Home  »  Volume I: January  »  St. Kentigern, Bishop of Glasco, Confessor

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume I: January. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

January 13

St. Kentigern, Bishop of Glasco, Confessor

[In ancient British, Kyndeyrn surnamed Mungho, or Munghu.]  THIS eminent saint of the ancient church of North Britain, was of royal blood among the Picts, or original inhabitants of that country, and born about the year 516. He was placed very young under the discipline of St. Servanus, bishop and abbot of Culros, a monastery, situated upon the Frith which divides Lothian from Fife. By this holy prelate he was trained up in the perfect spirit of christian meekness and piety. For his innocence and great virtues he was beloved by his master and all who were acquainted with that religious family above all his fellow-disciples, for which reason he was called Munghu, or Mungho, which in the language of that country signified “one dearly beloved;” and this is the name which the Scots usually give him to this day. When he was grown up, by the direction of St. Servanus, he retired to a place called Glasghu, where he led a solitary life in great abstinence, till the clergy and people earnestly demanded him for their bishops. He was consecrated by an Irish bishop, invited over for that purpose, and fixed his see at Glasghu, or Glasco, where he assembled a numerous company of religious brethren, who formed their rule of life upon the model of the primitive Christians at Jerusalem. The saint’s diocess was of vast extent, reaching from sea to sea, and being wild and uncultivated, afforded continual exercise for his zeal and patience; he travelled always on foot, sparing no pains to spread the light of the gospel amongst the unbelievers, of whom he converted and baptised great numbers. The Pelagian heresy having taken deep root among the Christians in those parts, he so vigorously opposed that fatal growing evil, as entirely to banish that hydra out of the church of the Picts. Besides the recital of the whole Psalter he performed every day several other exercises of devotion; lived in a constant union of his soul with God, and by perpetual abstinence, rigorous fasts, and other extraordinary austerities, he made his whole life an uninterrupted course of penance. Every Lent he retired from the sight and conversation of men, into some desert, to hold a close communication with God in solitude. As both in his virtues and labours he imitated the apostles, so God was pleased to authorize his preaching, by conferring on him an apostolic grace of the miraculous powers. Out of his monks and disciples, he sent many missionaries to preach the faith in the north of Scotland, in the isles of Orkney, in Norway, and Iceland.  1
  The form of government among the Straith-Cluid Britons, and the Cumbrians, the latter inhabiting the country from the Picts wall, to the Ribble in Lancashire, was in part aristocratical; for many petty lords or princes enjoyed so great authority in their respective territories, as often to wage war among themselves: yet they all obeyed one monarch, who usually resided at Alcluyd, or Dunbritton. Besides the feuds and quarrels of particular chieftains, and their clans, there happened about that time several revolutions in the monarchy. We learn from the book entitled the Triades, that when St. Kentigern was made bishop of Glasco, Gurthmel Wledig was king of the North Britons, and contemporary with Arthur. He was succeeded by Rydderch, surnamed Hael, i. e. The Liberal, who vanquished his enemies and rivals in war, especially by the great victory of Arderyth, in 577. 1 He was a religious and deserving prince, and his magnificence, generosity, and other virtues are extolled by the ancient author of the Triades, by Merlin, Taliessin, the old laws of the Britons, and the authors of the lives of Saint Kentigern and Saint Asaph. This prince, however, was afterwards obliged by rebellious subjects, under Morcant Mawr, and Aeddon, surnamed Uraydog, or The Treacherous, to fly into Ireland. The impious Morcant (as he is styled in the fragment of St. Asaph’s life extant in Coch-Asaph) usurped the throne of the Straith-Cluid Britons; but the Cumbrains, who dwelt on the south side of the wall, were protected by Urien, lord of Rheged, a nobleman who had lived at the court of king Arthur, and whose great qualities are celebrated by the pens of Lhowarch-Hen, (his cousin german,) Taliessin, and the author of the Triades. In the beginning of the usurpation of Morcant Mawr, St. Kentigern was obliged to fly into Wales, where he staid some time with St. David at Menevia, till Cathwallain, (uncle to king Maelgun Gwynedh, 2) a religious prince of part of Denbighshire, bestowed on him the land at the meeting of the rivers Elwy and Cluid, on which he built a famous monastery and school, called from the river Elwy, Llan-Elwy, or absolutely Elgwy, where a great number of disciples and scholars soon put themselves under his direction. St. Kentigern was here when St. David died in 546, or rather in 544, when the first of March fell on a Tuesday. 3 After the death of the usurper Morcant, Rydderch returned from Ireland, and recovered his crown, and St. Kentigern, leaving his school to the care of St. Asaph, (whose name the town, which was raised at Elgwy, bears to this day,) went back to Glasco, taking with him several hundreds of his scholars; their numbers having probably been much increased after the death of Daniel, bishop of Bangor, which happened between the years 542 and 545. The return of St. Kentigern to his see, is generally placed about the year 560, nor can it be placed later, since in 565, he had a conference with St. Columba, when that holy man came over to Scotland, in order to convert the northern Picts, to whom St. Kentigern had already sent missionaries. 4 Wharton therefore, justly places the residence of St. Kentigern in Wales, from the year 543 to 560. 5 King Rydderch powerfully seconded the zeal of our saint in all his undertakings, being his constant friend and protector; as were the two princes who afterwards succeeded him, Guallauc, (who seems to have been his son,) and Morcant Mwynfawn (who was certainly his brother). The valour of Rydderch and these two successors, which is highly commended by an ancient author in Nennius, and other British historians, was the bulwark of their dominions against the inroads of the Saxons. St. Kentigern employed his zeal all this time, with wonderful success, in correcting abuses, reforming the manners of his flock, and propagating the faith, was favoured with a wonderful gift of miracles, and died in 601, aged eighty-five years. His tomb, in his titular church at Glasco, was famous for miracles, and his name was always most illustrious in the Scottish calendars. See his ancient life, Leland de Scriptor. Usher, Ant. c. 15. Hector Boetius, Leslie, &c.  2
  This is also the Octave of the Epiphany. 6 The principal object of the devotion of the church on this day is the baptism of our Saviour by St. John in the Jordan. We learn from the great council of Oxford, in 1222, 7 that it was then kept a holiday of the third class, on which all were obliged to hear mass, though they might work afterwards. In France and Germany all servile work was forbidden on it, by the capitulars of Lewis le debonnaire. 8 The emperor Theodosius II. forbids all civil courts and transactions during eight days before the festival of the Epiphany, and as many after it.  3
Note 1. Vaughan’s Dissert. on the British Chron. Carte, T. 1. p. 211. [back]
Note 2. See notes on St. Gildas and St. David. [back]
Note 3. Usher, Ant. Brit. c. 14. [back]
Note 4. Vit. S. Kentigerni. Usher, Antiqu. c. 15. p. 358. [back]
Note 5. Wharton de Episcopis Asaphensibus, p. 300. 302. [back]
Note 6. The church prolongs most solemn festivals during eight days, with a daily continuation of the sacred office proper to each such festival. This term is called its octave, and the eighth day is called the octave-day. [back]
Note 7. Can. 8. [back]
Note 8. L. 2. de feriis. [back]