An account of the life of St Machan is given in Latin in the Aberdeen Breviary, an ancient church prayer book. It was translated by Father John Honorius Magini, Parish Priest of St Machan’s from 1866 until 1881 and an excellent classical scholar. Father Magini’s translation was used by local historian John Cameron in a lecture to the Campsie Mechanics Institution, on 4th December 1885
“Machan was well born of parents of Scottish descent. In his youth he was trusted to Irish preceptors to be educated by them in bonus artibus, literally in the `good arts’. Under their teaching he soon reached an advanced stage of virtue and learning. By continued practice of corporal austerity and study he cultivated his intellect, while by moderation he preserved his physical health. He confined his pursuits of knowledge mainly to those sciences best adapted to the gaining of souls to God, which was continued in all the subsequent acts of his life. Having become well learned in the Christian faith, he left Ireland, desirous by teaching and preaching to instruct those in Scotland amongst whom he had been born, who were living in Pagan darkness. He persevered in subduing his flesh by assiduous work and prayer night and day. Afterwards he went to Rome on a pilgrimage, and there, on account of his own merits, was invested with episcopal dignity much against his will, although his great merits entitled him to honour and pre-eminence. His modesty was as great as his meekness, which caused him to think of himself last, and as the servant of all. His compassion towards the wretched was as great as his modesty. Thus divine grace and supernatural power were granted to him on account of his virtue, by which he wrought several miracles. One is reported which deserves mention. He kept some cattle for the cultivation of land, using the produce chiefly for the benefit of the poor. He had a yoke of oxen which some robbers had stolen. Machan was informed of this by a servant, and he betook himself to prayer. The robbers could not be pursued on account of the distance, but the virtue of his prayer overtook them and the oxen suddenly disappeared, being, as the robbers thought, turned into stones.
Unfortunately, no information is given in the Breviary concerning the specific period of years when St Machan lived and flourished, or even the century. However, Forbes’ Kalendar of Scottish Saints suggests that Machan was a disciple of St Cadoc, a Welsh prince born in AD514. The entry for St Machan in the Kalendar is quite brief:
“St. Machan was early sent to be trained in Ireland. He addicted himself to nothing but what could benefit souls, and returning to his native land, he desired to teach his own countrymen, who were living in gentile ignorance, and forthwith he was raised to the priesthood that he might offer to God worthy victims for his parents sins’. After traversing various provinces, preaching and exhorting, he went on pilgrimage to Rome, where against his will he was raised to the episcopal office. He was gifted with the power of miracles, one of which was that certain oxen of his that were stolen by robbers, were in their presence turned into stone. He was a disciple of St. Cadoc. He was buried at Campsie in Lennox.”
Forbes’ dating would place St Machan in the late sixth century—a very interesting period when Christianity was being introduced into different parts of Scotland by St Columba and St Mungo. St. Machan could, perhaps, have brought the Christian message to Campsie at this time. However, it should be mentioned that another authority, the sixteenth century historian Adam King, located Machan in the ninth century AD. The Breviary, Forbes’ Kalendar and Adam King all concur in giving Machan’s Feast Day as 28th September, probably the day of his death. St Machan is associated with several other localities in Scotland, besides Campsie. These include Dalserf (Lanarkshire), Ecclesmachan (West Lothian) and Clyne (Sutherland). The later years of his life, however, seem to have been spent at his primitive cell or monastery at the foot of Campsie Glen, and there he was buried. In Norman times, when the country was divided into parishes and each provided with a parish church, the site of the grave of St Machan was considered a suitable location for the Parish Church of Campsie. It was erected about the year 1175 and dedicated to the Saint. St Machan’s Well, nearby, was widely known and often visited, until quite modern times.
Site of St Machan’s well, Campsie Glen