Kentigern (DNB00)

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KENTIGERN or St. Mungo (518?–603) was the apostle of the Strathclyde Britons. There is a fragment of a life of Kentigern by an unknown author of the twelfth century, and a biography written near the close of that century by Jocelyn, a monk of Furness, who tells us that he had before him two lives of the saint, one used in the church, and another in the vernacular; that in both of these there was something contrary to sound doctrine and the catholic faith, and that his purpose was to compile a life free from these blemishes, and to 'season what had been composed in a barbarous way with Roman salt.' The main facts given by these writers of the twelfth century are regarded as historical, and are to some extent confirmed by the records of Wales, Adamnan's 'Life of St. Columba,' and the dedication of churches to St. Kentigern in the localities associated with his life.

Kentigern was born probably in 518. His mother, Thenaw, was the daughter of Loth, a British prince, after whom the Lothians are called, and whose seat was at Traprain Law, then named Dunpelder, halfway between Haddington and Dunbar. Prior to that time there had been a church at Dunpelder, and though Loth is described as a semi-pagan, his daughter was a Christian, and perhaps a nun. She was sought in marriage by Owen or Ewen, a Briton of the noblest stock, but she refused his offer, preferring a life of virginity. Her father was so indignant that he handed her over to the charge of a swineherd, who was secretly a Christian. Her suitor met her by strategem in a wood, and having violated her she became pregnant. When her father heard of her condition, he caused her to be hurled from the top of a hill called Kepduff, but she escaped without injury. He then put her in a coracle, or boat of hides, in Aberlady Bay, and left her to the mercy of the winds and waves. The boat was first carried out beyond the Isle of May, then driven up the Frith to Culross, where she landed, and where her child, a son, was born. Mother and son were brought into the presence of a Christian pastor, an earlier St. Serf, or one to whom that name was afterwards erroneously given, who on seeing the child exclaimed in Celtic, 'Mungo,' i.e. my dear one. Mother and child were baptised by him, the latter receiving the christian name of Kentigern, or head chief, in allusion to his descent. He was trained in the monastic school at Culross kept by the saint, and became one of his chief favourites. In early manhood he left his protector to become a missionary to the people of his own race, and took up his residence at Cathures (now Glasgow), beside a cemetery and a church founded by St. Ninian [q. v.], but then in ruins. There he was chosen bishop by the king, clergy, and people who remained Christian, and was consecrated, according to Jocelyn, by a bishop summoned from Ireland for the purpose. After some years he suffered such persecution from heathens in the neighbourhood, the kindred of a King Morken, that he removed to Wales. On the way he stopped for a time in the Cumberland mountains, where he converted many to the faith, and then went to Menevia (now St. Davids). Having obtained a grant of land from the king of North Wales or the king's son, he founded the monastery of Llanelwy (afterwards St. Asaph's) in the vale of Clwyd, and gathered around him 965 monks, some of whom were employed in agriculture, others in education and the conducting of divine service, while the more experienced accompanied Kentigern on his missionary tours. The battle of Arthuret, near Carlisle, fought in 573, established the supremacy of the Christian party among the Britons of the north, and Redderech the Bountiful, who then became king of Strathclyde, sent messengers to recall Kentigern. The latter appointed Asaph his successor in the monastery, and returned to the north with many of his monks. Redderech and his people met him at Hoddam in Dumfriesshire, and welcomed him with great joy. There he fixed his see for some years, founding churches and ordaining clergy; and at this period he visited Galloway, and reclaimed its Pictish inhabitants from the idolatry and heresy into which they had fallen after the death of St. Ninian. After this Kentigern returned to Glasgow, which became henceforth the headquarters of Christianity among the Strathclyde Britons. He was the great means of planting or restoring Christianity in that large district which afterwards formed the diocese of Glasgow. He also visited Alban, i.e. Scotland north-east of the Forth, and the dedication of some churches in Aberdeenshire bears witness to his labours in that quarter. He is also said somewhat doubtfully to have sent missionaries to Orkney, Norway, and Iceland. In his later years St. Columba (of whose intercourse with King Redderech we have traces in Adamnan's 'Life') came from Iona with many followers to visit him. Kentigern went out to meet him with a large retinue, and as the two bands approached they sang alternately appropriate verses of the Psalms. The two venerable men exchanged crosiers in token of mutual affection. Kentigern died on 13 Jan. 603, and his grave is shown in the crypt of Glasgow Cathedral, named from him St. Mungo's. Jocelyn says he lived to the age of 187, but historians are agreed in striking off the century. Many miracles were in after times attributed to him; e.g. he ploughed his fields with a stag and a wolf from the forest, sowed sand and reaped wheat, caused the Clyde to overflow its banks, and to bring the barns of the king who persecuted him to his own dwelling. When some of the highland clergy who came with St. Columba stole one of his rams and cut off its head, he caused the decapitated animal to run back to the flock, and turned the head to stone in the hands of the thief. When a boy at Culross he restored to life a pet robin which his companions had torn in pieces, and kindled a fire with a frozen oak branch. King Redderech found a ring which he had given to his queen on the finger of a sleeping knight, threw it into the Clyde, and then demanded it of his spouse. In her distress she applied to the saint, and he sent a monk to the river to fish, who caught a salmon with the ring in its mouth. Hence the bird, tree, fish, and ring in the arms of Glasgow.

[Bishop Forbes's St. Kentigern in vol. v. of the Historians of Scotland; Skene's Celtic Scotland, vol. ii.; Notes and Queries, 2nd series, i. 194, ii. 13, 92; Dict. of Christian Biog.]

G. W. S.