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

September 16

St. Ninian, or Ninyas, Bishop and Confessor

THIS saint, who became the apostle of the southern Picts, was son to a prince among the Cumbrian Britons, who inhabited Cumberland and Galloway. From his cradle it seemed his only delight to visit churches, to discourse on heavenly things, and to be employed in exercises of devotion and piety. Whilst others take so much pains in their education to advance themselves in the world, our noble youth, sensible of the inestimable treasure of holy faith which he had found, thought nothing difficult, and no labour great, that he might improve his soul in the knowledge and practice of religion. With this view, he bade adieu to the world, cut off the very root of covetousness, sensuality, and ambition, by renouncing whatever might flatter, or afford fuel to those passions, and forsaking a court, his friends, and country, undertook a long journey to Rome. In that city he spent many years, applying himself with his whole heart to the exercises of the most heroic Christian virtue, and to the study of the sacred sciences.  1
  In this race he ran, as it were, with the strides of a giant, and his soul was daily more and more inflamed with a mighty love and zeal for God, whose honour he studied in all things to promote. This motive and a compassion for his native country, which had received the grace of faith more slowly and more imperfectly than the southern provinces of Britain, engaged him at length to return home, to impart to his countrymen a share of that blessing in which their happiness consisted, and which was the great and sole end of their very being. Those few who had already received some tincture of the faith, he taught to set a due value on so great a treasure, and to apply themselves with their whole strength to cultivate the same in their hearts. He brought the idolaters of that province into the paths of eternal life, softened the fierce temper of Tudovald, king of the Picts, and built a church of stone at Whithern, now in Galloway; and as the northern Britons had never before seen any such building of stone, the town, according to Bede and Malmesbury, took from this edifice its name (importing a white house, in Latin Candida Casa) since changed into Whithern. The saint fixed here his episcopal see, and dedicated the church in honour of St. Martin, whose tomb he probably had devoutly visited in his journey through France. He converted from idolatry the Cumbrians, and all the provinces of the southern Picts, as far as Mount Grampus. The rest of North Britain was converted by Saints Columba and Palladius. The former was the apostle of the northern Picts in 565. The Scots, who, passing from Ireland, settled in part of the country possessed by the Picts in North Britain, acknowledge St. Palladius for their first bishop, 1 though their modern historians tell us that they received the first seeds of faith in the year 200, under King Donald, by certain missionaries sent from Pope Victor. It is not to be doubted but the light of faith had penetrated among the Caledonian Britons before they were subdued by the Roman arms, in the expedition of Severus, in 208, as appears by Tertullian, (l. adv. Judæos c. 7.) The church of Whithern became a seminary of apostolic men and many glorious saints. St. Ninian died on the 16th of September in 432. He was illustrious for many miracles, and his relics were kept with veneration, till the change of religion, in the church which bears his name at Whithern. See his acts, and especially Bede, l. 3, c. 4. The Saxon Chronicle, ann. 560. Alcuin, ap. Usser. Primord. p. 669. William of Malmesbury, l. 3. de reg. Angl. John Fordun, Scotochron. l. 3. Leland, de Script, c. 33. Usher Ant. Eccl. Britan. c. 15, p. 347. Alford’s Annals ann. 432. Sticker the Bollandist, t. 5, Sept. p. 318.  2
Note 1. See the Life of S. Palladius, July 6; and St. Columba’s, June 9. [back]