Kentigern of Glasgow

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Icon of St. Kentigern (Mungo), Bishop in Scotland.

Our father among the saints Kentigern of Glasgow, (in Latin: Cantigernus and in Welsh: Cyndeyrn Garthwys or Kyndeyrn), also known as Saint Mungo was a late sixth century missionary to the Brythonic Kingdom of Strathclyde in Scotland. He is a patron saint of the city of Glasgow that he founded. St. Kentigern is venerated as the Apostle of northwest England and southwest Scotland. He feast day is commemorated on January 14 in the Eastern Orthodox Church, and on January 13 in the West. He also has associations with figures from Arthurian legends, having lived at a time of transition between post-Roman Celtic Britain to pagan Anglo-Saxon domination of the island. As a contemporary of St. Columba of Iona he reposed not long after the papal Augustinian mission to Anglo-Saxon England.

He is venerated as the Apostle of what is today north-west England and south-west Scotland. Saint Mungo founded a number of churches during his period as hierarch of Strathclyde, of which Stobo Kirk is a notable example. He began preaching the Gospel in Cathures on the River Clyde at the site that became the city of Glasgow. He was consecrated as the first bishop for the Strathclyde Britons. Meeting opposition to his preaching, he was driven into exile, first to Carlisle and then on to Wales, where he helped found Christian communities according to later hagiographic tradition. There he joined St. David at Menevia for a while until he returned to Scotland. In Scotland, he continued his missionary work, centered around the area of Glasgow. He reposed in Glasgow on January 13, 614.

On the spot where Mungo was buried now stands the cathedral dedicated in his honour. His shrine was a great centre of Christian pilgrimage until the Scottish Reformation. His remains are said to still rest in the crypt. A spring called "St. Mungo's Well" fell eastwards from the apse. Saint Mungo's Well was a cold water spring and bath at Copgrove, near Ripon, North Yorkshire, formerly believed effective for treating rickets.

The name Kentigern, an Old English form, seems derived from an Old Welsh, today Kyndeyrn or Cyndeyrn in Welsh, with roots meaning either "hound lord" or "chief lord." His Welsh epithet Garthwys is of unknown derivation. His pet name Mungo possibly derives from an Old Welsh form for "my dear" or "beloved." An ancient church in Bromfield, Cumbria is named after him, as are Crosthwaite Parish Church and some other churches in the northern part of the modern county of Cumbria (historic Cumberland). His names illustrate the multicultural world of post-Roman Britain in the sixth century, sometimes called the "Age of Arthur," in the overlapping of Celtic and Anglo-Saxon cultures and languages, although his mission work would have been in predominantly Celtic-speaking areas of western Britain.

The main source for knowledge of his life today is the "Life of Saint Mungo" written by the monastic hagiographer, Jocelin of Furness, in about 1185. Jocelin states that he rewrote the Vita from an earlier Glasgow legend and an old Gaelic document. There are two other certain medieval accounts: the earlier partial Life in the Cottonian MSS [scholarly abbreviation for manuscripts] now in the British Library, and a later one, based on Jocelin, by John of Tynemouth. The saint also appears in Welsh and Cambro-Latin poetry and texts thought to derive from earlier sources, however. There seems little reason to doubt that Mungo was one of the first evangelists of Strathclyde, under the patronage of King Rhiderch Hael, and probably became the first Bishop of Glasgow. The Annales Cambriae record his death in 612, although the year of his death is sometimes given as 603 in other sources (his death date, Jan. 13, was on a Sunday in both years). Mungo's ancestry is recorded in the Bonedd y Saint. His father, Owain was a King of Rheged, who survives in the later legendary French Arthurian romances of Chrétien de Troyes as Yvain, as well as in other Arthurian stories. His maternal grandfather, Lleuddun, was probably a King of the legendary Gododdin; Lothian was named after him. His paternal grandfather Urien was an early Christian king of Rheged, in the "Old North" of Cumbria and the Lake District, celebrated in early poems attributed to the legendary bard Taliesin. In Scotland, excavations at Hoddom have brought confirmation of early Christian activity there, uncovering a late 6th century stone baptistery, likely to have been associated with the saint's missionary work. Jocelin's post-Schism Life seems to have altered parts of earlier accounts that he did not understand; while adding others, like the trip to Rome, that served his own purposes, largely the promotion of the Bishopric of Glasgow. Some new parts may have been collected from genuine local stories, particularly those of Mungo's work in Cumbria. His association with St. Asaph in Wales may have been a Norman invention.

In the "Life of Saint Mungo," he performed four religious miracles in Glasgow. The following verse is used to remember Mungo's four miracles:

Here is the bird that never flew Here is the tree that never grew Here is the bell that never rang Here is the fish that never swam The verses refer to the following:

The Bird — Mungo restored life to the pet robin of Saint Serf, which had been killed by some of his classmates, hoping to blame him for its death. The Tree — Mungo had been left in charge of a fire in Saint Serf's monastery. He fell asleep and the fire went out. Taking branches from a tree, he restarted the fire. The Bell — the bell is thought to have been brought by Mungo from Rome. It was said to have been used in services and to mourn the deceased. The original bell no longer exists, and a replacement, created in the 1640s, is now on display in Glasgow. The Fish — refers to the story about Queen Languoreth of Strathclyde who was suspected of infidelity by her husband. King Riderch demanded to see her ring, which he claimed she had given to her lover. In reality the King had thrown it into the River Clyde. Faced with execution she appealed for help to Mungo, who ordered a messenger to catch a fish in the river. On opening the fish, the ring was miraculously found inside, which allowed the Queen to clear her name. An almost identical story concerns King Maelgwn of Gwynedd and Saint Asaph.

Mungo's four religious miracles in Glasgow are represented in the city's coat of arms. Glasgow's current motto Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of His word and the praising of His name and the more secular Let Glasgow flourish, are both inspired by Mungo's original call "Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the word." In a late 15th century fragmentary manuscript generally called"'Lailoken and Kentigern," Mungo appears in conflict with the mad prophet, Lailoken alias Merlin. Lailoken's appearance at the Battle of Arfderydd in 573 has led to a connection being made between this battle, the rise of Riderch Hael and the return of Mungo to Strathclyde. The Life of Saint Mungo bears similarities with Chrétien de Troyes's French romance Yvain, the Knight of the Lion (Yvain being a derivation of Owain, Kentigern's father). He is the patron saint of Father Brown's parish in G.K. Chesterton's "Father Brown" mystery series. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling refers to St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries as a place for treating wizards.

Further reading