmingham, May 2016

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