The Story of Crail's Bluestane
If you visit Crail, take a walk along South Marketgate, past The Golf Hotel along to the Parish Kirk where you’ll find a devilish tale…
By Rebecca Brown
Crail is just one of many picturesque seaside towns along the Fife Coastal Route in the East Neuk of Fife. Its name likely comes from the Pictish word ‘caer’, meaning ‘fort’, and indeed the town appears to maintain much evidence of its pre-Christian life. If you visit Crail, take a walk along South Marketgate, past The Golf Hotel along to the Parish Kirk where you’ll find a devilish tale…
One day, from deep in his hell, the devil heard work happening from up above. Curious, he ventured out and caught sight of work being carried out to build what appeared to be a church. The devil, feeling mischievous, disguised himself as a mason and approached the master mason.
“Master,” he said, “Give me a job as a mason on your site.”
The master mason looked the devil up and down and shrugged, for all he could see was a young man with soft blond curls, plump cheeks and soft pink hands. “Why would I do that, boy?” he grunted.
“I’m the most skilled mason in all the land,” the devil said with a grin. “I’ll have your church up in no time at all.”
The master mason laughed and made to turn away but the devil caught him on the shoulder. “I won’t go away, I’ll stay right here until you give me a job.”
At this, the master sighed. It had been a long, hot day and he was rather looking forward to getting home. What harm could an extra pair of hands do? Besides, some manual labour would likely do the boy some good. “Alright,” he said, “Go and work with the apprentices.” And with a firm glare looked at the devil and said, “and don’t make me regret this.”
So the devil got to work.
Now, it should be known that our devil is no liar, he was indeed a skilled mason, for his abilities were imbued with witchcraft. As if overnight, the kirk appeared to spring up in no time at all, all seemingly thanks to the young apprentice that had appeared and asked for work. The master mason was quite pleased with this, enjoying the credit the locals gave him for the speed of his work.
Anyone who knows of our Devil should know he is not the generous sort, so what motive could such a hellish fiend have for building a church? You see, the devil knew that if he worked to build the kirk at a magical speed, the locals would first be impressed with the master mason, but soon, when walls and spires started to spring up overnight, the townspeople would grow suspicious of the master mason, for what could make work happen so fast other than witchcraft?
There was one apprentice on site that was suspicious of the devil. He didn’t trust how the tools seemed to move like quicksilver in his hands, and that he could have ten times the work any of the other boys could do in half the amount of time. He watched the devil carefully from his post, and noted the way he slinked away each day at dusk, until one day, he plucked up the courage to follow him.
It was as the young apprentice was slipping around one of the incomplete walls that he saw something which he would never forget. His jaw dropped and face went a ghostly white, for as the mysterious apprentice slinked away into the gloaming, he morphed from a young man, into a beast. He grew twice in height, his clothes melted away, and where his legs once were, two goat-like legs with cloven hooves burst forth. A forked tail slicked out from his rear, and two razor sharp horns glinted menacingly from his forehead.
The boy gasped, perhaps too loudly.
For the first time, the devil seemed to jump with fear, and spun around to face the boy with the rage of an enraged bull burning in his eyes.
“You foul fiend!” the apprentice shouted, stumbling back around the side of the kirk. “May god have mercy on the souls of we masons! The devil’s in our midst!” he cried, running as fast as his legs could carry him out of the kirkyard, into the street and through the town. All the while, the devil was hot on his heels, he could feel the very flames of hell licking his trail.
At all the commotion, the townspeople opened their doors and windows, peering out from their evening supper into the street where a young mason apprentice was being hounded by the very devil himself.
With all eyes upon him, the devil stopped in his tracks. The boy scampered away, and the devil knew he was lost. With a heavy groan that shook like thunder, he stamped a cloven hoof on the cobblestone and in a firey instant, was gone.
Suddenly, no sooner after he had departed, there was a great rumbling and a blistering crash that shook the town and toppled over the evening supper. No one knew from whence it had come, until the next morning when the masons were setting out to work on the church. To their great shock, they found their work decimated, a great bluestone slap bang in the middle of the rubble, and on its surface, a molten thumbprint.
The devil sat on the Isle of May, only a few miles out from the town, laughing as he watched after the path of the stone.
The story of the Devil’s Bluestone is used to explain how a bluestone just outside the gates of Crail Parish Kirk found its way there. While the story of the devil hurling it at the town after his disguise was foiled is an enticing one, it is actually far more likely that the church was built on a pre-Christian holy site, like so many are.