Nine Maidens

Saints’ Day 18th July

Also known as the Nine Virgins.

These saints, including FINCANA, FYNDOCA and MAYOTA, are said to have been the daughters of ST DONALD, but other traditions are attached to them.  Fordun, writing in the Middle Ages, believed that they were Irish nuns who came to Abernethy from Kildare with ST BRIGID.

There is a group of springs near Abernethy known as the ‘Nine Wells’, and these have been traditionally linked locally with the Nine Maidens.  A similar legend is attached to the wells at Glamis Castle, where St Donald is supposed to have lived.  However, ‘Nine Wells’ or ‘Nine Maidens Wells’ occur across Britain with different stories attached.  For example, the tradition linked with a site near Dundee, tells of the nine daughters of a farmer who were sent to fetch water, one after the other, when the one before failed to return. When the farmer went to look for them he found two great serpents lurking by the well, which he drove away.  The number and variety of the traditions suggests that these wells were originally pre-Christian ritual sites where pagan cults were Christianized, a common occurrence across Europe.

Another site in Abernethy that was associated with the Nine Maidens was an oak tree, whose site is now unknown, but which was near their reputed graves. The Nine Maidens cult was popular amongst local girls who used to go to the tree to make their devotions, until the Kirk session stopped the practice.  Oak trees, like wells, were often a focus for pagan rites, and the name Kildare means ‘church of the oak tree’, suggesting that there had been a pagan site there before St Brigid’s church.  The tradition of the Nine Maidens exists at Kildare, as, according to Gerald of Wales, nine nuns tended a perpetual fire, thought to be a Christianized pagan tradition.  This suggests that the Nine Maidens of Abernethy may have come from a Kildare legend and may have had their origins in pagan times.