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Kentigern

(d. c. 612) patron of the diocese (later archdiocese) of Glasgow


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(d. 612),

monk and bishop, evangelist of Strathclyde and Cumbria. There are many legends but few known facts about Kentigern: all the sources date from the 11th and 12th centuries and most of them are from the North. They contain various folkloric elements which are considerably older than the 11th century, but have no historical value. From these traditions it may be assumed that he was the grandson of a British prince (Urien?) and of illegitimate birth; that he was educated by Serf at Culross; that he was a monk of the Irish tradition who practised the customary austerities, that he was consecrated bishop of the Strathclyde area by an Irish bishop; that he suffered from the political disorder of his kingdom and was exiled to Cumbria (and much less likely to Wales). Then he returned to Strathclyde and lived at Hoddam (Dumfries) and especially at Glasgow, as before; here he died and was buried: his relics are claimed by Glasgow cathedral.

Some of the more incredible elements of the Legends include his mother being thrown off a cliff in a wagon and being set adrift in a coracle before Kentigern's birth; Kentigern in later life telling the queen who had given her husband's ring to her lover not to worry, as one of his monks extracted it from a salmon which he caught (after the king had thrown the ring out to sea and told her to find it in three days). This story is the cause of the presence of the ring and the fish on the arms of the city of Glasgow. One of his biographers made him 185 years old when he died: perhaps he really lived to be eighty-five.

There are several ancient Scottish dedications to Kentigern under his pet-name of Mungo and nine in England, mainly in Cumbria. The story that he founded a large and important monastery in North Wales numbering nearly 1,000 monks and that he became first bishop of St Asaph's is exceedingly unlikely. It depends on only one late Welsh source and is unsupported by any trace of a liturgical cult in N. Wales or by church dedications. Less unlikely is the story that he exchanged pastoral staffs with Columba near the end of that saint's life. Feast: 13 January.

The best modern critical study is by K. H. Jackson, ‘The Sources for the Life of St Kentigern’ in N. K. Chadwick, Studies in the Early British Church (1958), pp. 273–357. The sources themselves are in A. P. Forbes, Lives of St Ninian and St Kentigern (1874; ‘The Historians of Scotland’, vol. V), in AA.SS. Ian II (1643), 98 ff. and N.L.A., ii. 114–27. See also: J. MacQueen, ‘Yvain, Ewen and Owein ap Urien’, Transactions of Dumfriesshire and Galloway Nat. Hist. and Antiq. Society, xxxiii (1956), 107 ff.; J. Carney, Studies in Early Irish Literature (1955) and J. W. James, A Vindication of St Kentigern's Connection with Llanelwy (pamphlet, Bangor, 1960).

Subjects: Christianity.


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