Proposed Device of The Proto-College of St Kessog
The Proto-College of St Kessog
The Proto-College of St Kessog
The Barony of Southron Gaard

About St Kessog

Information compiled by Baroness Sinech ingen Chonchobair hui Briuin from Southron Gaard.

Kessog of Lennox, bishop (martyr?). Also known as Mackessog; Kessag; Kassog. Died c. 560, may have been martyred at Bandry, but records are unclear. Commemorated March 10.

Patronage: Original Patron Saint of Scotland, Patron of Lennox, Scotland; Luss was the principal center of his cultus with a sanctuary granted by Robert the Bruce.

In art, he is shown in a soldier's habit, holding a bow bent with an arrow in it.

Historical Background

The article which follows is reproduced here with permission from Luss Parish Church: Saint Kessog's saints day, by Donald McKinney --

This article is based on extensive research into this largely unknown saint. He was in fact one of the very first Christian martyrs in Scotland.

For that and other reasons this article sets out his claim as Scotland's true patron saint as well as examining the available documentation on his life and death.

Before the reformation, Luss on Loch Lomond was one of the major centres of pilgrimage in Scotland. People came from far and wide to worship at the shrines and holy places associated with Saint Kessog. Since then however, the cultus of St. Kessog has declined and been eclipsed by others, notably St. Ninian, St. Columba, St. Mungo and of course St. Andrew.

St. Kessog was born into the royal family of Munster in Southern Ireland in approximately 460 A.D. Even as a child he revealed himself to be very pious and holy, and we are told of one occasion when he was p;laying with neighbouring princes while their fathers visited Munster. There was a terrible accident and all the princes drowned except St. Kessog.

When the visiting kings discovered what had happened, they were very angry and a major war was only averted by St. Kessog who, after a night of prayer, brought the princes back to life. Such was his holiness that he was sent to a monastery to be educated. Indeed it is tempting to suggest that St. Patrick, who travelled with a retinue of young princes and nobility, might have himself taken him to Nendrum in County Down, where he was placed under the tutelage of St. Machaloi.

In due course, and as a sign of respect, St. Kessog was sent to Lennox to carry on the missionary work of St. Machaloi. At that time Lennox was the northern kingdom of the lands of Strathclyde, which stretched as far south as Northern Wales. Lennox was considerably larger than now and reached as far east as Stirling and Dunblane and as far north as the Great Glen.

To the west of Lennox, in what we now call Argyll and Bute lay the kingdom of the Dal Riata, or the Scots as they were to become known. This was the people who eventually were to conquer the whole of North Britain and give their name to our Kingdom. To the east of Lennox lay the lands of the Picts - a loose confederation of clans and petty kingdoms. Thus Lennox lay on the boundary of the three nations.

The Celtic Church of this time was quite distinct from the Roman Church. The missionaries and monks followed a very simple life, renouncing personal wealth or comfort and spending much of their time in meditation or worship. This contrasts with the gaudy wealth of the Roman Church and its adherents, who also followed a secular role which was alien to the Celts.

St. Kessog arrived at Luss at the beginning of the sixth century. He built a monastery on the island of Inchtavannoch (monk's island), opposite Luss, which served as his base. Who gave him the land we do now know. But the choice was brilliant. The Island lies in a very strategic spot governing all traffic on the Loch. It also has a strange mystic beauty which William Wordsworth for one discovered to be most moving.

Nothing remains of St. Kessog's monastery, though very old ruins suggest a later building on the same site. There was also an ancient monastic graveyard, and late last century it was not uncommon for the farmer to plough up human bones. There was also a cave on the island known as St. Kessog's cave, which was sadly destroyed in 1860 (?) when the area was blasted to provide building materials.

Luss itself is a magical place. Its name means herb or plant, and one legend speaks of St. Kessog being killed abroad and returned wrapped in sweet herbs which, after his burial, sprouted. Attractive as this is, there is no evidence to substantiate it. It is more likely that it derives its name simply from the fact that there are rich grazing grounds nearby.

In the 17th. and 18th. century it was located a day's ride from Dumbarton and a half day from Tarbet, and was famous for the length people lived to. Thomas Penmann in 1769 found six people, including a minister and his wife, aged between 86 and 94. Thirty years later Robert Heron in his book 'Scotland Delineated' says that Luss is 'noted for the longevity more than number of its inhabitants'.

St. Kessog's travels far and wide are documented through ancient Gaelic names which probably indicate his presence. For example the Kessock Hill outside Inverness got its name from him. This is interesting because it means that he was involved in missionary work among the Northern Picts, whose capital was near there, forty or fifty years before St. Columba, who is credited with bringing Christianity to them. He also travelled extensively in Kintyre and Cowal.

St. Kessog was killed at Bandry, just to the south of Luss, about 520 - 30 A.D. Legend speaks of him being murdered by brigands or mercenaries. Who paid them we do not know, but the fact that he was a successful missionary in the area and that legend has it that he was killed on the druid's new year (March 25th) near an ancient druid site might let us construct a scenario that the druids were behind his murder.

The site was marked by a cairn to which pilgrims added stones as they arrived. This cairn was removed in the 18th. century to allow the road to be widened. Inside they found an ancient font and effigy which was taken to be a middle-age reproduction of St. Kessog. It now stands in the Church of MacKessog in Luss, but it now seems that it was of Robert Colquhoun, a Bishop of Argyll in the 15th. century, and was probably put inside the cairn during the troubles of the reformation to prevent it being damaged.

Sadly we have lost track of the holy relics of St. Kessog. His crozier was in the trust of the Colquhouns who were the hereditary dewars or guards of St. Kessog and who may even be descended from him. It was probably hidden or destroyed at the time of their massacre by the MacGregors in 1603, if not before.

His bell, which used to stand on Tom na Clas (hill of the bell) and called the faithful to prayer from all over the Loch, was sold to the Earl of Perth in 1675, who probably bought the ancient hereditary title of Thane of Lennox at the same time. A smaller bell was in service until the nineteenth century, before being moved to a memorial near the shore opposite Inchtavannach before then going missing, presumably stolen.

The reason for the reverence of St. Kessog in pre-Reformation Scotland is difficult to explain. For reasons unknown he captured the imagination of the common people in a way which St. Andrew failed to do. It may have been that because he worked among the people they could identify with him as part of their community, unlike St. Andrew who was imposed as a political compromise by Kenneth MacAlpin - the Scot who united Dal Riata with the Pictlands. It may be because of his bravery working on the boundary of three Kingdoms often at war with each other. Or his exemplary life style of poverty and worship.

We may never know, but within a short time of his death his name was the rallying cry to troops all over Scotland and at the famous battle of Bannockburn, King Robert himself incited the troops with the memory of St. Kessog. His holy crozier and relics led the victorious Scots into the battle which was to set Scotland free.