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A Saint Before Andrew?

St Kessog

by Niamh Wood St Kessog was born in Ireland around the year 460 and is the son of the King of Cashel. He made his name as a Christian missionary in Scotland but started his religious life in Ireland. Much of what we know about Kessog is based on oral tradition and legends considering there are no written historical records around the time he was alive. Yet he is believed to have worked miracles ever since he was a child. One legend about him concerns a swimming incident he endured in his childhood. The sons of several princes visiting the king drowned in a swimming pool, Kessog being the only survivor. He prayed all night long and miraculously in the morning the children had been brought back to life which inevitably averted wars with the various princes.

After this incident it was clear Kessog was destined for a holy life. He was sent to a monastery to be educated by St Patrick. St Patrick had by then created hundreds of churches and other Christian institutions and is said to have personally baptised over 100,000 people. St Patrick sent Kessog to St Machaloi in Nendrum in County Down. Here he was ordained as a monk and then a bishop. It was decided that Kessog should travel to Scotland to become a missionary bishop. He did so and established a monastery on the island of Inchtavannach, meaning the island of the Monks’ house, located on the western side of Loch Lomond. Local tradition has it that Inchtavannachs highest point, Tom nan Clag, the hill of the bell, got its name from Kessog installing a bell on the summit which he used to summon monks and laity to prayer. The bell was later listed in the funeral investments of the Earldom of Perth as late as 1965.

It is believed that Kessog spent most of his time in and around Loch Lomond, Lennox, across southern Perthshire, and even as far north as modern Inverness preaching the Christian faith. Today there is a hill near the River Teith in Perthshire known as Tom na Chessaig or hill of Kessog named after him. South Kessog in Inverness, North Kessog on the Black Isle, and the Kessog bridge on the north side of Inverness are also named after him to reflect the long tradition that the saint preached around those areas. Kessogs successful missions to the people around Loch Lomond angered the local Pagens, which lead to him being martyred.

Kessog was attacked and killed on March 10th, 520 AD at Bandry Bay near Luss village on the western shore of Loch Lomond overlooking Inchtavannach. This date remains the annual day of St Kessog. The reasons for his murder are unclear. A monument of a cairn of stones marks the site of his death. Kessog was buried on the western shore of Loch Lomond, and the herbs that once grew up around his grave led to the place that became known as Luss, hence the Gaelic meaning – herbs. Luss has since been associated with St Kessog as he founded the church in the village in 510. The church was later named after him, and it contains an effigy of the saint. 1500 years of continuous Christian presence in the area was celebrated in 2010.

St Kessog remained widely worshipped and respected even after his death with many places being named after him. The medieval parish churches of Comrie and Auchterarder were both dedicated to him. The kessog oil field in the North Sea is also named after him. There is also St Kessog RC church and St Kessogs primary school in Balloch at the southern end of Loch Lomond. Troops under Robert the Bruce used ‘blessed Kessog’ as a battle cry during The War of Independence. Legend has it that his remains were even taken into battle and used during the call demanding that the scots win the Battle in Kessogs memory. Saint Kessog was considered the patron saint of Scotland who helped popularise and spread the word of Christianity before he died. Saint Andrew later adopted the role of the patron saint of Scotland.

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