BEFORE the Reformation, it was one of the most popular destinations in Scotland for medieval pilgrims, writes Martin Macdonald.

Today, the ruins of what was once a church and monastery occupy a quiet park a short walk from Peebles town centre.

But a new book on the Cross Kirk, the first for more than a century, aims to bring the site to wider attention.

Although the Cross Kirk comes to life every June for the opening religious service of the Beltane Festival, author Steve Dubé acknowledges that many locals may be less aware of the site's historical significance.

He told us: “The story of the Cross Kirk is largely unknown even amongst many of the Gutterbluids who were born and raised in Peebles.”

Steve is a former Welsh national newspaper journalist, editor and published historian who moved to Peebles three years ago for family reasons.

His book, The Cross Kirk, reveals that a succession of Scottish Kings and Queens were among the thousands who made the journey to Peebles on special feast days.

According to Steve, many of those traveling to the Cross Kirk did so in the belief that the site had healing powers.

He added: “The Cross Kirk was founded in the 13th century at a time when amazing discoveries were being made by religious orders who then reported miracle cures associated with their finds.

“Certainly, my researches showed that thousands of people, from successive monarchs downwards in the social structure, believed fervently in the miraculous operations of the Cross Kirk shrine.”

Even 50 years after Scotland adopted Presbyterianism, pilgrims continued to flock to the Cross Kirk until “orders were sent out to police the site and punish anyone who turned up expecting miracles".

As we approach the time of year when anticipation of Santa Claus' arrival reaches fever pitch, there are some who believe his story is intertwined with that of the Cross Kirk.

A community of friars was said to have tended to a shrine built over the grave of an early Christian Bishop called Saint Nicholas.

Indeed, some historians believe that this was the Saint who gave rise to the legend of Santa Claus. Steve, however, is not one of them.

Steve added: “It’s unlikely to be true, but it’s a good story.”

The Cross Kirk uses published and unpublished sources in a colourfully illustrated modern format and includes a map of the town in the first half of the 17th century – also available separately as a limited edition print.

The book costs £7.99 and the map, which shows the original town walls among many other interesting features, are available in two sizes, priced at £4 and £12.

They will all be on sale at the Peebles Christmas Market on December 8.