Solway Plain - past and present by the Holme St Cuthbert History Group



Saint Kentigern

Mosaic of Saint Kentigern

Kentigern is also known as Saint Mungo and was born sometime about 550. His life was chronicled in 1180 by Jocelyn, a monk at Furness Abbey. His story is wreathed in legends on both sides of the Solway.

Kentigern was the illegitimate son of a princess whose father ruled one of the kingdoms of southern Scotland. When he discovered the pregnancy, he set his daughter adrift in a coracle on the Firth of Forth. By good fortune, the tiny vessel came ashore at Culross in Fife where the princess was cared for by St. Serf who subsequently also brought up her son.

As a young man, Kentigern left Fife and travelled to Glasgow where he became the city’s first bishop, his diocese covering Cumbria as well as the Kingdom of Strathclyde. At some point, he was banished from the area by Morken, the local war lord, and made his way to safety in Wales where he spent time with both St David and St Asaph. Eventually a new ruler, Riderch Hen, came to power in Strathclyde and recalled Kentigern to take charge of the diocese again.

On his journeys to and from Wales, Kentigern passed through Cumbria. His biographer, Jocelyn of Furness, notes:

"And when Kentigern had arrived at Karleolum, (Carlisle) he heard that many in the mountains had been given to idolatry or were ignorant of the divine laws. And so he turned aside to that place, and he converted to the Christian religion, with the aid of God and confirming this word with accompanying signs, many who were strangers to the faith and others who were erring in the faith. . . . He lingered somewhat in a certain woods to confirm and comfort in faith the men who were living there, and where he also raised up a cross as a sign of their salvation. By this event the place received the name Crosfeld . . . In this same place in truth a basilica, which has been built in recent times belongs to the name of the blessed Kentigern. And it is not doubted that he shone with many wonders that revealed his holiness."


Old engraving of Crosthwaite Church

Historians can’t agree on the location of ‘Crosfeld’ some claiming it is Crossfell, a mountain almost 3,000 feet high. Perhaps the most likely location is Crosthwaite, just outside Keswick. ‘Thwaite’ is a Norse word for a clearing in the woods and here stands one of the oldest churches dedicated to Saint Kentigern. It is one of a circle, stretching around the county, it is tempting to think that they may trace the saint’s footsteps.

Map showing location of churches dedicated to St Kentigern

Glasgow University's coat of arms is based on four legends of Saint Kentigern.

The tree that never grew,
The bird that never flew,
The bell that never rang,
The fish that never swam.

Click for the full story

Glasgow University Arms

Saint Ninian

Stained Glass Window of St Ninian
Ninian was known for his miracles, here he is curing a chieftain of blindness.
St. Ninian is acknowledged as Scotland's first saint. He probably began his work, around 400 AD, at Whithorn in Galloway. Archaeologists have uncovered clues there from the earliest settlement in the 5th century.

The people were trading and importing luxury goods from the Mediterranean and were working the land to produce food together. The Latinus Stone, which is the earliest Christian monument in Scotland, shows that the community was Christian. From the 7th century, people made a pilgrimage to visit St Ninian’s shrine believing in his power to cure illness and perform miracles. The town became a cult centre and the fame of Ninian and Whithorn spread.

In his Ecclesiastical History Bede says Ninian (Niniavus in Latin) was a Briton who evangelized southern Scotland long before St. Columba landed in Iona. He built a stone church, known as Candida Casa (White House is Hwit-aern in old English, now Whithorn).


The chi rho stone from Maryport

Charles Thomas has suggested Ninian may have been a Cumbrian. He believes that, around 400AD, Romanized communities existed along north shore of Solway, established by traders and fishermen from Carlisle and the region south of Hadrian’s Wall. The Christian community was sizeable enough to warrant the provision of a bishop and Niniavus, a priest, would have been elevated to a bishop and sent to the area by the Christians settled around Carlisle.

There is also some evidence that Christian communities existed in the forts along the coast. A stone bearing the chi rho, an early Christian symbol, was originally part of the Senhouse collection of Roman artefacts. It disappeared, under mysterious circumstances, in the early twentieth century. It is said that a stone from the collection was returned to Italy during the 1930s, at the request of Mussolini.

 

The chi rho is one of the earliest Christian symbols. It consists of the first two letters of Christ in Greek (XP) superimposed on one another. It is depicted in a variety of ways and, sometimes, combined with the alpha and omega or other symbols.

The Senhouse Roman Museum in Maryport holds an old engraving of the stone. It would be nice to imagine that St Ninian might have begun his voyage to Whithorn from the Roman harbour there.

Map showing location of Whithorn and Maryport

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  LINKS
Whithorn Trust Website
Crossthwaite Church Website
Jocelyn of Furness: Life of Kentigern translation

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The Solway Saints