Organization of the Church

The church is somewhat less rigidly organized in Scotland than in other places. The various bishops (St. Andrews, Glasgow, and Dunkeld being the most prominent) divide control of the church between themselves. Authority over Scottish bishoprics is claimed by both the archbishops of York and of Canterbury, but in effect each bishopric basically runs itself and exercises its own loyalties. The Bishop of St. Andrews is currently acknowledged as the most senior bishop, and the cult of St. Andrew (as well as the legends of the origins of Scottish Kings) is currently seeing an upsurge in popularity. Many of the bishoprics (but not all) are further divided into deaconries, with the deacons acting under arch deacons who in turn are under the bishop.

Abbeys, priories, and nunneries dot the land, with more being founded all the time by various nobles seeking divine favour. Local churches are relatively few and are founded with an endowment of land to a monastery. Itinerant priests also trod the parishes, bringing religion to the smaller communities and preaching at the cross.

In the north, church service is provided by colleges of brethren usually tied to a particular missionary saint. These clerics serve a wide area, staying with a community for a time before moving on. The clergy come to the people, rather than people coming to church.

In the south, beginning around the time of David I, churches began to be built for the local communities and to provide them with a priest and land to support the establishment. The wide majority of parish churches have been given over to the authority of a favoured monastic institution, which then administers them. This is called Appropriation.

The hierarchy of the church is:

  1. The Pope in Rome. The current pope is Alexander III who has been in office since 1159
  2. The Archbishop (where one is recognized) of either Canterbury or York
  3. The Head-minster, or seat of the bishop
  4. The Minster, also known as the matrix ecclesia, or local church (called Cill in gaelic, for Monk’s cell) which was usually tied to a specific monastery
  5. The Field Church which is most often simply a preaching cross on a hill, but may house a shrine or other structure.


  • Céli Dé (“Companions of God” – Kelledei in latin, Culdee in English) is one of the old celtic religious orders in Scotland. The Céli Dé once formed monastic communities throughout the British Isles and perhaps even as far as Iceland, however with the romanization of Scotland they have fallen from favour. They originally arose from the Columban or Ioanian tradition, forming secluded communities on their own. They behave much as monks, but have not taken vows. Thanks to the reforms of Kings David and Edgar of Scotland, many of their institutions have now been given over to the Canons Regular. Some of the Céli Dé monks have also taken the vows and joined the Canons, but others who wish to hold on to their traditions still linger here and there, sometimes in communities and sometimes as wanderers. The Céli Dé are allowed to marry and have children. The position of Abbott is usually hereditary. They keep an open mind when it comes to Magi and the Order of Hermes.
  • Columban (“Ionian” or “Order of Columbanus” on the continent) is the remnant of the old Celtic Church. They are gradually being Romanized throughout Europe – Iona is one of the last holdouts. They differ from the Roman Church in several aspects. For one, the focus on monasticism is stronger and the role of bishops is downplayed. The Monks of the Columban Church follow the Rule of Colombanus, which is stricter than the rule of Benedict and had a focus on corporal punishment and fasting. Penance was performed in private and there is a traditions of Peregrination whereby monks take some time off to travel. Their calculation of Easter is different, as are their baptismal rights, and these are not recognized by the Roman Church. As mentioned below, their tonsure is also different.
  • Canons Regular (“Black Canons” or Augustinians) are a mendicant order which follow the Rule of St. Augustine. The Canons Regular are secular clergy and primarily staff cathedrals. They also have cloistered priories of up to twelve brothers. Canons Regular maintain the daily function of the cathedral, ministering to the faithful and freeing the Bishop to attend to the matters of his diocese.
  • Premonstratensians (“White Canons”) as a reformed offshoot of the Canons Regular who have adopted many of the Cistercian ways. White Canons focus on preaching and pastoral work. Each day they go out amonst the people of the local villages to preach, provide comfort to the sick, and help with the farm work and chores. In exchange they are given food, both to eat themselves and to bring back to their priory. Any food not needed by the priory is made available to the broader community through the alms house attached to the monastery.
  • Benedictines (“Black Monks”) follow the rule of St. Benedict and are the oldest order of contemplative monks. The ideal Benedictine spends his day performing manual labour, either on the grounds of the monastery or in the scriptorium. They swear obedience, loyalty to the monastery, and to the conversion of morals. They also try to adhere to the ideals of humility, poverty, and chastity. However, the Benedictines are an old order and have accumulated much in the way of wealth, particularly land. Many monasteries have more than they need and can rent out excess land, thus increasing their wealth. Some Benedicting Abbots are more like nobility than monks. Many a noble of Europe has written to the Popes in an effort try to get the assets of the Benedictines redistributed, but so far nothing has been done. The Benedictines, however, have spawned many offshoot orders which seek to build monastic communities which that return to the ideals of St. Benedict.
  • Cluniacs are a contemplative order which emerged in reaction to the excesses of the Benedictines. They are also divided in the choir members (who spend most of their day in religious service) and lay brothers who take care of the daily chores. Ironically, the Cluniacs have accumulated nearly as much wealth as the Benedictines.
  • Cistercians (“White Monks”) are an offshoot of the Cluniac order which rejects their excesses, including the donation of wealth by noble families, and instead relies upon the generosity of the masses for support. Cistercian communities are divided into Choir monks, who sing the services, write and illuminate books, and perform other similar tasks,and Lay Brothers who till the fields and attend to the business aspect of the monastery. Unlike most other orders, commoners are invited to join the lay brothers. Cistercians to not rent out their land, but farm it themselves. Many of the choir monks are also ordained priests. Cistercian Abbots are expected to attend the annual general chapter of the order at the mother house in Citeaux, France (for which the order is named).
  • Tironensians (“Grey Monks”) are another popular order order which emerged in France in reaction to Benedictine excesses. They emerged before the Cistercians, but do not have a much penetration into the region of Scotland as of yet.

The tonsure of local monks is not the same as in the roman fashion. The tonsure is shaved over the head from ear to ear, and is known as the tonsura magorum, (‘tonsure of the magus’, or ’druid’s tonsure’).


  • Saint Columba (Colm Cille in Gaelic, or Kolbjorn in Norse) was the most important in most parts of the Kingdom and Mormaerdoms, particularly in the north. In life, he was an Irish missionary who converted the Picts of Scotland, and founder of Iona Abbey.
  • Saint Kentigern was important in Strathclyde. He is credited with being the founder of the Glasgow community. In Scotland and Northumbria he is often nick-named St. Mungo., meaning ‘Dear One’ in Brythonic.
  • Saint Cuthbert, a Northumbrian saint from near Melrose, is important in Lothian, Northumberland, and Galloway, where he is known by the Northumbrian name ‘Cudbriht’
    After his martyrdom in 1115, a cult arose in Orkney and Shetland around Cuthbert’s sponsor in Northumbria, Magnus Erlendsson
  • St. Andrew, the Apostle, was important on the north east coast, particularly at Kilrymont, and attracted pilgrims from all over and it is said that his relics were brought there from Constantinople during the time of the Picts. The site eventually became simply known as St Andrews, rather than Kilrymont. Saint Andrew was also popular in Galloway. He is the patron saint of Scotland.
  • St. Oswald, who was King of Northumbria from 604 to 642 and united the Anglian kingdoms of Bernica and Deira, and who was killed in battle with the pagan Mercians and dismembered. Soil from the battlefield is said to have miraculous properties.
  • St. Aidan of Lindisfarne, who was a missionary monk from Iona who founded Lindisfarne Abbey with the support of the recently converted Oswald of Northumbria. He began the process of converting the Northumbrians to Christianity.
  • St Nynia is popular in Galloway and also in the north. He is known as the Apostle to the ‘Southern Picts’, and credited with being the first to bring Christianity to Scotland from his mission in Candida Casa (Witherne), which he founded around the end of the 4th century. He is locally known in Galloway as St. Ringan.

Kings and Lords
The Royal Court
The Gaelic clanns
Knights and their service
Burghs, Touns, and Vills
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Adventure Log

Organization of the Church

The Chronicle of Ken Muir Thalaba