Posted by: anna | January 26, 2010

St Kentigern – Mungo of Glasgow

Today (13 January) we commemorate St Kentigern, called Mungo, of Glasgow, another saint with whom I have a previous connection; I had to learn about his story when I worked at Glasgow University, as I often had to explain to enquirers the significance of the symbols on the arms of the university and the city. From Baring-Gould:


[His life was written by S. Asaph, his disciple in the monastery of Llan-Elwyn, in Wales, founded by Kentigern when exiled. This life has not come down to us in its original form. We have, however, his life compiled in 1 125 by Jocelyn, monk of Furness, from ancient authorities, by order of Bishop Jocelyn of Glasgow. Undoubtedly the life of S. Asaph formed the basis of this compilation. S. Kentigern is also spoken of by many ancient Scottish historians, John Major de Gest. Scotorum, lib. ii. c. 7 ; Hector Boece, lib. ix ; Leslie, lib. iv., &c,]

S. Kentigern is said to have been the illegitimate son of Themin, daughter of Loth, King of the Picts, by Eugenius III., King of the Scots ; but there is great uncertainty about his origin. When the Pictish King found that his daughter was likely to become a mother, he was filled with grief and anger, and ordered her to be thrown down a rock, on Mount Dunpeld. By God’s mercy she was not injured, and was then, by her father’s orders, sent to Culross, where she brought forth a son. At the same time S. Servan, being engaged in saying matins, heard angels singing. When he had finished his office he left his cell, and descending to the sea shore in the grey dusk, found there a mother rocking her new-bom babe, wherefore the old hermit exclaimed, being moved with compassion, ” Mochoche, mochoche !” which being interpreted is. My dear, my dear! Then he took the unfortunate girl and her babe to his cell, instructed her in the faith of Christ, and baptized her and her little one, and he called her Tanca, and him he named Kentiern (From Ken-tiern, chief lord). So the child grew up in the old man’s cell, and became so dear to him, that he called him familiarly Mungho, or Dearest, and by this name he is generally known in Scotland. His mother learned to love God, and to serve him with all her heart, and bitterly to bewail her fault.

Many pretty legends of the childhood of Kentigern have been wafted down to us. S. Servan had a pet redbreast which was wont to eat out of his hand, and to perch on his shoulder, and when he chanted the psalms of David, the little bird flapped its wings and twittered shrilly.

Now Servan had several lads whom he educated at Culross, and these envied Kentigern, because he was the favourite of the old master, so in spite they wrung the neck of the redbreast, and charged the favourite boy with having done the deed. But Kentigern took the little dead bird, and crying bitterly, and praying to God, signed the cross over it. Then when the old man returned from church, the bird hopped to meet him as usual, chirping joyously. In those days it was no easy matter to kindle a fire, indeed, without a flame from which to light one, it was impossible, for in the north, sticks are not dry enough to be rubbed into a blaze as they can be in hot climates. Therefore it was necessary that fires should never be allowed to become extinct. It was the duty of the boys of S. Servan, in turn by weeks, to rise during the night and mend the fire, so that there should not be a deficiency of light for illumining the Church at the matin offices. When it was Kentigern’s week, the boys, to bring him into trouble, extinguished the fire. Mungo, rising as usual, went to the hearth but found the fixe out. Then he took a stick and placed it over the cold ashes, and invoking the name of the Holy Trinity, he blew upon the dead cinders, and a flame leaped up which kindled the branch ; and thereat he lighted the Church candles.

At last, unable to endure longer the envy of his fellow pupils, Kentigern ran away. And when S. Servan discovered it, he pursued him, and reached the bank of a river, but Kentigern had escaped to the other side. Then the old man cried to him, “Alas ! my dearest son, the light of my eyes, and the stafif of my age, wherefore hast thou deserted me ? Remember that I took thee from thy mother’s womb, nursed thee, and taught thee to this day. Do not desert my white hairs.”

Then Kentigern, bursting into tears, answered, ” My father, it is the will of the Most High that I should go.”

Servan cried out, ” Return, return, dear son, and I, from being a father, will be to thee as a son, from being a master I will become a disciple.”

But Kentigern, suffused with tears, replied, ” It cannot be, my father ; return and admonish thy disciples, and in- struct them by thine example. I must go where the Lord God calls me.”

Then Servan blessed him across the river, lifting up his holy hands, and sorrowfully they parted the one from the other, to see each other’s face no more in this life.

Kentigern settled near Glasgow, where he inhabited a cave in the face of a rock, where the people looked at him with respectful curiosity, while he studied the direction of the storms at sea, and drank in with pleasure the first breezes of the spring. Having converted many of the people, together with the King of Strathclyde, he was consecrated Bishop by an Irish prelate, the Keltic Church being ignorant of the Nicene canon requiring three to consecrate, “with unction of holy oil, invocation of the Holy Spirit, and imposition of hands.”

The district of Strathclyde, or Cumbria, on the west coast of Britain, from the mouth of the Clyde to that of the Mersey, that is to say, from Glasgow to Liverpool, was occupied by a mingled race of Britons and Scots, whose capital was Al-Cluid, now Dumbarton. It was in this region that S. Kentigern was called to labour. As bishop, he still dwelt in his rocky cell, where he used a stone for a pillow, and to inure his body to hardships, he stood in the Clyde to recite his psalter. He wore a dress of goat-skin bound about his loins, and a hood, and over all, his white linen alb, which he never left off; and carried in his hand his pastoral staff of wood without ornament, and in his other hand his office book. Thus he was ever prepared to execute his ministry ; and thus attired, he went through the kingdom firom the Clyde to the Firth of Forth [Baring-Gould says Frith, which I’m assuming is a typo. I’ve never heard of a Wood of Forth, and why would they use a Middle English word if there were?]. In his cell he lived on bread and cheese and milk, but when he was with the King, he relaxed the severity of his fasting, so as not to appear ungracious when offered more abundant and better food ; however, on his return to his cell, he curtailed his allowance, so as to make up for his relaxation of rule at court.

When S. Kentigern was made Bishop of Glasgow, Gurthmel Wledio was King of the North Britons. He was succeeded by Roderick the Liberal (Rydderach Hael), a religious and deserving prince, who was driven by his rebellious subjects under Morken Mawr to Ireland. Morken having usurped the throne of Strathclyde, drove S. Kentigern out of the country, and the Saint took refuge in Wales with S. David, Bishop of Menevia, and remained with him till the Prince of Denbigh bestowed on him lands, where he built the famous monastery of Llan-Elwyn, afterwards called S. Asaph. Here he gathered about him a great number of disciples and scholars, and he was there at the date of the death of S. David, in 544.

On the death of Morken, Roderick returned to Scotland, and recovered his crown. He immediately recalled Kentigem to his see, and he, leaving his monastery to the care of S. Asaph, went back to Glasgow in 560.

Roderick’s mother was Irish, and he had been baptized by an Irish monk, and greatly respected Kentigern. The Saint returned bringing with him a hive of Welsh monks, and estabhshed the seat of his renewed apostleship once more at Glasgow, where Ninian had preceded him nearly a century before, without leaving any lasting traces of his passage. Kentigern, more fortunate, established upon the site of a burying-ground, consecrated by Ninian, the first foundation of that magnificent cathedral which still bears his name, though diverted to a religion different from that he professed.

Kentigern collected round him numerous disciples, all learned in holy literature, all working with their hands, and possessing nothing as individuals. ” They dwelt,” says Jocelyn, ” in separate cells, as did Kentigern, thence were they called Calledei.” He distinguished himself during his episcopate by his efforts to bring back to the faith the Picts of Galloway, which formed part of the kingdom of Strathclyde ; and afterwards, by numerous mission and monastic foundations throughout all Albyn — a name which was then given to midland Scotland. His disciples penetrated even to the Orkney Isles, where they probably met with the missionaries of S. Columba, despatched from lona.

The salutary and laborious activity of Kentigern must often have encroached upon the regions which were specially within the sphere of Columba. But the generous heart of Columba was inaccessible to jealousy. He was, besides, the personal friend of Kentigern and of King Roderick. The fame of the Bishop of Strathclyde’s apostolic labours drew him from his isle to do homage to his rival in love and good works. He arrived from lona with a great train of monks, whom he arrayed in three companies at the moment of their entrance into Glasgow. Kentigern distributed in the same way the numerous monks who surrounded him in his episcopal monastery, and whom he led out to meet the abbot of lona. He divided them, according to their age, into three bands, the youngest of whom walked first ; then those who had reached the age of manhood ; and last of all, the old and grey-haired, among whom he himself took his place. They all chanted the anthem, ” They shall sing in the ways of the Lord : that great is the glory of the Lord. The path of the just is made : and the way of the saints is prepared.” The monks of lona, on their side, chanted the versicle, ” The saints shall go from strength to strength : and unto the God of gods appeareth every one of them in Sion.” From every side echoed the Alleluia ; and it was to the sound of these words of Holy Scripture that the Apostles of the Picts and Scots met at what had been the extreme boundary of the Roman empire, and limit of the power of the Caesars, and upon a soil henceforth for ever freed from paganism and idolatry. They embraced each other tenderly, and passed several days in intimate and friendly intercourse.

The historian who has preserved for us the account of this interview does not conceal a less edifying incident. He confesses that some robbers had joined themselves to the following of the abbot of lona, and that they took advantage of the general enthusiasm to steal a ram from the Bishop’s flock. They were soon taken ; but Kentigern pardoned them. Columba and his fellow Apostle exchanged their pastoral staves before they parted, in token of mutual affection. The staff of S. Columba, afterwards used by S. Kentigern, was in later times given to S. Wilfred, who placed it in the monastic church he founded at Ripon.

I know not how far we may put faith in another narrative of Jocelyn, which has remained Kentigern’s most popular title to fame. The wife of King Roderick, led astray by a guilty passion for a knight of her husband’s court, had the weakness to bestow on him a ring which had been given to her by the King. When Roderick was out hunting with this knight, the two took refuge on the banks of the Clyde, during the heat of the day, and the knight, falling asleep, unwittingly stretched out his hand, upon which the King saw the ring which he had given to the Queen as a token of his love. It was with difficulty that he restrained himself from killing the knight on the spot ; but he subdued his rage, and contented himself by taking the ring from his finger, and throwing it into the river, without awakening the guilty sleeper. When he had returned to the town, he demanded his ring from the Queen, and, as she could not produce it, threw her into prison, and gave orders for her execution. She obtained, however, a delay of three days, and having in vain sought the ring from the knight to whom she had given it, she had recourse to S. Kentigern. He, moved by the remembrance of his mother, through whose sin he had entered the world, and anxious that the unhappy woman should be given time for repentance, prayed to God, and the ring was found in the belly of a salmon caught in the Clyde, and sent by him to the Queen, who showed it to her husband, and thus escaped the punishment which awaited her. On her liberation she hastened to Kentigern, confessed her fault to him, and was exhorted by him to amend her life and do penance for the past. It is for this reason that the ancient effigies of the Apostle of Strathclyde represent him holding the episcopal cross in one hand, and in the other a salmon with a ring in its mouth.

S. Kentigern lived to a very advanced age, and his jaws being too weak to masticate his food, his lower jaw was supported by a band of linen tied round his head. He died gently as he was being lifted out of a warm bath, in the year 601.

Thy name, most radiant ascetic and wonderworker,/ all praised and great Father Kentigern Mungo,/ which means ”dear friend”,/ is godly sweetness to our wretched ears./ Thus named by thy tutor who foresaw thy missionary service/ thou wast the truest friend and pastor to the Britons of Strathclyde./ Wherefore, O Saint, befriend us in this hour of need/ that we may labour for Christ, as He wills,/ and thereby be found worthy of His great mercy.
2012 update, another troparion from Acathistes et offices orthodoxes:
Ton 6 Tropaire à saint Kentigern, évêque de Glasgow, (Natalice en 601 A.D.)
Fils d’une princesse exilée, tu as reçu*
Une excellente éducation de saint Servan.*
Adulte, tu fus ermite près de Glasgow.*
Chassé, au Pays de Galles, à Llan-Elwy,*
Tu fis un monastère et rentras en Ecosse.*
Saint Kentigern, prie le Christ de sauver nos âmes!
Troparion in the 6th tone to St Kentigern (Mungo), bishop of Glasgow (+601)
Son of an exiled princess, you received
An excellent education from St Servan.
As an adult, you lived as a hermit near Glasgow.
Driven away into Wales, to Llanelwy,
You built a monastery, and then returned to Scotland.
St Kentigern, pray to Christ to save our souls!
Holy St Kentigern, Father Mungo, pray to God for us.

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