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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume II. The End of the Middle Ages.

V. The Earliest Scottish Literature

§ 12. Lives of the Saints

Of the other literature of this period, the Lives of the Saints, and the Chronicles, there is not much to be said. The Lives of the saints, which are contained in a single MS. in the Cambridge University Library, extend to over 33,500 lines of the short couplet used by Barbour, to whom they have, no doubt incorrectly, been attributed. The MS. is not the original and it would be difficult to locate their origin definitely by the language alone. But it is, I think, clear that they were intended for an Aberdeen audience. The lives, as a whole, are derived from the Golden Legend or the Lives of the Fathers, though, occasionally, other sources were employed; but two local saints, Machar (Mauricius) and Ninian, are included. Ninian, whose shrine was at Whithorn in Galloway, was a well known saint, but St. Machar’s reputation was purely local. His life was obviously compiled from local tradition and was inserted where it stands in the MS. for local reasons. St. Nicholas, a saint whose cult is very widely spread, is the patron saint of the great church of New Aberdeen, the city on the Dee; and it would only have occurred to a person with local knowledge to insert after the life of Nicholas the life of Machar, the patron saint of Old Aberdeen on the Don.

  • Bot befor vthyr I wald fayne
  • & I had cunnyng set my mayne
  • sume thing to say of Sanct Moryse,
  • that in his tym was ware and wis
  • & in the erd of sic renown
  • & als in hewine sa hye patron,
  • of Aberden in the cite
  • thru haly life was wont to be.7 ff.
  • It is not clear whether all the lives are by the same author, though most authorities regard them as being so. The writer professes to be an old man, no longer equal to the duties of the church. The date for the life of Ninian, at any rate, is clearly fixed by a tale of how St. Ninian saved a knight who had been betrayed to the English, “a ferly that in my tyme befel” (816); while, later, he says (941):

  • This wes done but lessinge
  • Quhene Sir Davi Bruys ves kinge.
  • Besides the Aberdeen saints, knowledge of the north is postulated by the story of John Balormy, born “in Elgyn of Murrefe,” who, having the “worm in his shank” and knee, travelled on horseback all the way to Whithorn, “twa hundre mylis of Milavay,” and was cured by St. Ninian.