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Commemorations of Saints in Scottish Place-Names

Commemorations of Saints in Scottish Place-Names

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Funded by:  Leverhulme Trust

Main contact:  Professor Thomas Clancy

Start date:  2010

End date:  2013

Subject areas:
Celtic and Gaelic - School of Humanities, College of Arts
Information Studies - School of Humanities, College of Arts

Scotland’s landscape is rich in place-names incorporating names of saints (hagio-toponyms), mostly of medieval origin. These names, several thousands of them, span Scotland’s historical linguistic range, including names in Northern British (Ecclesmachan), Gaelic (Kilmacolm, Tobermory), Norse (Barra) and Scots (St Quivox, Ladykirk). Many are the names of medieval parishes, but more are the names of chapel sites, wells, stones, and other landscape features associated with saints (e.g., St Baldred’s Boat. Sometimes it is obvious that there’s a saint in the name, as in St Andrews, but language changes and spelling mutations over time disguise this fact in others, like Exmagirdle or Chipperdingan. Because place-names ‘fossilise’ saints’ names, they are often the earliest evidence we have of saints’ cults in Scotland and, consequently, the earliest information we have about religious activity in a region. The commemoration of saints in Scottish place-names provide a window on a diverse array of aspects of the past, from the distribution of saints’ cults themselves, through linguistic ebb and flow, to political or regional affiliations and identities. These names thus constitute a major aspect of Scotland’s medieval past, yet they have not been studied systematically.

This study will enact a full survey, subjecting the data to rigorous analysis. The project will collect and analyse as comprehensively as possible the hagiotoponyms of Scotland. These studies will act as pioneering research into the micro-environment of the toponymy of devotion.