Saint Nathalan lived from about 620 to 678. He was an early Christian Saint active on Deeside. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
St Nathalan, whose name is sometimes given as St Nachlan or St Nauchlan, was apparently born into a noble Pictish family on Deeside sometime around 620: only the year of his death is known, so any indication of his year of birth is at best a rough guess. Nathalan established a religious community at Tullich, near Ballater, probably on the site now occupied by the ruins of Tullich Kirk a few hundred yards north of the River Dee. He managed the surrounding estate very well and was always able to produce surplus food to help pilgrims and the needy of the area.
Then, so the story goes, one Summer the crops failed. Nathalan cursed God for the wet weather. In repentance, he had one of his arms chained to his side. The chain was padlocked in place, and the only key to the lock was thrown into the River Dee. Nathalan then set out on foot to do penance in Rome. When he arrived, months later, he bought a fish from a stall in the market place and, on cutting it open, discovered the key to the padlock inside it. When the Pope heard the story of this miracle, he made Nathalan a Bishop: in some versions of the story, the Bishop of Aberdeen.
On his return to Aberdeenshire, Bishop Nathalan established a second church at Coull, in the Howe of Cromar. Its site is now probably covered by the much more recent Coull Kirk. He went on to establish several further churches, probably including one at Cowie near Stonehaven. An old Cowie rhyme states: "Atween the kirk and the kirk ford, There lies St Nathalan's hoard." The Saint's hoard or treasure is believed to be wrapped in a bull's hide tied with a rope which, according to folklore, will be used to hang anyone uncovering it.