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History of the Christian Church, Volume IV: Mediaeval Christianity. A.D. 590-1073.
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§ 17. The Conversion of Scotland. St. Ninian and St. Kentigern.


See the works of Skene (the second vol.), Reeves, McLauchan, Ebrard, Cunningham, mentioned in § 7.

Also Dr. Reeves: The Culdees of the British Islands as they appear in History, 1864.

Dr. Jos. Robertson: Statuta Ecclesiae Scoticanae, 1866, 2 vols.

Bishop Forbes: The Kalendars of Scottish Saints, Edinb., 1872; Lives of S. Ninian and S. Kentigern, compiled in the 12th century, Edinb., 1874.

Haddan & Stubbs: Councils and Ecclesiast. Docum., Vol. II, Part I. (Oxf., 1873), pp. 103 sqq.


Scotland (Scotia) before the tenth century was comprised in the general appellation of Britain (Britannia), as distinct from Ireland (Hibernia). It was known to the Romans as Caledonia,7474    In Gaelic, Calyddom, land of forests, or, according to others, from Kaled, i.e hard and wild. to the Kelts as Alban; but the name of Scotia was exclusively appropriated to Ireland till the tenth century. The independent history of Scotland begins with the establishment of the Scottish monarchy in the ninth century. At first it was a purely Keltic kingdom; but in the course of time the Saxon race and feudal institutions spread over the country, and the Keltic tribes retreated to the mountains and western islands. The names of Scot and Scotch passed over to the English-speaking people and their language; while the Keltic language, formerly known as Scotch, became known as Irish.

The Keltic history of Scotland is full of fable, and a battlefield of Romanists and Protestants, Episcopalians and Presbyterians, who have claimed it for their respective systems of doctrine and church-polity. It must be disentangled from the sectarian issues of the Culdean controversy. The historian is neither a polemic nor an apologist, and should aim at nothing but the truth.

Tertullian says, that certain places in Britain which the Romans could not conquer were made subject to Christ. It is quite likely that the first knowledge of Christianity reached the Scots and Picts from England; but the constant wars between them and the Britons and the decline of the Roman power were unfavorable to any mission work.

The mission of Palladius to Scotland by Pope Caelestius is as vague and uncertain as his mission to Ireland by the same Pope, and is strongly mixed up with the mission of Patrick. An Irish colony from the North-Eastern part of Ulster, which had been Christianized by Patrick, settled in Scotland towards the close of the fifth century, and continued to spread along the coasts of Argyle and as far as the islands of Mull and Iona, until its progress was checked by the Northern Picts.

The first distinct fact in the church history of Scotland is the apostolate of St. Ninian at the close of the fourth century, during the reign of Theodosius in the East. We have little reliable information of him. The son of a British king, he devoted himself early to the ministry of Christ. He spent some time in Rome, where the Pope commissioned him to the apostolate among the heathen in Caledonia, and in Gaul with Bishop Martin of Tours, who deserves special praise for his protest against the capital punishment of heretics in the case of the Priscillianists. He began the evangelization of the Southern Picts in the Eastern districts of modern Scotland. He built a white stone church called “Candida Casa,” at Whittern (Quhithern, Witerna) in Galloway, on the South-Westem border of Scotland by the sea side, and dedicated it to the memory of St. Martin, who had died in that year (397).7575    On Whittern and the Candida Casa, see Nicholson, History of Galloway, I. 115; Forbes, S. Ninian and S. Kentigern, 268, and Skene, II. 46. This was the beginning of “the Great Monastery” (“Magnum Monasterium”) or monastery of Rosnat, which exerted a civilizing and humanizing influence on the surrounding country, and annually attracted pilgrims from England and Scotland to the shrine of St. Ninian. His life has been romanized and embellished with legends. He made a newborn infant indicate its true father, and vindicate the innocence of a presbyter who had been charged by the mother with the crime of violation; he caused leeks and herbs to grow in the garden before their season; he subdued with his staff the winds and the waves of the sea; and even his relics cured the sick, cleansed the lepers, and terrified the wicked, “by all which things,” says Ailred, his biographer, “the faith of believers is confirmed to the praise and glory of Christ.”

St. Kentigern (d. Nov. 13, 603), also called St. Mungo (the gracious one),7676    In Welsh, Cyndeyrn means chief, Munghu dear, amiable. See Skene, II. 183. the first bishop of Glasgow, labored in the sixth century for the conversion of the people in Cumberland, Wales, and on the Clyde, and re-converted the Picts, who had apostatized from the faith. He was the grandson of a heathen king in Cumbria or Strathclyde, the son of a Christian, though unbaptized mother. He founded a college of Culdees or secular monks, and several churches. He wore a hair shirt and garment of goat-skin, lived on bread and vegetables, slept on a rocky couch and a stony pillow, like Jacob, rose in the night to sing psalms, recited in the morning the whole psalter in a cold stream, retired to desert places during Lent, living on roots, was con-crucified with Christ on Good Friday, watched before the tomb, and spent Easter in hilarity and joy. He converted more by his silence than his speech, caused a wolf and a stag to drag the plough, raised grain from a field sown with sand, kept the rain from wetting his garments, and performed other marvels which prove the faith or superstition of his biographers in the twelfth century. Jocelyn relates also, that Kentigern went seven times to Rome, and received sundry privileges and copies of the Bible from the Pope. There is, however, no trace of such visits in the works of Gregory I., who was more interested in the Saxon mission than the Scotch. Kentigern first established his episcopal chair in Holdelm (now Hoddam), afterwards in Glasghu (Glasgow). He met St. Columba, and exchanged with him his pastoral stave.7777    The meeting of the two saints, as recorded by Jocelyn, reminds one of the meeting of St. Antony with the fabulous Paul of Thebes. He attained to the age of one hundred and eighty-five years, and died between a.d. 601 and 612 (probably 603).7878    See Forbes, Kalendars, p. 372, and Skene, II. 197. He is buried in the crypt of the cathedral of St. Mungo in Glasgow, the best preserved of mediaeval cathedrals in Scotland.

St. Cuthbert (d. March 20, 687), whose life has been written by Bede, prior of the famous monastery of Mailros (Melrose), afterwards bishop of Lindisfarne, and last a hermit, is another legendary saint of Scotland, and a number of churches are traced to him or bear his name.7979    Forbes (p. 319) gives a list of 26.



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