Faith in Cowal | Pilgrim Trails

Explore Scotland's Early Christian Landscape


The church of Kilfinan, Gaelic Cill Fionáin, is dedicated to a saint whose name is quite common in the medieval Gaelic world. There are several saints of that name. Bishop Finan of Lindisfarne was commemorated on 17th February, Finan Lobur ‘the infirm’ on 16th March, while Finan Camm ‘crooked Finan’ (on 7th April) got his nickname from his crooked eye, which 12th century legend said he got when he looked at his foster-father with a squint-eyed look one day and his foster-father told him: “You can remain like that forever.”

Another Finan was a monk martyred with several companions on the island of Eigg on 17th April in AD 617. Whether it is one of these who is commemorated in Kilfinan, or another Finan entirely, we simply cannot tell at present. The Martyrology of Tallaght commemorates a Bishop Finan on 8th January, while in the north of Scotland a feast of St Finan fell on 24th December (or on the darkest night of the year). This last one gave rise to the expression, used of a very stupid person, The e cho dorcha ri oidhche Féill Fionnain, ‘s tha ‘n oidhche sin glé dhorcha, ‘He is as dark as the night of St Finan, and that night is very dark.’

The saint of Kilfinan may be partly represented by one or more of those mentioned above. A single saint might produce several different profiles with several different feast days. As their cult is shared and spread around different churches and kindreds; it is slowly transformed, rewritten, merged with other similar cults, and given additional local texture.

It may be that the identity of the saint associated with Kilfinan will be better understood if local histories are explored through early documents in the various archives where they are to be found. Now there’s a job for some enterprising student!