St Fillan's Cave

Pittenweem Cave

Useful Information

Location: Pittenween, Cove Wynd (Cave Alley).
From High Street go down Cove Wynd towards harbour. Signposted.
(56.212906, -2.728056)
Open: Key holders to the Pittenweem Cave:
The Cocoa Tree Shop & Cafe: all year daily 10-18, closed 25-DEC, 01-JAN.
The Little Gallery: most days 10-13, 14-17.
Fee: Adults GBP 1, Children free.
Classification: Speleologysea cave SubterraneaCave Church
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours:  
Address: St Fillan's Cave, Cove Wind, Pittenweem.
Key available from: The Cocoa Tree Shop & Café, 9 High Street, Pittenweem KY10 2LA, Tel: +44-1333-311495.
The Little Gallery, 20 High Street, Pittenweem KY10 2LA, Tel: +44-1333-311227, Fax: +44-1692-650371.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


7th century St Fillan lived in the cave?
12th century monastery built on the hill above the cave.
18th century used by smugglers.
19th century used as a rubbish dump.
1935 cleared and re-dedicated.
2000 cave was refurbished with a new gate, handrails, paving and lighting.


Legend tells, St Fillan's Cave was the cell of the 7th century saint, St Fillan. It also tells, that he wrote his sermons in the complete darkness of the cave while his arm emitted a luminous glow to enable him to see. St Fillan was an early Christian missionary from Ireland, and his bell and crozier are still preserved in the Royal Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. The Abbot of Inchaffray carried relics of St Fillan into the Battle of Bannockburn. That is the reason why the Scots attributed their victory to the support of St Fillan. Many miracles of healing were attributed to the saint and to Holy Wells associated with him.

The common belief that St Fillan was a hermit who lived in this cave permanently is unlikely to be true. Like many of his fellow missionaries he most likely has led a peripatetic life, moved from one small community to another, and stayed wherever there was shelter. He most likely used the cave, as it is an ideal cover for an occasional stopover. But the cave is too damp and cool to live here for a longer period.

The cave gave the village Pittenweem its name: it is Pictish, pit meaning place and weem meaning a cave, so Pittenweem means Place of the Cave.

St Fillan's Cave is a natural sea cave, formed by the waves in a soft yellow sandstone. There are some speleothems in the rear of the cave which suggests that there is some lime in the surrounding rock. In the 7th century, when St Fillan arrived here, the cave was only accessible by boat. The harbour as it is today, was built much later.

Today an iron gate in the sandstone cliff protects the cavern. Behind the gate, the path goes down a steep slope to the inner part of the cave. The cave is shaped like a Y. The left passage leads to the small well, said to be one of the Holy Wells of St Fillan. This part of the cave seems to be mostly in its natural state. The right passage leads to a heavyly altered chamber with an altar, which is used as a church. Steps in the rock lead to the underground passage to the Prior of Pittenweem gardens above the cave.

In the 12th century Augustinian monks built a monastery on the hill above the cave. They included the cave into their monastery, most likely they secured the entrance and then made the passage to the Priory garden above. Probably they used the cave as storage room, the goods arrived at the harbour and were brought into the cave. The cool cave was a natural refrigerator for food, and the staircase allowed them to get what they needed without leaving their grounds. The cave was maintained by the monks until the Reformation. In the following years the caves were used for several profane purposes.

In the 18th century the cave was used by smugglers, but once Excise men confiscated the goods in the cave. They took the goods to a house in Marygate. The smugglers tried to regain their goods, entered the house and attacked the Excise men. But they were arrested, tried and sentenced to death.

Many local people were upset at the unjust severity of the punishment. So they accompanied the transport to Edinburgh for execution. Before the execution, the crowd became restive and the officer in charge panicked and ordered his soldiers to fire on the crowd. The following riots, commemorated in the Grass Market in Edinburgh, are known as the Porteous riots, after the hapless officer who ordered the shooting. The condemned men escaped during the riots.

Later the cave was used as a rubbish dump, but in 1935 the Rector Canon de Voil and his father dug out the rubbish and built a shrine in the cave. The altar was consecrated by the Bishop of St Andrews. Since then the cave is used for occasional religious services by nearby St John's Episcopal Church and other pilgrimages from all over Scotland. Every year on Holy Saturday night an ecumenical Easter service takes place, to commemorate the burial of Christ in a similar rock-hewn sepulchre in Jerusalem. The cave is owned by the Bishop Lowe Trust and is entrusted to St John's Scottish Episcopal Church in Pittenweem.