The hermit who lived on Bass Rock

Bass Rock was once home to the hermit monk St Baldred. PIC Jon Savage/TSPL.
Bass Rock was once home to the hermit monk St Baldred. PIC Jon Savage/TSPL.
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It reached notoriety during the 17th Century as a remote, unforgiving jail for Scotland’s political and religious prisoners.

But Bass Rock, the island in the outer Firth of Forth, once enjoyed a more peaceful era - as home to a 6th Century Christian monk, St Baldred.

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After being sent by St Mungo to spread Christianity to the Lothians, St Baldred founded a monastery at Tyninghame before moving to Bass Rock to live as a hermit.

He survived in a tiny cell on the rock with his hideaway later used as a place of ritual and pilgrimage.

According to legend, St Baldred was responsible for at least one miracle while living on Bass Rock and that he moved a rock, between his home and the mainland, which was a risk to passing ships.

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The Geology of Bass Rock by Dr Thomas McCrie, published in 1852, gives and interesting account of this supposed event where the saint moved the giant rock with just a nod of his head.

Dr McCrie said: “The Blessed Baldred, moved by piety, ordered himself to be placed on this rock, which being done, at his nod, the rock was immediately lifted up, and like a ship driven by the wind proceeded to the nearest shore, and thereforth remained in the same place as a memorial of this miracle, and is to this day called St Baldred’s Coble or Cock Boat.”

It is now referred to as Baldred’s Boat - a dangerous rocky outcrop which juts into the sea north of Seacliff beach and east of Tantallon Castle.

There are several other tributes to St Baldred in the area, including St Baldred’s Cave at Seacliff Beach, which is said to be where he slept after coming ashore.

St Baldred died on Bass Rock in 606 with much myth surrounding his burial. Some say his body was split in three with the pieces distributed between the three parishes that he served.

Other accounts claim three bodies were identically wrapped in a white sheet and collected by parish members for internment.

A chapel was later built to mark the spot of St Baldred’s cave with a Papal Bull from May 1493 recording a chapel being newly built at the site.

In 1544, 20 nuns from the abbey at North Berwick are said to have visited the chapel as part of a annual pilgrimage to the neighbouring island of Fidra.