The madder reaches of mythterious Scotland

Pontius Pilate: Apparently not eligible to play for Scotland after all
Pontius Pilate: Apparently not eligible to play for Scotland after all

The small, but very attractive village of Fortingall in Glen Lyon, Perthshire, has long been considered to be a place of mystery. Overlooked by the towering and mystic presence of Scotland’s “fairy” mountain, Schiehallion, it boasts the oldest tree in Europe.

The yew’s still standing, but now one of the more intriguing myths associated with it has been chopped down.

For years it has been repeated by some as Gospel that Pontius Pilate, Christ’s crucifier, was born under the spreading yew tree. And there was a large(ish) body of proof(ish) to support the claim including:

  • The remains of a Roman fort nearby, which provided the Roman presence needed to father Pilate.
  • The recorded friendship between the Roman invaders and the Scots King, Metallanus, whose daughter was said to be Pilate’s mother.
  • An ancient stone in Palestine known as the Pilate Stone which carries the inscription: “Hiberieum Pontius Pilatus”, suggesting that he was born in Hiberieum, or Scotland.
  • The letters “PP” carved in stone in Fortingall estate.

Well, so much for ancient hearsay. Neil Hooper, a Scottish Historian has recently published a book that concludes that the whole story was concocted as an “elaborate joke” by Sir Donald Currie, a merchant with a sense of humour who made the whole thing up, including the supposed finding of a stone on his estate with the letters “PP” carved into it.

Oh, well, bang goes the McPilate story. However, it is not Scotland’s only Judeo-Christian myth that is more than slightly on the iffy side, viz and towhit:

Jesus holidayed in Scotland

Bible students often wonder about Jesus’s “lost years” – where was he and what was he doing before he began his ministry, aged 33? Well, according to some sources, he was in Scotland visiting the Druids in order to broaden his learning and complete his education. Oral tradition has him visiting South Uist and the Isle of Skye – where the Isle of Isa, or Island of Jesus, stands in testimony to his sojourn.

As a theory it’s a bit slim. But leads on to the next Jesus-related myth.

Jesus began his family with Mary Magdalene on Iona

Yes that’s right. Because, legend has it, during the same lost years, Jesus was also busy marrying Mary and begetting children. The proof? A stained glass window on Kilmore church, Isle of Mull, depicting a heavily pregnant Mary with Jesus. Added to this is a 19th century treatise The Isle of Dreams, by William Sharp who wrote of an old prophecy that “Christ shall come again under Iona” and with him would be Mary Magdalene the “Bride of Christ”.

But wait. What if Jesus didn’t need to travel to Scotland from the Middle East because he was already there? What if Jerusalem was altogether closer to Iona than previously thought…

Jerusalem on the Forth

“And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England’s mountains green…

…And was Jerusalem builded here

Among these dark Satanic Mills?” – (William Blake, 1804)

William Blake’s poem might be asking whether Jerusalem was built in England, but hold, dear reader, for there is another William who would have us believe that Jerusalem was altogether further north. In Edinburgh to be exact. That’s the theory of 19th century writer William Comyns Beaumont. How else, he asks can you explain the town of Joppa outside the city centre.

His theory is….complicated….and takes a whole book. The basics revolve around Britain being Atlantis (another day, I promise) with the Mount of Olives being Arthur’s Seat and the City of Zion Edinburgh Castle. It sounds quite convincing in the book if, that is, you’ve had a hard night on the Vim.

Jesus Rests in Rosslyn

And finally, how could we write bonkers Scottish Jesus myths without talking about Rosslyn? Had the extraordinary church outside Edinburgh not already existed, it would surely have been cooked up by Dan Brown at some point. Rosslyn, the Knights Templar and the whole Holy Grail/blood of Christ thing is now a world-wide phenomenon. These theories in brief include:

  • Christ’s head is hidden in the apprentice pillar.
  • The “one true cross” on which he was crucified is hidden there too.
  • His blood and other bits are probably hidden in the crypt too.
  • Jesus’s great, great, great etc grandchildren still live/work there.

All utterly convincing I’m sure you’ll agree. Which probably means that some bah-humbug Scottish historian is just waiting round the corner to debunk these stories too. Just let them try…

  • I am a Knight Templar , I am 700 years old and I resent the way you are dissing us guys . So I told Dan Brown to write about you in his next blockbuster . It won’t be pretty

    • Stewart Kirkpatrick

      As long as he gets the URL right, we’re happy…

  • And did they build Jerusalem
    In England’s Queen and Peasant land?

  • rorie

    if mary m.wis up the duff,whit happened tae the wean? maybe we should check bono’s d.n.a.

  • Ian Mac

    I once met an Australian Greek who told me, with a straight face, that the “Mac” prefix in Gaelic names came from Macedonia – apparently some of Alexander the Great’s soldiers lost their way. You can’t make this stuff up – someone else already has.

  • Colin Laing

    LOL I enjoyed the above banter. Fortingall is indeed an interesting place. There is signs that it has been a center of population of some form for well over 2000 years. The presence of the 5000 year old yew tree, which would have been huge, even two thousand years ago, is the likely reason. It would have bee a focus for the community.
    Its position on what was to become a Pilgramage route, from Iona (via Glen Orchy and Glen Lyon) to Banburgh (Northumberland) and St Andrews would have enhanced its importance. It is a pretty place today but its design was envisaged by a staunch unionist merchant who (i think) wanted to Anglisise Scotland. or re create Brigadoon!

  • Red Hawk

    I’ve never heard of Jesus in Scotland theories. I have heard stories that Jesus went east and hung out in some buddhist monastaries and practisesd yoga and meditation, hence the 40 day fasts and all. Maybe Jesus cloned himself so he could be in more than one place at a time.

  • pedro

    You forgot condemned to wander Scottish ‘gypsies’ on the Isle of Barra claiming they had tinkered up the crucifixion cross nails after the ‘black Jews’ forgot them….?