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Saint Adrian of May was a martyr-saint of ancient Scotland, whose cult became popular in the 14th century. He is commemorated on Dec. 3. Little is known of the life of this Scottish saint and martyr. He was the Bishop of St. Andrews, but was drawn to remote locations and had built a series of monasteries and hermitages on the Isle of May (which is five miles out to sea in the Firth of Forth) and along the coast of Fife. Later he withdrew from his see of St. Andrews due to the invading Danes and took refuge on the island. About A.D. 875, marauding Vikings invaded the island of May. They then slaughtered the entire population of the monastery, traditionally numbered at six thousand six hundred. The bodies of Adrian and the other monks were buried in what is now a huge burial cairn, measuring thirty meters (nearly 100 feet) across and made up of an estimated 1.5 million fist-sized cobblestones. The island was then abandoned for centuries. In 1145, King David I of Scotland gave the island to Reading Abbey in Berkshire, England, at which point, the island again became a religious center. The English monks started the erection of a small monastery dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, with a shrine to St. Aidan The monastery housed as many as 13 monks, supported by lands and tithes from the surrounding countryside Early building was hampered due to raiding parties by the Scandinavians settling on the nearby island of Orkney. The privations and isolation of the location finally led the monks to transfer the island to the Bishop of St. Andrews in A.D. 1288. Shortly thereafter, in 1296, war broke out between the Kingdoms of Scotland and England over territorial claims along the border between the two realms. This was paralleled in a legal fight between the abbey and the bishop over who actually owned the island. Initially, the abbey was confirmed as the lawful owner. This, however, was overturned in 1313 and the island was declared a part of the diocese. In consequence of this, English forces attacked the island and leveled the monastery. English invaders seized their chance to pillage the island's treasures and torch the buildings - recent excavations found evidence of extensive fire damage.

After the conclusion of hostilities, the island then became an important symbol of national pride, and pilgrimages to May became a common feature of religious life for the Scottish people.  According to the chronicle of Mathieu d'EscouchyMary of Guelders visited the Isle of May and the shrine of St Adrian when she first arrived in Scotland in 1449. He mentions that the cemetery contained the bodies of many holy men, and was surrounded by a high wall.  James IV came on 3 May 1504, and 10 May 1506 on board the Margaret. The clerks of the Chapel Royal sang on the island, and James supported a hermit.

On 24 August 1539 Mary of Guise and James V made a pilgrimage to the Isle of May. They took three ships, the Unicorn, the Little Unicorn, and the Mary Willoughby. It was believed that a visit to the shrine of St Adrian could help a woman become pregnant. In October 1540 James V commissioned a reliquary for a bone of St Adrian of May from the court goldsmith John Mosman, to be made from Scottish gold.

The practice arose over time that pilgrims would pick up stones at the nearby beach and place them on the cairn as a remembrance of their visit, and as a request for prayers by the holy martyrs. This accounts for the current size of the cairn. When the Scottish Rebellion against the Faith took hold in the 16th century, public devotion to the saints—and thus pilgrimages to the site—came to a halt and the island fell into disrepair.

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