The Chain: Historical Information

St Fillan’s Chain, from a healing pool at Killin

The Chain

The Irish monk St Fillan, patron saint of lunatics, came to Scotland in 717 AD. After travelling around Scotland he ended up at Strathfillen near Tyndrum. A deep water near his chapel was known as St Fillan’s Pool. A fearful ritual was used on insane people aimed at relieving their troubled minds through the intercession of St Fillan.
As Robert Heron recorded on his way through Scotland in 1792, ‘The patient is thrice immerged in the pool. He is bound hand and foot, and left for the night in a chapel. If the maniac is found loose in the morning, good hopes are conceived of his full recovery. If he is still bound, his cure remains doubtful. It sometimes happens that death relieves him during his confinement from the troubles of life.’
Madness was often linked to witchcraft which was frequently associated with such waters; the chain may date from being used on witches. This frightening custom continued into the nineteenth century.

Card written by Robert Weston and Susan Broomhall for “Stories of Emotions and Scottish Objects”, a research partnership between the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions and the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum.

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