Clan McMillan, its Origins

WARNING! The part about San Millan and Rioja is a theory of my own!

Unlike the McNeills, or even the Campbells, Clan McMillan has no obvious origin. I personally, have a theory though: Richard Fletcher, in his "The Barbarian Conversion, from Paganism to Christianity", discusses a Castilian hermit, Saint Emilian (died ca. 575). This Saint's hermitage grew into one of the greatest monastic houses of Medieval Spain: SAN MILLAN DE COGOLLA (St Emilian of the Cowl). Like another early Christian, St Patrick, San Millan was a shepherd in Rioja, who became fired by a vision leading him to devote his life to God. He became a hermit, but found himself surrounded by others who wanted to follow his percepts. From this beginning, a monastery grew and flourished.

San Millan flourished in Visigoth Iberia in the same era as Scotland's early Celtic Missionary, Saint Maelrubha. I think the McMillans (sons of Millan) are a people who never forgot their Christian hermit ancestor. At some time, in the 600s, some of them left the Rioja valley in Castile, and took ship to Ireland. Bryan Sykes, in his "Saxons, Vikings and Celts: the Genetic Roots of Britain and Ireland," discusses an early Irish Chronicle, LEABHAR GABHALA:

...The Gaels were descended from the sons of Mil, also variously known as Milesius and later by the, perhaps significant, epithet of Mile Easpain, or the 'Soldier of Spain.' (page 130)

San Millan, and St Maelrubha and, indeed, St. Columba, exemplify the Celtic form of Christianity. Ultimately, this was superseded by the Roman form of Christianity, beginning at the the Council of Whitby in 664. The power of Roman tradition over this Celt monastic tradition was supported by Scotland's monarchy.

The matter of a Celtic Monk's Tonsure

The "Tonsure" was one of many changes occurring with this Romanization. Now, back in Roman times, it was the custom to shave the heads of slaves. Christians adopted this as a symbol of their worship of Christ; therefore, when a person entered into a monastery, his (or her) head was shaved. The Roman tonsure is one we have seen on Friar Tuck: a kind of wreath, with a bold spot in the middle of the head. The Celtic tonsure, on the other hand, shaved the front of his head, allowing his hair to grow only back of an imaginary line drawn from ear to ear. In this very old painting of St Chad, you can get an idea of this tonsure's appearance.

The Gaelic "Maol", if you refer to Gaelic/English dictionaries, means, in English, bald, hornless, polled, blunt, pointless, edgeless, bare, cape, promontory (think of 'Mull' which in outline is like a bald forehead.) And, if you refer to knapdale people's Celtic section, you will see that "Mael" can also mean "servant" which is what a monk was supposed to be.

Deer Abbey and its Book

A (Celtic) Columban monastery was founded at "Deer" or "Deir" at the north end of the Great Glen, in Moray. This abbey had survived only as a folk memory, when, long after Scotland's Church had become thoroughly Roman, the Earl of Buchan founded an Abbey in 1219. The only survival of the original celtic monastery is one illuminated manuscript dated to the 900s.It is known as The Book of Deer, and is in possession of the Cambridge University Library.

This manuscript contains, amid sections of the Bible written in Latin, the oldest pieces of Gaelic writing to have survived from early Medieval Scotland. The latter, entered in the margins, consists of land grants, gifts to the church, etc. Of special interest to the MacMillans is the following entry, a witness to a deed, dated 1132:

Gillacrist ... Gillamaol mac Cormaic or, Servant (Gille), of Christ (Crist), son of Cormac. According to the Rev. Canon A. Malcolm MacMillan, it is this Gillacrist who is the progenitor of Clan MacMillan. Remember, Celtic monks, unlike Romanized monks, married and had children. It may have been this monastery's obstinacy in retaining the old Celtic ways, that prompted Scotland's King David I (1083 - 1153) to banish the MacMillans to Loch Arkaig, Lochaber, where they remained for at least 30 years.

Following Clan McMillan's wanderings in Scotland,go here

For Clan MacMillan's symbols, go here

To go back to the MacMillan introductory page: go here

For a list of sources used for Clan McMillan, go here