In Search of a Saint (a Pitkirtly ‘origin myth’)

Because it turned out that, due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control, the contents of the filing cabinets had to be rearranged, a previously overlooked folder came to light, and Christopher took it over to his desk for a closer look.

He was always up for a morning spent in poking about in local history, but particularly when the finance department at the Council were breathing down his neck for the Folk Museum attendance figures, despite everyone knowing the place had been closed for almost the whole of the last financial year.

It was just bad luck that Amaryllis happened to come and bother him soon after he had got started.

‘What’s this, then?’ she enquired. ‘More mouldy old documents? Is it the McCallum letters again?’

He knew she and most of the other people who frequented Christopher’s office thought he would probably spend the rest of his working life trying to get through the McCallum letters. It seemed to have become a standing joke among his friends.

‘It isn’t actually,’ he said with dignity. ‘This file came in separately, from the people at the Bowling Club. They seemed to think it might be of general interest.’

‘Ooh, yes!’ exclaimed Amaryllis. ‘Does it give the low-down on El Presidente’s rise to power?’

El Presidente was a local politician who had once been the President of the Bowling Club.

‘Not so far,’ said Christopher. ‘It’s mostly membership lists – oh, and here’s an old map for the collection.’

He unfolded the map and spread it out on his desk. She came round to his side and peered at it.

‘It’s a bit faint,’ she complained. ‘Why is there a cross in the middle? X marks the spot. Is there pirates’ treasure buried under there?’

He looked more closely at the place she indicated. ‘It looks as if – wait…’

He delved in the top drawer of his desk and brought out a magnifying glass.

‘That’s funny. It seems to be a church symbol.’

She frowned. ‘Not treasure, then.’

‘Not earthly treasure anyway,’ said Christopher, laughing. He didn’t subscribe to organised religion any more than she did, but it was fun to try and wind her up a bit.

He leaned over the map again. There was some faded brown script next to the church symbol. St Something. But if he was reading the map correctly, it was nowhere near either of the two existing churches. It must just represent the remains of one that had long since been demolished.

He held the magnifying glass over the small lettering. ‘St Kertlan? Is there any such saint?’

‘Don’t ask me!’ said Amaryllis. ‘Weren’t there lots of weird saints in the Celtic church? Jemima was rambling on about it one night just recently in the pub.’

‘I don’t know much about them,’ said Christopher.

‘Google is your friend,’ said Amaryllis, and leaned over him to switch on the computer on the desk. ‘I bet some Celtic church nerd will have them all listed out with dates and miracles.’

‘It looks as if this church was in the middle of the bowling green,’ said Christopher as they waited for the machine to boot up.

‘Funny place to put it.’

‘I think it was the other way round. The bowling green was built over the church. Or on the site of it.’

‘You don’t say.’

They searched for saints of the Celtic church and found St Kertlan in some nerd’s sub-list of doubtful saints.

‘I suppose that means they weren’t as saintly as all that,’ suggested Amaryllis.

‘I think it means their existence is doubtful,’ said Christopher.

‘I see his special power was holding back the tide, like some kind of dodgy King Canute,’ she said, still gazing at the computer screen.

‘I suppose that’s as likely as anything,’ said Christopher.

‘Maybe we can get someone to dig up the bowling green and find it,’ said Amaryllis. She was starting to sound a lot more interested. Of course from her point of view the more disruption and excitement it would cause, the better.

‘I wonder if there’s anything else about it in the file,’ said Christopher, leafing through the other documents. ‘Look, somebody’s written a history of the bowling club.’

He held up an amateurish looking booklet with a cover showing Pitkirtly bowling club headquarters in unlikely shades of green and brown, with a couple of bowlers standing self-consciously in the middle of the picture.

He opened the booklet and scanned the text quickly.

‘It doesn’t start until 1921,’ he said. ‘Part of the postwar reconstruction work, I suppose.’

‘Perhaps they’ll have centenary celebrations any day now. They could organise a dig as part of that.’

‘It seems highly unlikely that anything’s happening, though,’ remarked Christopher. ‘You’d have thought there would have been posters up or something.’

‘Maybe they’re keeping it secret.’

‘That wouldn’t be like them.’

‘Do we know anyone with Bowling Club connections?’ she said.thoughtfully.

At that moment Christopher’s colleague, Kyle, happened to enter the office.

Amaryllis’s eyes narrowed. ‘Does your uncle still belong to the Bowling Club?’ she asked him.

‘No – we can’t ask him!’ said Christopher.

Kyle approached the desk and saw the map.

‘A map of Pitkirtly!’ he exclaimed. Just as Amaryllis had, he homed in on the church symbol, adding, ‘What’s that? It isn’t anywhere near either of the churches.’

‘It’s St Kertlan’s,’ Amaryllis told him. ‘But we’d need an archaeological dig to find it.’

He shook his head. ‘My uncle will kill me if he finds out I’ve told you, but…’

‘Told us what?’ Amaryllis prompted.

‘Now you’ve got so close, I’m going to have to,’ said Kyle. ‘Otherwise I expect you’ll find a way of getting in there at night and digging all over the place.’

‘What?’ said Christopher.

Amaryllis’s eyes gleamed.

‘Tell us everything.’

Later that same day, Kyle led them on an expedition to the Bowling Club. Well, theoretically he was the one in the lead, but actually Amaryllis was operating him as surely as if he had been a puppet. Kyle used an impressively enormous key to open the gate to the grounds owned by the club.

‘My uncle doesn’t know I have this,’ he said. ‘I thought it would come in useful one day.’

Christopher wasn’t sure that ‘useful’ was the right word. ‘Dangerous’ and ‘illegal’ seemed more apposite to him.

They paused on a paved path behind the actual green, and Kyle got down on his hands and knees and levered up one of the largest paving stones. Amaryllis shone her torch downwards into the black hole that opened up.

‘What’s down there?’ said Christopher uneasily.

‘Come on down and you’ll see,’ said Kyle.

‘After you,’ said Christopher. He wasn’t entirely happy about descending into the darkness.

‘All right.’

But once they had climbed down the stone steps that were set into the downward slope, Kyle reached round behind him and flicked a switch. The interior of the space was flooded with light.

It was roughly the size and shape of a small chapel, and there were stone benches angled towards a large stone cross at the far end.

‘Wow!’ breathed Amaryllis. ‘Is this it? St Kertlan’s church?’

‘Not really,’ said Kyle, his matter-of-fact tone slicing into the chilly air like a knife into butter that had just come out of the fridge. ‘But it’s the closest thing to it.’

‘What do you mean?’ said Christopher.

‘It’s a reconstruction on the same site, or as near as dammit,’ said Kyle. ‘St Kertlan,’ he continued in the voice of a teacher educating a couple of ignorant pupils, ‘was one of the earliest Christian saints, and he came to Pitkirtly, though it wasn’t called that in those days, well before St Serf appeared in Culross. Only there was nobody much to write anything down about him, and the only useful thing he seems to have done was to banish a huge sea monster from the waters about here. There’s a tradition that the sea monster went north after that, possibly to Loch Ness. St Kertlan had made Pitkirtly too hot for it…. But very few people know about this.’

‘Don’t tell me,’ said Amaryllis, ‘only members of the Bowling Club and their families and friends. And friends of their friends. And almost everyone in town except us.’

Kyle shook his head. ‘No – far from it. It’s a secret only handed down in a few families. Through the generations. Centuries before the Bowling Club was set up, there was a rudimentary bowling green on this site, and my ancestors owned it but allowed the townspeople to play bowls on it on the first Saturday of each month. We’ve got a book about it at home. When I overheard my uncle talking about St Kertlan, I read all about him.’

‘Wow!’ said Amaryllis again. ‘What a pointless thing to have handed down – isn’t it?’

‘There’s something quite – magnificent about the pointlessness, though,’ said Christopher.

‘A magnificent legacy,’ agreed Kyle. ‘Come on then, we’d better get out of here before the cleaners arrive.’

‘The cleaners know about it?’ said Christopher.

‘No – but they go round in the clubhouse every Thursday night after the members have gone,’ Kyle explained. ‘We don’t want them seeing the entrance. They might not understand.’

‘Not sure I do either,’ muttered Christopher as they ascended the steps again. He shivered. Maybe some things were better left to the imagination.

The End

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