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The History of Glasgow
Chapter III - The Coming of St. Kentigern


APART from the fabulous accretions which obscure the narrative, it may be that Kentigern's biographers were warranted in tracing his parentage from Thaney or Tenew, daughter of the "half-pagan" Loth who ruled the Lothian province " in Northern Britannia." Culross, likewise, may have been his birthplace, but the further statement that he received his education and training at the hands of St. Servanus is an obvious anachronism. Servanus, in the end of the seventh or beginning of the eighth century, was associated with the establishment of religious communities such as those which, by a similar anachronism, are attributed to Kentigern's agency, and it has been suggested that in this way the names of these two apostles of Christianity have been linked together, notwithstanding the divergence of their labours in point of time. [Skene, ii. 260.]

In an early chapter of the Life Joceline states that the name, which in the language of the country was originally "Munghu," meant in Latin cares amicus—dear or beloved one —and that subsequently Servanus had named him Kentigern, which was interpreted the head lord. Joceline then tells that St. Kentigern, to escape the malice of his fellow students, took his departure from Culross and in the course of his journey lodged at Kernack in the house of a holy man, Fregus or Fergus, who died on the night of his arrival. Next morning the body was placed on a wain to which two untamed bulls were yoked and enjoined to carry their burden to the place which the Lord had provided for it. The bulls, in no way disobeying the voice of Kentigern, who along with many others accompanied them, came by a straight road as far as Cathures, "which is now called Glasgu," and halted at a cemetery which had long before been consecrated by St. Ninian. There the body of Fergus was placed in a tomb which in Joceline's day was " encircled by a delicious density of overshadowing trees, in witness of the sanctity and the reverence due to him who is buried there." [St. Kentigern, p. 52.] At a later date the south transept of the Cathedral was erected over what was supposed to be the spot of interment, and the lower aisle or crypt was dedicated to Fergus. On a stone in the roof over the entrance a representation of the saint extended on the car is carved, along with the inscription "This is the Ile of Car Fergus"; but the completion of the aisle belongs to the closing period in the building of the cathedral.

The reference to St. Ninian's connection with Glasgow is consistent with the information supplied by the Venerable Bede, who states that Ninian successfully undertook the evangelization of the Southern Picts, whose territory was situated beyond the Forth. Glasgow was thus in the route of the founder of Candida Casa, on his northern mission, and it is more than likely that he made converts among the Strathclyde Britons, including those in the Glasgow district from whom he apparently had a grant of ground for a cemetery. Trained at Rome in the doctrine and discipline of the Western Church he was among the earliest of the Christian missionaries to this country, and the churches, chapels and altarages dedicated to him are numerous. [St. Ninian, pp. xlv, xiii-xvii.] An altarage in Glasgow Cathedral and the Leper Hospital and Chapel in Gorbals were dedicated to St. Ninian. The period of his activity in Scotland dates from the year 397, when he founded the church at Whithorn, in a district which then formed part of the Roman province and whose inhabitants were provincial Britons, and it is believed he lived about twenty years after the Romans finally left Britain.

If Joceline's allusions to St. Ninian are historically correct the influence of his teaching seems to have been altogether extinct in Glasgow. We are told that, at the time of Kentigern's arrival and after some manifestation of the new evangelist's many miraculous gifts, the king and clergy of the Cambrian region, with other Christians "albeit they were few in number," consulted what was to be done to restore the good estate of the Church, which was well-nigh destroyed, and thereupon they elected St. Kentigern to be the shepherd and bishop of their souls, and he was duly consecrated by a bishop brought from Ireland for the purpose. [St. Kentigern, P. 54.] Though the narrative is tinged with the experiences of twelfth century ceremonial it may have a solid enough foundation in fact. Joceline states the means adopted by him for procuring information for his theme. He wandered through the streets and lanes of the city—a phrase, implying no more, perhaps, than that he had made a diligent inquiry in all likely quarters—seeking the recorded life of St. Kentigern, and in addition to an already known biography, "stained throughout by an uncultivated diction," he had found another little volume "written in the Scotic dialect," filled from end to end with solecisms, but containing at greater length the life and acts of the holy bishop. [Ib. pp. 29, 30.] From such sources Joceline put together the matter collected, "seasoning with Roman salt what had been composed in a barbarous way," or, in other words, transforming the uncouth language into elegant diction. The "already known biography" is supposed to have been that compiled by an unknown ecclesiastic in the time of Bishop Herbert (1147-64).

About the "little volume" nothing is known, but it may have been from that work that particulars regarding the bishop's personal appearance and dress were obtained. He is said to have been of middle stature, rather inclining to tallness, he was of robust strength, capable of enduring great fatigue, beautiful to look upon and graceful in form. His outward cheerfulness was the sign of that inward peace which flooded all things with holy joy and exultation, and fleeing from hypocrisy, he carefully taught his followers to avoid it. With regard to dress " he used the roughest hair-cloth next the skin, then a garment of leather made of the skin of the goats, then a cowl like a fisherman's bound on him, above which, clothed in a white alb, he always wore a stole over his shoulders. He bore a pastoral staff, not rounded and gilded and gemmed, as may be seen nowadays, but of simple wood and merely bent. He had in his hand the Manual-book, always ready to exercise his ministry, whenever necessity or reason demanded. And so by the whiteness of his dress he expressed the purity of his inner life and avoided vainglory." [St. Kentigern, p. 57.]

What is mentioned here about the form of the pastoral staff agrees with what is known regarding the early staves of the British and Irish bishops which were very short and simple. It would accordingly be croziers of that description which St. Columba and St. Kentigern exchanged with each other when they met at "the place called Mellindenor." Joceline states that the staff which Columba gave was preserved for a long time in the Church of St. Wilfrid, bishop and confessor, at Ripon; and, in corroboration of this assertion, Walter Bower, Fordun's continuator, who wrote about the year 1447, says that in his time it was still to be seen in that church, where it was held in great veneration, and preserved in a case inlaid with gold and pearls. [lb. pp. 343, 106, 109 ; Macgeorge, pp. 14, 15.]

Being only in his twenty-fifth year, Kentigern at first remonstrated against ordination at so early an age, but finally acquiescing in his destiny he "established his cathedral seat in `Glesgu' where he united to himself a famous and God-beloved family of servants of God, who lived after the fashion of the primitive church under the apostles, without private property, in holy discipline and divine service." But this peaceful course of existence was interrupted by a plot against his life, instigated by the apostate King Morken and his kin. Kentigern fled to Wales, where he sojourned for about twenty years, founding churches and also establishing a monastery. The site chosen for the monastery was in a vale, at the junction of the river Elwy with the Clwyd, a name which it has been conjectured may have been given to it by Kentigern from some fancied resemblance to the river and valley in the north where he had his original seat. Joceline gives a description of the work of the monastery, which is not improbably applicable also to the Glasgow establishment after making allowance for exaggeration in numbers and other particulars. Of 965 monks in all, 300 who were unlettered attended to agriculture, the care of cattle and other necessary duties outside the monastery. To another 300 were assigned duties within the cloister, such as doing the ordinary work, preparing food and building workshops. The remaining 365, a lettered class, celebrated divine service within the church, and those who were more advanced in wisdom and holiness, and fitted to teach others, sometimes accompanied Kentigern when going forth to perform his episcopal office. [St. Kentigern, p. 79 ; Celtic Scotland, ii. pp. 189-90.] Neither at St. Asaph's nor at Glasgow is it likely that there would be accommodation for nearly so large an assemblage of monks, though it may be supposed that the division of labour and duties would be somewhat on the lines indicated in the narrative.


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