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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.