In 1560, Nicholas Ross, the Provost of Tain went to Edinburgh and attended the Scottish parliament. He left the gold and silver encased relics of St Duthus in the safe keeping of his kinsman. The Protestant reformation brought an abrupt end to the cult of St Duthus and Tain’s importance as a place of Immunity and Pilgrimage. The relics were never seen again and gradually all the old church buildings disappeared, culminating in the demolition of the Provost’s house in 1820. Today, the Collegiate Church founded by King James III in 1487, plus the ruins of the parish church and St Duthus chapel appear to be the remaining remnants. However, there are many indications that the cellars and gardens in the centre of Tain are hiding the foundations and remnants of historic church buildings.
St Duthus was a mystical Northern Scottish saint of unknown date, who mysteriously became a major national cult in the 15th and 16th centuries, despite the remoteness of the location. Tain was unique in Scotland, being both a place of Pilgrimage and Immunity, with many visits by royalty and important lords. Important sanctuary seekers in the Immunity included the wife of Robert Bruce in 1306 and Lord Crichton in 1483. They were supposedly safe from their pursuers if they stayed with the Immunity boundary marked by four cairns. Tain was also an important place of pilgrimage and was visited by Kings James III and James IV, who made the town more famous. The Collegiate Church was built in the mid-15th Century, but established as a Collegiate Church by King James in 1487 and confirmed by Papal bull from Pope Innocent VIII in 1492 (copy in Tain Museum). King James IV conducted 19 pilgrimages to Tain over a 20 year period of his kingship, his last visit in August 1513, a month before he was killed in battle at Flodden.
The centre of Tain contained the Collegiate Church and parish church plus a schoolhouse, sacristy, chapter house, bell tower and choir school as well as the Provost’s house (or Castle). A close examination of the town could reveal foundations or structures from the period, we know the location of the Provost’s house and we believe that the bell tower base is still standing. The wider pilgrimage area would have included five manses for the Church chaplains and we have a number of properties with large walled gardens close the Church.
In 2009, Historic Scotland produced a book entitled “Historic Tain Archaeology and development” in which they described Tain’s historic and archaeological importance. They pointed out the negligible historic archive and archaeological research which has been conducted in Tain, due to its remote location from academic centres. The Tain Civic Trust took up the challenge and we have organised a Scoping Study and conducted Oral History sessions, where local people identified unknown historic sites, not marked on national records.
The Trust is keen to pursue an examination of the history and archaeology of Tain and is endeavouring to work with like-minded local and national bodies. We are working on projects to examine Tain Burgh records, long stored in boxes in Edinburgh but never catalogued or digitised. Further work is being proposed to have potential medieval structures examined by an expert and we hope to produce a map of Pilgrimage Tain.
In 2015, The Civic Trust in partnership with Tain and District Museum embarked upon a pilot project for Scotland's Urban Past. The purpose was to investigate 18th and 19th century buildings, on sites likely to have had a pilgrimage connected past. The first buildings to be examined were:
3. Manse House, Manse Street, built in 1720 on the site of an earlier manse.
Further study has been made of every other property in Tower Street and further work is planned for King Street and Cadboll Place.