Saint Serf

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Saint Serf
Born ~500
Died ~583 AD
Venerated in

Orthodox Church Scottish Episcopal Church

Roman Catholic Church
Feast July 1

Saint Serf or Serbán (Servanus) (ca. 500—d. 583 AD) is a saint of Scotland. Serf was venerated in western Fife. He is also called the apostle of Orkney, with less historical plausibility. Saint Serf is also somehow connected with Saint Mungo's Church near Simonburn, Northumberland (off the Bellingham Road, north of Chollerford). His feast day is July 1.


Saint Serf is said to have founded the Scottish town of Culross.

David Hugh Farmer has written that the legend of Serf is "a farrago of wild impossibilities."[1] It states that Serf was the son of Eliud, King of Canaan, and his wife Alphia, daughter of a King of Arabia. Childless for a long time, they at last had two sons, the second being Serf. Serf came to Rome, carrying with him such a reputation for sanctity that he was elected pope, and reigned seven years.

He traveled to Gaul and Britain after vacating the holy see, arriving in Scotland. There he met Adomnán, Abbot of Iona, who showed him an island in Loch Leven (later called St Serf's Inch).[2] At the time, this island would have been part of the Pictish kingdom of Fib (Fife). Serf founded the eponymous St Serf's Inch Priory on the island, where he remained seven years.

The centre of his cult (and possibly of his activity) was Culross, which according to tradition, was founded by the saint himself. At Dunning, in Strathearn, he is said to have slain a dragon with his pastoral staff.

"Finally, after many miracles, after divine virtues, after founding many churches, [Saint Serf], having given his peace to the brethren, yielded up his spirit in his cell at Dunning, on the first day of the Kalends of July; and his disciples and the people of the province take his body to Cuilenross [Culross], and there, with psalms and hymns and canticles, he was honourably buried.[3]

Saints Serf and Mungo[edit]

Saint Serf is said to have been a contemporary of St. Mungo, also known as Saint Kentigern, though if he in fact lived at the same time as Adomnán, this is chronologically impossible.

A legend states that when the British princess (and future saint) Theneva (Thenaw) became pregnant before marriage, her family threw her from a cliff. She survived the fall unharmed, and was soon met by an unmanned boat. She knew she had no home to go to, so she got into the boat; it sailed her across the Firth of Forth to land at Culross where she was cared for by Saint Serf; he became foster-father of her son, Saint Kentigern (Saint Mungo).[4]

Another legend states that Saint Mungo restored a pet robin of St. Serf's to life. The bird had been killed by some of his classmates, hoping to blame him for its death.


St. Serf is a relatively common dedication for churches in Fife, Edinburgh and Central Scotland.

The name also attaches to a number of schools in the same area.


  1. ^ David Hugh Farmer, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978), 354.
  2. ^ Simon Taylor, "Seventh-century Iona Abbots in Scottish Places", in Dauvit Broun and Thomas Owen Clancy (eds) Spes Scotorum: Hope of Scots. Saint Columba, Iona and Scotland (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1999), p. 66. This tradition would place Serf's floruit in the late 7th century.
  3. ^ History of the Scottish Nation, volume 3,chapter 17 by J.D. Wylie.
  4. ^ Hunter-Blair, Oswald. "St. Kentigern." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 8. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 6 May 2014

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