n the 4th century, the relics of Saint Andrew were brought to Scotland by Saint Regulus, an event commemorated by the naming of the town of St Andrews on the east coast. Travelling with Saint Regulus’s entourage was a Greek nun, a consecrated virgin named Triduana. The young woman settled in the parish of Rescobie in Angus and dedicated herself to God. She led a quiet life until her beauty attracted the attentions of the King of the Picts, Nechtan, who became quite enamoured with her. The King sent message after message to Triduana, telling her how in awe of her beauty he was, especially her dazzling eyes, and imploring her to marry him. To rid herself of Nechtan’s advances, Triduana plucked out her eyeballs, mounted them on wooden pins, and sent them to him. As a result of Triduana’s self-mutilation she became associated with eyes and ophthalmology, and miraculous cures of eye afflictions were attributed to her.
At some point Triduana took up residence in Restalrig just outside Edinburgh, and she eventually died there after a life devoted to fasting and prayer. The church at Restalrig housed her relics, and her devotees flourished when James III of Scotland made it a Chapel Royal in 1477. In 1545, a sacristan of the church noted that it had “a chamber and garden beside the church with the offerings made to the altar to maintain the lower aisle of the church, the altar of Saint Triduana therein situate, the books, wax candles, and other necessaries “. The are several accounts of healing at the chapel, one of which was noted in the 17th Century work Acta Sanctorum, Acts of the Saints. It recounts the story of a woman being cured of blindness upon visiting Triduana’s shrine, having been instructed to do so in a dream by Triduana herself.
Triduana’s Chapel at Restalrig.
In Orcadian folklore Triduana is known as Tredwell, and she has a loch and a chapel dedicated to her on the island of Papa Westray. The Orcadian version of her story places her in 710AD, travelling north with Saint Boniface to convert the Picts to Christianity and ultimately ending up on Papa Westray. It suggests that she died there and was buried in the chapel that stood on the peninsula in the loch. The chapel was consequently one of Orkney’s most visited pilgrimage sites for centuries. In 1810, the minister of Westray, John Armit, noted that:
“Such was the veneration entertained by the inhabitants for this ancient saint, that it was with difficulty that the first Presbyterian minister of the parish could restrain them of a Sunday morning from paying their devotions at this ruin, previous to their attendance on public worship in the reformed church. Wonders, in the way of cure of bodily disease, are said to have been wrought by this saint, whose fame is now passed away and name almost forgotten.”
The waters of Triduana’s eponymous loch were regarded as medicinal, and people in need of healing would walk a circuit of its shore in complete silence before entering the waters or bathing the afflicted body part in them – breaking the silence would render the attempt useless. An offering to Triduana would then be thrown in to the loch, usually a small piece of cloth or a coin.
The remains of Triduana’s Chapel on Papa Westray, Orkney.
In the 12th century, bishop John of Caithness was horrifically maimed by Earl Harald of Orkney after refusing to collect tax from the people. The Earl tore out the bishop’s eyes and tongue. According to the Orkneyinger’s Saga, the bishop was taken to Triduana’s shrine where he was healed and regained his sight. In the early 1700’s, the reverend John Brand recorded instances of healing at Triduana’s loch:
“As a certain Gentleman’s Sister upon the Isle, who was not able to go to this Loch without help yet returned without it, as likewise a Gentleman in the Countrey who was much distressed, with sore Eyes, went to this Loch and Washing there became sound and whole, tho’ he had been at much pains and expence to cure them formerly.”