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The Kelpie Kirk

Millions of people visit the Kelpie statues in Falkirk every year, the magnificent 30 meter tall horse heads rising from the water are certainly well worth seeing, yet not everyone realises that Kelpies were in fact much feared shape shifting spirits or faeries in Scottish Folklore.The Kelpie would appear in different forms, including human, but the most common is that of a horse or pony. They are seen grazing close to the banks of rivers or lochs and those who witness them feel strangely drawn to them. If anyone should mount the horse, they would find themselves stuck to the animal, which will then gallop deep into the water to drown its victim, before devouring the body. Even stroking a Kelpie is enough to bind you to the beast.

One tale tells of a group of children who encountered a pony near a river, and while most climbed onto it's back, with no room left the last child stroked its mane. The pony then charged towards the water with all the children stuck to it, yet the child who had only touched the mane was able to reach for his knife and cut off his finger, saving him from the fate met by the others and able to tell the story. Kelpies could however be captured. There are various versions on how to do this, all around the bridle, which appears as a necklace when the Kelpie takes a human form. Some versions state that a bridle must be put onto the Kelpie to tame it, but the most common is that the Kelpie will already be bridled, and removing this will give the person who is in possession of the bridle control over the creature. With it being said a Kelpie possesses the strength of 10 horses, controlling one was something that many desired despite the risks that came with it. A legend around the church of St Vigeans, a village a short distance from Arbroath on the east coast of Scotland, arose around the capture of a Kelpie. The church itself dates back to the 13th century, although it is believed that there was an earlier church on the site, and before that the site had been a place of worship for the pre-Christian faiths.

Although there is uncertainty on the origin of the tale, it was said that the church in fact sits on top of a great lake of unknown depth, in which a Kelpie lived. It was captured and used to drag great stones from both the lake and the surrounding area to form the foundations on which the church could be built, hence it being raised above the surrounding area. Iron bars to support the building were also dragged there by the Kelpie.

Eventually, the water-beast regained its freedom and used its magical powers to curse the church, stating that a minister would commit suicide, and on the first communion held after all its work would be undone and the church would collapse into the water below, drowning all inside and no doubt providing the Kelpie with quite a feast. As it happened, for various reasons including the Reformation, the building being vacant and different ministers, the communion had not been celebrated at the church after around 1699.

In 1725, shock waves were felt around the village after the minister, Thomas Watson, hung himself from a tree close to the church. The curse of the Kelpie sprang to the mind of many, who feared it could be coming true. Such was the belief in the curse, that when the first communion was held in 1736, it is reported that more than 100 parishioners refused to enter the church building, but instead sat on a nearby mound out of fear that the church would collapse into the watery depths below.

Off course the church did not fall, and with the curse seemingly broken the villagers soon started to return to worship there. It remains in use today with the tale of the curse largely forgotten, however, for many it will always be known as the Kelpie Kirk of St Vigeans.

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