St Columba

Columba was born in Gartan, near Lough Gartan, in County Donegal, Ireland. His parents were Fedlimid and Eithne of the Cenel Conaill; on his father's side he was said to be the great-great-grandson of an Irish high king of the 5th century, known as Niall of the Nine Hostages.

He became a pupil at the monastic school at Clonard Abbey, situated in modern County Meath on the River Boyne, where he studied alongside some of the most significant names in the sixth century history of Irish Christianity, so he was in good company. It is said that the average number of scholars under instruction at Clonard at any one time was around three thousand. Columba was one of a group of twelve students, known as the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, who studied at Clonard under St. Finian. Columba went on to become a monk and was ordained as a priest.

Tradition has it that, sometime around 560, he became involved in a quarrel over a psalter with Saint Finnian of Moville (i.e. not the same St Finian referred to earlier). It seems that Columba copied the manuscript at the scriptorium under this other Saint Finnian, intending to keep the copy for himself but Saint Finnian disputed his right to do this. Its hardly credible to us that a dispute over a copied manuscript should be blown up out of all proportion but this dispute did and eventually led to the pitched Battle of Cúl Dreimhne in 561, during which many men were killed. A synod of clerics and scholars held that Columba was responsible for these deaths and threatened to excommunicate him, but St. Brendan of Birr spoke up on his behalf with the result that he was allowed to go into exile instead. For his part, Columba suggested that he should go and work as a missionary in Scotland to help convert as many people as had been killed in the battle and so he exiled himself from Ireland, only ever returning once, many years later. A psalter known as the Cathach of St. Columba has traditionally been associated with Columba's copy of this psalter.

And so it was that in 563 he made his now famous sea journey across to Scotland with twelve companions where, according to legend, he first landed at the southern tip of the Kintyre peninsula, but, being still in sight of his native Ireland he decided to move further north up the west coast of Scotland and landed on Iona where, in that same year, he was granted land on the island and this became the centre of his evangelising work to the Picts - the natural inhabitants of that part of Scotland.

Apart from the service he provided in guiding the only centre of literacy in the region, his reputation as a holy man soon led to him assuming the role of diplomat among the various tribes. There are also many stories of miracles that he is said to have performed during his work converting the Picts. At some point he visited the pagan king Bridei, king of Fortriu, at his base in what is now Inverness. Although he won the king's respect, he failed to convert him. But he went on to play a major role in the politics of the country and was energetic in his evangelistic work, even founding several churches in the Hebrides. He worked to turn his monastery at Iona into a school for missionaries and was renowned as being a man of letters, having written several hymns and is credited with having transcribed 300 books. He rarely left Scotland after his arrival and it wasn’t until towards the end of his life that he returned just the once to Ireland in order to found the monastery at Durrow.

He died on Iona and was buried by his monks in the abbey he created although he was later disinterred and is reputed to be buried either in Downpatrick, along with St. Patrick and St. Brigid or else at the nearby Saul Church.

Several islands in Scotland are named after Columba, including Ì Chaluim Chille (one of the Scottish Gaelic names of Iona), others include Inchcolm and Eilean Chaluim Chille.


St Kentigern

Saint Mungo, better known to us as Saint Kentigern, (Cyndeyrn Garthwys in Welsh), was the late 6th century apostle of the Brythonic Kingdom of what is now Strathclyde in modern Scotland. He is also founder of the city of Glasgow and is its patron saint.

In Wales and the southern Brythonic regions of modern England, he was known by his birth and baptismal name, Kentigern. The Welsh Cyndeyrn, from which it is derived, means 'chief prince' but the meaning of its commonly attached suffix, 'Garthwys', is unknown .

His pet name of Mungo in Scotland and the Northern Brythonic areas of modern England, is derived from the Brythonic word my-nghu which means 'dear one'. In the northern parts of Cumbria can be found many churches dedicated to either Mungo or Kentigern. Our own Church is dedicated to St Kentigern along with St Columba who was an acquaintance of Mungo's.

A 'Life of Saint Mungo' was written by the monastic hagiographer, Jocelin of Furness, circa 1185. In it, Jocelin states that he rewrote the 'life' from an earlier Glasgow legend which he combined with an old Gaelic document. Part of an earlier 'life' can be found in the British Library along with a later one, attributed to John of Tynemouth and said to be based on Jocelin's earlier work.

These stories have it that Mungo's mother, Thenaw, also known as St. Thaney, who was the daughter of the Brythonic king, Lleuddun, became pregnant after being seduced by Owain mab Urien. King Lleuddun ruled in the Haddington region of what is now Scotland, possibly the Kingdom of Gododdin in the Old North. According to the British Library manuscript, on hearing of her plight her father became furious and had her thrown from the heights of Traprain Law, an iron age hill fort some 4 miles east of Haddington in East Lothian. Fortunately for her, she survived the fall but she was then left to drift across the River Forth to Culross in Fife after being abandoned in a coracle.

It was there that Mungo was born and where he was brought up by Saint Serf who, at that time, was ministering to the Picts of that area. It was St Serf who gave him his now popular pet-name of Mungo.

Mungo began his missionary work, at the age of twenty-five, concentrated along the Clyde, particularly on the site of what is now Glasgow, an area to which Christianity had already been introduced by Saint Ninian who's followers welcomed Mungo and arranged for him to be consecrated bishop by a visiting Irish bishop. He went on to build his church where the Clyde and the Molendinar Burn meet, and it is here that the current medieval cathedral now stands. He laboured in the district for some thirteen years, where he lived a very austere life in a small cell, making many converts by his holy example and his preaching.

But then a strong anti-Christian movement sprung up in the region, led by King Morken, who expelled Mungo. He travelled through Cumbria and on to Wales, where he stayed for a while with Saint David at what is now St David's in modern Pembrokeshire before moving on to Gwynedd where he founded a cathedral at Llanelwy (modern day St Asaph). While here, he made a pilgrimage to Rome, but then the new King of Strathclyde, Riderch Hael, invited Mungo to return to his kingdom. Mungo agreed and appointed Saint Asaph as Bishop of Llanelwy in his place.

Although he spent some time in his Episcopal seat at Hoddom in Dumfriesshire, where he evangelised the district of Galloway, he eventually returned to the Glasgow area where a fairly large community grew up around him, this eventually becoming known as Clas-gu (meaning the 'dear family'). It was in nearby Kilmacolm that he was visited by Saint Columba, who at that time had been labouring in Strathtay. The two saints are said to have embraced, had a long conversation and then, before parting, exchanged their pastoral staves.

In his old age, Mungo became increasingly feeble and is said to have died in his bath, on Sunday the 13th of January.

Sts. Columba and Kentigern

And so, having seen how these two British* Saints who, though working separately did meet up and embrace each other, it is quite appropriate that our Church should be dedicated to both of them - two remarkable Saints who played such a vital role in the Christian history of our islands and most worthy patrons. (*I've called them British Saints though St Columba was, of course, born in Ireland, but I think we can safely call them British.)

A new icon of Sts Columba and Kentigern was donated by Zlatina Pavlov's mother and father Katya and Lyubomir Todorov on behalf of Zlatina and Pavel for the warm welcome they have received in our parish. The beautiful icon was painted by Zlatina's grandmother Lilia Nesterova especially for our church and will hang on our Iconostasis in place of the original icon of St Columba.

Condensed from Wikipedia where the full accounts, from which this article has been rewritten by James Shipgood, can be found severally by clicking on Columba and Kentigern. The icons featured above can all be seen in our Church.