The Scottish / Celtic Saints (Part 6)

December 29, 2007


St Kentigern (St. Mungo)

Kentigern, founder of Glasgow, is an excellent representative of the trouble with following the Celtic saints. What we know of him is a 12th century life by Jocylen, a monk of Furness in North Lancashire. Much of Jocelyns life is the standard medieval hagiography with appropriate miracles to demonstrate the saints holiness and favor with God. The miracle stories in the Life lack the freshness and simplicity of Adamnans Life of Columba or Bedes descriptions of miracles in his writing about the Celtic saints.

Kentigern was the illegitimate son of the daughter of King Loth of Lothian. (The king was supposedly set upon his throne by Arthur of the Britons.) King Loth was furious at his daughters pregnancy, and even more so at her refusal to name the father of the child. After his attempt to throw her over a cliff failed when the cart she was in righted itself and landed safely below, King Loth put her in a coracle and cast her into the Firth of Forth. A school of fish led the coracle back to land at Culross where the childs cries were heard by shepherds. The shepherds took the child to St. Serf who was expecting him, having been informed in advance by angels of the childs birth. St. Serf named the boy Kentigern, a Gaidhealic name latinized by Jocelyn as capitalis dominus, Capital Lord. Edwin Sprott Towill, in his Saints of Scotland suggests it may also mean head-hound, a curious name, particularly given St. Serfs nickname for Kentigern, Mungo. Mungo is generally taken to mean dearly beloved or my dear. However Towill notes that it also has a canine suggestion such as my doggie.

Kentigern was raised by St. Serf, but falls afoul of Serfs other pupils who resent Kentigerns status as Serfs favorite. He eventually flees from Serfs community, the waters of the Forth parting to allow him to cross dry shod. On the other side he meets an old man, Fergus, who asks the saint to bury him. Kentigern harnesses a cart to two untamed oxen and allows them to wander carrying the old mans body. They stop at a site where supposedly St. Ninian had consecrated ground for Christian burial. The site is named Glesgu, the dear family, and is today known as Glasgow. With much reluctance, Kentigern is persuaded to become bishop of the area and an Irish bishop is imported to perform the consecration.

Kentigern, however, falls foul of an usurping chieftan and flees south to Cumbria and then to Wales where he assists St. Asaph in founding his community. Once rightful tribal leadership was restored in Strathclyde, Kentigern returned to Glasgow and there completed his ministry. One interesting story of his final years tells of meeting the aged Merlin in the woods at Drummelzier. Merlin is a lost soul, filled with remorse for supporting the pagan kings at the battle of Arthuret. At this meeting Kentigerns holy speech softens the old wizards heart and he confesses and is baptized by Kentigern before his death.