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Good Words 1860
Kentigern


Of Kentigern there is no contemporary record. Adamnan's "Life of Columba," written eighty-years after his death, mentions him as friend and contemporary of Columba. Bede is wholly silent regarding him. All that we can tell concerning him is gathered from a monkish life of him written in 1180 by Monk Joceline of Furness, at the bidding of Joceline, then Bishop of Glasgow. He too must build his new cathedral; and he sets about it in the approved way of the time, not so unlike our own plan. "He published," says an antiquarian writer already quoted, ''a book, and set an association on foot. The book was a new 'Life and Miracles of St Kentigern,' written by one of the most popular biographers of the day, Brother Joceline of Furness. Besides other claims to interest, the skill with which it addresses itself to its object challenges praise. Nothing is omitted which could excite the faithful to be generous, nothing which could magnify the see of Glasgow." This book, then, of Monk Joceline may be regarded as the "brief put forth by the members of the Glasgow Cathedral Building Society" in order to raise the wind. In his preface, Brother Joceline tells us that he had seen two older lives of Kentigern, one in barbarous Scottish style, the other of doubtful orthodoxy,—that is, in the eyes of an ecclesiastic of the twelfth century,—and that from them he had collected much material, which he dresses up in his own rhetorical garb. We have been thus minute in describing this life, from which our facts are taken, that our readers, knowing exactly whence they come, may take them for what they are worth, and no more.

The life opens with a strange, wild legend of our saint's birth: how that his mother, having been sent afloat in a small boat all alone, was drifted from the East Lothian coast up the Forth, till the boat came ashore at Culross, in Fife. There she brought forth her son on the open shore, and mother and child were found in the morning by the embers of a dying fire, and brought by shepherds to St Serf. This old saint is said to have been ordained by Palladius, in his youth to have gone as missionary to the Orkneys, in his old age to have lived near Culross, instructing children in the Holy Scriptures. A gentle old man, from whose hand robins would feed, and sit beside him as he prayed. His name still clings to an island in Loch-leven, on which he is said to have lived. St Serf sheltered the mother and her bairn, and in due time baptized both, calling the mother Taneu, the boy Kyentyern, or Kentigern. Taneu, in after ages, had a church dedicated to her in Glasgow, which the moderns have, ludicrously enough, corrupted into St Enoch's. The boy lived on with him, and was educated by him, till in time the old man got to love him beyond all his pupils, even as his own son—another Samuel under another Eli. Apt to learn, loving, loved by all, he was called by the people no longer Kentigern, but Mungo; that is, Dear Friend.

Loved by all, except some of his compeers. They grew jealous—it is human nature—of this wonderfully "good boy," with his marvellous gifts and strange miracle-working powers, already beginning to peep out, hated him, bullied him, as boys will do, and made his life wretched. He tried to win them, but could not. So Kentigern began to bethink him that here was no longer his right place, that God had something else in store for him. Therefore, after committing himself to Him in prayer, the young saint arose, left St Serf silently, and took his way westward till he came to a great water, probably the Forth river, where was no bridge nor ford. But our young friend put forth his strange miraculous power, and crossed it as if on dry land. From the further bank, look-ing back, he saw on the other side the old saint, who, staff in hand, had pursued him as fast as his old limbs could, crying after him, from the other shore, "Why have you left me ? what have I done that you should leave me so? Desert me not in my old age; return, stay with me and close my eyes." Kentigern, with tears, replied in the spirit, if not the words, in which many a missionary since has met remonstrative friends—

"I hear a voice you cannot hear,
Which says I must not stay;
I see a hand you cannot see,
Which beckons me away."

"Pray for me, then," cried St Serf, "that I may be conveyed over to thee. I will become, from a father, a son to thee, from teacher, pupil, and will dwell beside thee till I die."

"Nay, father, it must not be. Return to thy home, and the Lord requite thee many fold for all the kindness thou hast shewed to me!"

Then they mutually blessed each other, and said farewell. St Serf returned to his own home. Kentigern went forward on his way. They saw-each other's faces no more in this world.

The young missionary went on till ho reached the neighbourhood of what has since become Glasgow. The only human thing there then was the cemetery, consecrated more than a century before by St Ninian. Near this he fixed his abode, and began his missionary work. His gifts and his sanctity were soon noised abroad, and reached the ears of the King of Strathclyde, who then had his dwelling on the top of Alcleuth—that is, Dumbarton Rock, the Dun of the Britons. King, clergy, and Christian people, what few of these there might be, came to Kentigern, and chose him for their bishop. Our young saint, then only twenty-five, pleads youth, unfitness, desire for retirement and contemplative life. But king, clergy, and people will take no refusal. An Irish bishop is summoned, for there is none in Scotland, to consecrate him; and Kentigern is ordained bishop by the hands of one bishop, contrary, confesses Monk Joceline, to our orthodox Roman usage, which requires three. So that, if Ninian received his teaching and orders from Rome, Kentigern received his from Ireland, as also did Columba. Scotland, therefore, owes fully more of her Christianity to Ireland than to Rome. His episcopal seat the new bishop fixes at Deschu, (Dear Family, the etymology is Joceline's,) now Glasgow. No bishop's palace there then, such as we are apt to fancy; but a cave perhaps, at best, a wooden hut. And so the kingdom of Strathclyde existed during that sixth century. The king on Dumbarton Rock—the missionary bishop in his hut or cave by the Molendinar burn of Glasgow. "There, beneath the venerable trees of St Ninian's cemetery, a little church and monastery of wood soon arose. From this, as the chief seat of his mission, St Kentigern, the St Mungo of our people, spread or restored Christianity throughout the whole extent of the British kingdom of Cumbria, from Lochlomond, near Stirling, to Appleby and Windermere. Glasgow became the ecclesiastical centre of this extensive region—the spiritual mother of all the Welsh tribes of Reged wide and fair Strathclyde."

His life was divided into two very distinct, almost opposite portions—boundless and unwearied activity, and intense asceticism and solitary contemplation. Instead, however, of being opposed, the retirement and solitude, which made up one part of his life, fed his soul with energy for the other.

He traversed without ceasing the wide kingdom, places 100 miles apart, on foot, to his last day, like the apostles. By his preaching he converts many pagans, restores many who had lapsed from the faith; for heresy, Pelagian and other, has been rife after Ninian's time in the north. He casts down temples and shrines of devils, (Druidical or pagan Roman ones, or both, the monk must mean,) builds churches where he can, of wood and wattles doubtless, ordains clergy, dissolves unnatural marriages, changes concubinage into lawful matrimony.

Asceticism, taking the form of monasticism, newly come from the East, was spreading over Western Europe; and, in all the strength of its first fervour, was attracting most strongly the noblest natures. A new road to sanctity it seemed, a shorter road to heaven, In his private life Kentigern was a saint of this pattern, new then, but which continued to be the type of saintship for a thousand years in Europe, till Luther came, tried it for himself, and found it wanting. All the year round, except on church festivals, he practised the most unsparing austerity in food, sleep, clothing; took all most severe measures to mortify the flesh; would fast for three or four days on end. When he did eat it was only the sparest diet, bread, milk, pulse, no meat; wine never passing his lips. If at any time he dined with the king on Dumbarton Rock, and had to relax somewhat, he returned home to revenge this on himself by redoubled severities. His bed, a bare hole, hollowed out of a rock, like a cave; his pillow a stone. From this hard couch he would rise at midnight for prayer, and sing through ail the Psaltery. In the morning he rose to his stone bath, a trough scooped out of the rock, and into this he plunged, even when it was thick with ice, the coldest weather, the wildest storm, never stopt him. So that Kentigern did not, like some monks we have read of, reckon filth a virtue.

His dress, a rough goats'-hair garment next his skin, a fisher's cloak closely girt round him, over all the priest's white alb and stole. In his hand a crooked staff of rough wood, not gilded and gemmed, says Joceline, like the crosier of our later bishops. When Lent comes, he redoubles his severities, withdraws for forty days into the wilderness, in remembrance of John the Baptist and our Lord. There gives himself wholly to prayer and meditation, living all the while on nothing but the roots he gathers. Once or twice only, during the forty days, he visits his brethren for episcopal duties, and returns. His dwelling, all the while, a cave. At the mouth of it, we see him standing and praying during a tempest, and when the lightning and whirlwind are over, gazing on the skirts of the departing storm, and rejoicing to feel once more the spring breeze on his cheek. When Easter-day dawned, he returned to his monastery, and kept the feast with great joy. Afterwards he feasted cheerfully with his brother monks, and a great multitude of the poor.

By this life of blended activity and retirement, his influence waxed great in all Strathclyde. For what exact reason does not appear, but in time King Morken gets envious of the saint, perhaps just because he is a better and more influential man than himself. Perhaps, also, because even then the encroaching ecclesiastic spirit may have begun to shew itself. From whatever cause, king calls him a magician and sorcerer, and bids him begone out of his sight. Kentigern goes to expostulate. King loses temper, maltreats the saint, even kicks him so hard as to lay the saint flat on his back. Kentigern bears it quietly and withdraws. Soon after Morken dies. But his kinsmen continue to persecute Kentigern, till at last he flies from Strathclyde to Wales. During his exile in Wales he dwelt with St David, for a time, and then rears a great monastery of his own, wherein he taught the young St Asaph. Joceline makes him, during this exile, visit Rome seven times, and once see Gregory the Great, and receive confirmation of his bishopric from him. The whole story seems quite apocryphal, invented, perhaps, at a much later day, to connect the early Scotch Church with the Romish. Many years he sojourned in Wales, and had already grown hoary in exile.

At length there arises at Strathclyde a Christian king, named Rederech, (Roderick,) who had been baptized in Ireland by followers of St Patrick. His first act is to invite the saint to return and gather together his sheep, now long scattered on the mountains. At first Kentigern hesitates, as well he might; would rather pass his few remaining years in peace, and die in the Welsh monastery which he has built with so much toil, and among the disciples who love him as their father in Christ. But he has not been wont to follow his own likings heretofore, neither will he now, but will leave the whole issue to God. At night, while he is in this mind, as he lay in his oratory, an angel appears and bids him arise and return to his own land and people. Straightway he ordains young Asaph bishop, takes leave of all his brethren, and sets his face to the north. He intends to go all alone, but 660 of his brethren arise and follow him. With that great army of monks, he re-enters Strathclyde, and Rederech and his people meet him on his way with welcome, and conduct him to his old monastery with much rejoicing. The new king, though a well-intentioned young man, and quite right in restoring Kentigern, seems to have been a weakling withal, if we may credit Joceline. For not content with restoring, he must needs subject himself wholly to the bishop, and lay the kingly power absolutely at his feet. So early, if this account be true, came in the spirit of encroachment on the part of the Church, and of submission on the part of the weaker kings. Though old, yet the bishop's activity is unabated. He renews his travels through all the dales of Strathclyde, confronting Druid priest and confounding Druidism; confronting Saxons and confounding Woden; destroying idolatrous rites and places of worship ; teaching Druids that the elements they took for gods were no gods, only God's creatures made for man's use ; proving to Saxons that their Woden was no god, he told them ''of the Triune God, Maker of all things, preached to them the faith of Christ and the sacraments of faith, and that there is but one name under heaven whereby men are saved." This he did in his own diocese. The same in Galloway, the same in Albyn or the Highlands, at the risk of death from savage Picts. Even with this he was not content. What his aged body could not overtake, his spirit still longed to do. Enable now to go himself, he sent his most brave and zealous disciples to the Orkneys, and even, says Joceline, to Norway, to do there what he had done in Strathclyde.

At last overtaken by age, and unable to travel more, he returns to his monastery at Glasghu, to spend there his last days. Then it was that his contemporary, Columba, ho too approaching the end of a life spent in like labours, came from his island monastery, all the way to visit his fellow-labourer, the Apostle of Strathclyde. When Mungo heard that Columba was approaching, he went out with all his monks to do honour to the Apostle of lona. They went forth, first the younger brethren, then the middle-aged, then the old, Kentigern with the last, chanting psalms: "The way of the just hath been made bright, the path of the holy prepared." The lona monks raised their antiphony: "The holy shall go from strength to strength; they shall appear before the God of gods in Zion." As they drew nearer, Columba believed he saw a dove of fire alight on Kentigern's head, and his raiment grew white as light. There they met by the green banks of the Molendinar burn, then a clear stream, now a black and foul sewer. For some days they stayed together, and conversed of the things to which their lives had been devoted, the kingdom of God and the salvation of men. Ere they parted they exchanged staves, as a testimony of mutual love in Christ. And long after, even to the fifteenth century, the staff Columba gave to Kentigern was preserved as a precious relic in the cathedral of St Wilfrid, at Ripon.

While the two saints were thus employed, some of their attendants were more questionably engaged. Very naive is the narrative of brother Joceline. Some of the Iona monks having little taste for spiritual repasts, but a strong appreciation of better fare than Kentigern set before them, caught sight of the bishop's flock feeding at a distance. Off they go, lay hands on the saint's best ram, and, spite of the shepherd's adjuring them by the Holy Trinity and St Kentigern, drag him off forcibly, and cut off the poor beast's head. But lo! the ram they had intended to flay and eat, rises and returns straightway to the flock, leaving his head in the hand of his slaughterer. The head turns to stone in his grasp, and remains firmly attached to his hands. Nothing they can do will dissever them. What is to be done? One thing-only, go, throw themselves at Kentigern's feet, and beg forgiveness. The saint kindly chides them, gives them a little homily against fraud, theft, and sacrilege, and releases them, says Joceline, from the double bond of their sin and of the stone head glued to their hands. This may serve as a sample of some of the more puerile stories which meet us in reading these mediaeval biographies.

And now, when he could no longer move abroad, his earthly tenement, worn by extreme age and much fatigue, began through its many chinks to let in the light of the eternal dawn. Then he called his disciples to him, gave them his last charge, blessed them, and committed them and his work to God. On a Sunday morning, the Sunday of the year on which he had been wont to baptize many, he bade his disciples bear him to a bath; not this time of freezing, but of tepid water. Laid in the bath, while they stood around him, he raised eyes and hands to heaven, and then sank into the gentle last sleep. So died the Apostle of Strathclyde. The survivors laid him on the right side of the altar of his own wooden church. To this place, which Kentigern had chosen for his rest, King Rederech followed him within the year, and hero for ages the kings and warriors, the saints and sages of Cumbria chose to rest, beside the ashes of the renowned apostle of their nation. It was about the year 600 that Kentigern was laid in his grave, and for some centuries we know little how it fared with the monastery, and the church, and the religion he had planted. The kingdom of Strathclyde in time was broken up; by the tenth century it had begun to disappear, and its territory had passed under the Scottish crown. The see of Kentigern fell, the grave and shrine were neglected, and all that remained of Kentigern was his bones, and the ancient cemetery with its tall stone cross and girdle of old trees. In the twelfth century King David restored this, with so many more of Scotland's holy places, and the work, begun under his auspices at the beginning of the century, was carried forward, as we have seen, by Bishop Joceline, at its close. David and his preceptor, Bishop John, built the first cathedral over the spot hallowed by Mungo's dust. After forty years it was destroyed by fire. Before the end of the century, Bishop Joceline had begun a new cathedral, and had consecrated over the same spot, that wonderful crypt, which has "perhaps no rival, certainly no superior," in this island. From that time the cathedral went building on, receiving age by age some new addition, and the Reforma-tion found it incomplete. When the day of devastation came, and throughout Scotland cathedral and abbey everywhere went down, Melville clamoured for its instant destruction as a monument of idolatry, but the people of covenanting Glasgow turned out, and would not suffer a stone of their old minster to be injured. And well they might; for Kentigern, the patron saint of their cathedral, may be said to have been the founder of their city.

Of Ninian there is no visible memorial save that poor roofless chapel on the bleak promontory; of Columba, only those forlorn walls, bleaching in the damp sea-mists and moist Atlantic winds; Kentigern has two lasting monuments, the cathedral built round his grave, and the city built round the cathedral. But for Kentigern and the reverence that gathered round him, no cathedral had ever been there; and but for the cathedral no city. The charters are still extant which shew the process by which the city grew in the twelfth century under shadow of the cathedral, ''here a burgess of Haddington taking a house, there the monks of Melrose taking a grant of land; here a toft and a net's fishing in Clyde assigned to the Knights Templar, there a weekly market fixed for Thursday, and 'the king's peace' obtained by the bishop for the burgesses, and his protection for their chattels." And yet, though without doubt the saint is historically the cause of Glasgow, and all the commerce that now rolls through that mighty mart, the link between the ancient saint and the modern Glasgow merchant seems so remote, we so little expect to find the Kentigern of the sixth century develop into the Glasgow merchant of the nineteenth, that we cannot wonder the historical connexion should be long since forgotten.

But no such incongruity arises between the associations of the cathedral and the cell of the saint. The one is the natural outcome of the other. As we stand amid the venerable gloom of that dim crypt, or wander through massive pier and pillar, arch and arcade, and look here on the grave of Mungo, there on the unlettered stone that hides Edward Irving, do we not feel that the fire which glowed in the Apostle of Strathclyde, burned on in the great preacher of our own age, and that we, though living in so changed a world, and looking forth on all things with so different eyes, are yet knit to all the Christian people of those early ages, their spiritual descendants, heirs of the faith in which they lived and died? Thoughts like these, which shew how one golden thread runs through and knits together ages the most wide apart, characters the most opposed, so teaching us fairness and charity and forbearance, are one of the most precious fruits which a wide and sympathetic survey of Church history yields. If anything could make us unlearn our small sectarianisms, make us long for a wider Christian brotherhood, it would be the intimate study of those old Christian ages, the close contemplation of those early Christian heroes of our own land and of all lands; men in all externals so unlike ourselves, in temper, mode of life, in many opinions and beliefs so wide apart; in all that makes up outward civilisation, household comfort, physical knowledge, social well-being, so far our inferiors ; but in the soul, whereby alone men are great, in strength of faith, in devotion to high ends, the self-sacrificing heart, the strong effective will, by most modern Christians unapproached.


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