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Whithorn (Taigh Mhàrtainn in Gaelic) is a former royal burgh in the historical county of Wigtownshire in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, about ten miles south of Wigtown. The town was the location of the first recorded Christian church in Scotland, Candida Casa : the 'White [or 'Shining'] House', built by Saint Ninian about 397.
Whithorn was first known (in Latin) as Candida Casa. 'Whithorn' is a modern form of the Anglo-Saxon version of this name, Hwit Ærn, 'white house'. In Gallovidian Gaelic, it was called Rosnat, or Futarna, the latter a version of the Anglo-Saxon name (Gaelic has no sound corresponding to English 'wh').
Eighth and twelfth centuries
A monastery and diocese of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria was founded on the site in the 8th century. It was the centre of the revived See of Galloway (or Candida Casa) under the patronage of Fergus, Lord of Galloway and Bishop Gille Aldan from the 12th century. The late-medieval cathedral Whithorn Priory is ruinous, much of it having disappeared completely apart from the much-altered aisleless nave and vaults at the former eastern end which once held the shrine of St. Ninian, one of medieval Scotland's major pilgrimage destinations. A museum in the town contains finds from the site, which has been extensively excavated in recent years. A late-medieval gateway with the arms of the King of Scots leads into the site of the priory, which contains the 19th-century parish church and a museum of carved stones (Historic Scotland). The collection of early medieval stones is one of the largest in Scotland, and includes the country's earliest surviving Christian memorial, the 5th-century inscribed 'Latinus Stone'. The museum layout and display was revised and greatly improved in 2005.
One of the finest artefacts found at the site is the Whithorn crozier. The gilded and enamelled crozier is an outstanding example of champlevé enamels which were being made in England in the second half of the 12th century, and this one dates to around 1175. It is now housed in the National Museums of Scotland, although it is loaned to the Whithorn Trust Visitor Centre every summer. It is thought that the crozier was buried with the body of Simon de Wedale, who was one of the Bishops of Whithorn.
Whithorn's link to the sea was the port known as the Isle of Whithorn (a separate community from Whithorn itself and actually a peninsula). It was much used in the Middle Ages by pilgrims arriving by boat. The thirteenth-century Saint Ninian's Chapel marked the point where pilgrims came ashore (the roofless remains are looked after by Historic Scotland).
Whithorn was once served by a railway station until 1950 when the passenger service was withdrawn and the freight services falling victim to the Beeching axe in 1964. The track was lifted in April 1965.
List of Listed Buildings
- The poet and scholar of South American literature Alastair Reid was born in Whithorn on 22 March 1926. He was known for his lighthearted style of poems and for his translations of South American poets Jorge Luis Borges and Pablo Neruda. Although he was known for translations, his own poems had gained notice during his lifetime. In his later years he was a frequent Summer visitor with his wife Leslie staying in a cottage on the Galloway House estate.
- George Dickie (1912-1951) was born and grew up in Whithorn. Using the nom de guerre of Jack Brent, he fought in the Spanish Civil War of 1936-38, against the fascist forces of General Franco. A memorial plaque was unveiled to him in 2006 on the former butcher’s shop next to The Pend where he once worked as an assistant. His story is told by his nephew, John Dickie, in the 2012 biography Geordie’s Story: A Life of Jack Brent.
- Jeannie Donnan, (1864-1942) "The Galloway Poetess", was born in Gatehouse of Fleet in Kirkcudbrightshire and later moved to Whithorn where she lived on George Street and where she is commemorated by a plaque. She wrote poetry about local events. Her works include Hameland: The Poems of Jeannie Donnan, 1907; War Poems, 1915; The Hills of Hame, 1930. Many of her poems were also published in the Galloway Gazette.
Notes and references
- "Whithorn", Royal Burgh of Whithorn and District Business Association
- Thomas, Charles (1971). "Topographical Notes: III. Rosnat, Rostat, and the Early Irish Church". Ériu. Vol.xxii: 100–106. JSTOR 30007604.
- Glenn 2003, pp. 29-33.
- "Frank Spaven Collection (Courtesy David Spaven)".
- "Alastair Reid - obituary". The Daily Telegraph. 7 October 2014. Retrieved 18 October 2018.
- Dickie, John (2012). Geordie's Story: The Life of Jack Brent. Azian Publications. ISBN 9780957248021.
- Glenn, V. (2003). Romanesque and Gothic: decorative metalwork and ivory carvings in the Museum of Scotland. Edinburgh: Museum.
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