Another view, promulgated like the above by Hector Boece in his Latin history of Scotland (1516), makes them the direct successors in the 9th to the 12th century of the organised Irish and Iona monasticism of the 6th to the 8th century. Some have suggested that these views were disproved by William Reeves (1815–1892), bishop of Down, Connor and Dromore.
In this regard, very few trustworthy ancient sources of information survive, but one theory suggests the possibility that the Rule of Chrodegang, archbishop of Metz (d. 766), was brought by Irish monks to their native land from the monasteries of north-eastern Gaul, and that Irish anchorites originally unfettered by the rules of the cloister bound themselves by it. In the course of the 9th century we find mention of nine places in Ireland (including Armagh, Clonmacnoise, Clones, Devenish and Sligo) where communities of these Culdees were established as a kind of annex to the regular monastic institutions. They seem especially to have had the care of the poor and the sick, and were interested in the musical part of worship. Meanwhile in Scotland the Iona monks had been expelled by the Pictish king Nechtan son of Derile in 717.
However, a different view than that of William Reeves is presented by James A. Wylie (1808-1890). He makes a strong case that the Culdees (Keledei) of Scotland are related to the Celtic Christian spirituality of the monks of Iona. Over the course of several hundred years, the Culdee leaders of the church in Scotland were edged out of positions of authority and temporal support by outside church officials. These officials appear to have been brought into the country for the sole purpose of dispossessing the existing local officials in order to snuff out the independence of the Celtic Christian tradition. Wylie presents numerous historical references for the persecution of the Kelede by the Roman church at large to support this view, as well as noting the opposition of both Queen Margaret and King David I who were staunch supporters of the practices of the continental church and who would have no reason to fear a sect professing the continental practices.
Saint Aengus the Culdee (or Oengas) lived in the last quarter of the 8th century, and is held in imperishable honour as the author of the Feliré, or Festology of the Saints.
The pictures that we have of Culdee life in the 12th century vary considerably. The chief houses in Scotland were at St Andrews, Scone, Dunkeld, Lochleven, Monymusk in Aberdeenshire, Abernethy and Brechin. Each was an independent establishment controlled entirely by its own abbot and apparently divided into two sections, one priestly and the other lay and even married. At St Andrews about the year 1100 there were thirteen Culdees holding office by hereditary tenure and paying more regard to their own prosperity and aggrandizement than to the services of the church or the needs of the populace.
A controversial reform inaugurated by Queen Margaret was carried through by her sons Alexander I and David I; gradually the whole position passed into the hands of Thurgot and his successors in the bishopric. Canons Regular were instituted and some of the Culdees joined the new order. Those who declined were allowed a life-rent of their revenues and lingered on as a separate but ever-dwindling body till the beginning of the 14th century, when, excluded from voting at the election of the bishop, they disappear from history.
Crínán of Dunkeld, the grandfather of Máel Coluim III, was a lay abbot, and tradition says that even the clerical members were married, though unlike the priests of the Eastern Orthodox Church, they lived apart from their wives during their term of sacerdotal service.
The Culdee of Lochleven lived on St Serf’s Inch, which had been given them by a Pictish prince, Brude, about 850. In 1093 they surrendered their island to the bishop of St Andrews in return for perpetual food and clothing, but Robert, who was bishop in 1144, handed over all their vestments, books, and other property, with the island, to the newly founded Canons Regular, in which the Culdees were likely incorporated. There is no trace of such partial independence as was experienced at St. Andrews itself, possibly because the bishop's grant was backed by a royal charter.
In the same fashion the Culdee of Monymusk, originally perhaps a colony from St Andrews, became Canons Regular of the Augustinian order early in the 13th century, and those of Abernethy in 1273. At Brechin, famous like Abernethy for its round tower, the Culdee prior and his monks helped to form the chapter of the diocese founded by king David I in 1145, though the name persisted for a generation or two.
The culdee chapel in St Andrews in Fife can be seen to the north-east of its ruined cathedral and city wall. It is dedicated to 'St Mary on the Rock' and is clearly seen as a cruciform. It is used by the local St Andrews churches for their Easter morning service.
In Ireland the Culdee of Armagh endured until the dissolution in 1541, and enjoyed a fleeting resurrection in 1627, soon after which their ancient property passed to the vicars choral of the cathedral.
In those early days there were several Culdee establishments in Fife, probably small rude structures accommodating 30 or 40 worshippers, and there is a distinct possibility that such a structure stood at or near the site where our church now stands.
In 1075 AD the foundation charter of Dunfermline Church was granted by King Malcolm III, and amongst the possessions he bestowed on the church was the Shire of Kirkcaladinit, as Kirkcaldy was then known.
In The Railway Series by Rev. W. Awdry there is a rack railway called the Culdee Fell Railway. One of the steam locomotives is named Culdee. In the Island of Sodor's fictional language of Sudric, 'Culdee' is said to translate as 'Companion of God', the mountain being named for the island's Patron Saint, Machan. The Rev. Awdry often used names from religion and the Anglican Church as placenames in his books. The island of Sodor where the series takes place, for example, is named after a Church of England Diocese.
Stephen Lawhead's novels Byzantium, Patrick, and the Celtic Crusades trilogy focus on the Cele De.
J.P. Moore's short story "Useful Visions" is set in a Culdee monastery.
For the older view, see J. Jamieson, Historical Account of the Ancient Culdees (1811).