St Mary the Virgin, Holystone

To the visitor, Holystone, is a quiet Northumberland village, an idyll set in the foothills of the Cheviot.  It is difficult to imagine that it could be anything else but a haven, somewhere to find peace. If we go back in time to the nineteenth century, life here was somewhat busier. The population varied between 120 and 200 people. The community supported a tailor, butcher and cobbler. There was a doctor and a school with a resident headmistress until the school was closed 40 years ago.

Go back further to the sixteenth century, and Holystone was far from the sleepy hamlet that you see today. Then it was at the heart of the lawless Middle March, part of the disputed Border region made up of the East, Middle and Western Marches. This stretched from the East Coast to that of the West was ruled by the Border Reivers who would offer their services to either the King of Scotland or England, depending on which of them would pay the most; and if they were not fighting for either monarch, then they fought amongst themselves,  plundering and rustling as they went. Holystone, without the protection of the “king’s peace” which did not extend to the upper reaches of  the Coquet, was often the target of raids by border raiders “more fanged than wolves or bears”, so wrote the Royal Commissioners in 1541.


The Lady’s Well

There is no doubt that the original settlement here was due to the abundant supply of water from the two wells. St. Mungo’s Well to the southwest of the village, and northwest, the Lady’s or St. Ninian’s Well which is close to the Roman road from Redesdale to the Devil’s Causeway. It is possible that St. Ninian passed this way  and   reconsecrated  the well  for  Christian  use as there was already an established watering place set out in a rectangular form, if not by the Romans, then during the pre-Reformation period.  It remained as the source of water supply to the village until 1998, when, against the wishes of the residents, a mains supply was provided.

A plaque at the Lady’s Well asserts that on Easter Day 627, Paulinus baptised 3,000 people there. Uncertainty has shrouded this story as he was apparently at York at the time and the confusion lies in the translation of St. Bede’s writing which states that Paulinus baptised King Edwin on Easter Day 627 at St. Peter’s (St. Petri) church, York, as opposed to baptising at St. Petra – Holystone. The relevance of this and the connection with St. Ninian underlines the religious importance the Lady’s well has held over the centuries. It is still a place of pilgrimage and the Eucharist is celebrated at the altar there twice a year. As to the title “The Lady’s Well” there is no record of rededication from “St. Ninian” to “Lady”, though the canonesses of Holystone priory may have carried that out. On the other hand it might have arrived at the name simply because it was used by the “ladies” from the priory.

The hamlet got its name from the “holy stone”(St. Petra) which is reputed to be the one on which the statue of St. Paulinus stands at the head of the Lady’s well. On the other hand the historian Camden claims that it is a misprint for “St. Petri” (St. Peter) the argument he uses in the claim that St. Paulinus did baptise here on Easter Day 627.


The Church and Priory.

There is not a precise date for the first church to be built here but we do know that it was of Norman construction. Historically Holystone was the parish church, whilst Alwinton was referred to as the “chapel”.

Gilbert de Umfraville (Gilbert without a beard) the last of the family to hold the title of Earl of Angus gave the Advowson of Alwinton (the right to appoint a parish priest) to Holystone Priory. Again, in 1577, Holystone is accredited as the parish church and it is not until the mid 18th century that Alwinton takes on the role of a parish church. The fortunes or otherwise of the nuns at Holystone priory were the decisive factor in the standing of the church here.

The foundation charter of the priory was not preserved but we do know that it was an Augustinian house, the first of which to be established in England was in 1105 and in Scotland 1114. There exists a badly damaged petition, made by the nuns of Holystone to an unnamed English king in which they refer to “seven marks a year granted to them by Alexander formerly king.” If this were Alexander 1st of Scotland then the priory must have been founded between 1107-1124, making it one of the earliest in the country. Between its foundation and dissolution, the priory at Holystone became very influential before its decline; they had lands in Roxburgh, Newcastle, Harden, Caistron, Redesdale, Corsenside, Newminster, Wallington, Harbottle and Alwinton.

Edward 1st’s attempt to make himself lord of the whole of Britain resulted in war with Scotland (1296-1707) and devastation in the Border regions from which the nuns did not escape. In 1312 as a direct result of the burning and plundering of the priory they were reduced to a state of poverty and the Bishop of Durham granted to them the chapel of Harbottle to which they were inducted on the 7th February.

These were hard times and the records show that the prioress appealed against having to pay taxes, which they were unable to meet, and again Bishop Kellawe came to their rescue. It is not surprising that the only scandal attributed to this house should arise at this time when the Bishop writes to the Archdeacon of Northumberland telling him to suspend all proceedings against a certain nun of Holystone “for a lapse of the flesh with a certain lay person”.

From this point in time, there is a constant manoeuvring of tithes and appeals against  taxation  because  the nuns were unable to collect  the tithes  they were owed due to the constant border raids. At the same time their numbers gradually depleted until there were only seven nuns left from which the last Prioress, Alice Botecomb was elected in 1432. In time the remaining nuns were pensioned off and the nunnery dissolved in 1536.


The Present Church Building

To date, little is known concerning the Augustinian buildings of the priory, except that they were immediately to the south of the present church. At one time the foundations of cottages could be seen, grouped in the fashion which is very suggestive of an Augustinian priory. The land south of the church wall is a “site of historical importance”. That this is so is confirmed by the fact that the churchyard is entirely to the north of the church, an arrangement only found when monastic buildings are situated to the south.

Very little remains of the original Norman building, which was demolished by the Revd. Aislaby Proctor in 1848 and completely rebuilt using the same Durham architect George Pickering, that he was to employ at Alwinton  four years later. The dedication to “St. Mary the Virgin” who was patroness of the Augustinian priory is post reformation.

It is more than likely that the plan of the church was determined by that of the building used by the nuns, and which George Pickering was keen to preserve, hence its simplicity, which creates an atmosphere of peace and calm. The style of the choir, which along with the vestry and boiler house was added in 1848, is 12th century and the lower parts of the south wall are pre-Victorian.

The nave is built on the foundations of the priory choir and contains the most ancient points of interest. Starting with the north wall, here the lower parts are possibly late 12 century, whereas those of the south wall, and the sills of its middle and easternmost windows, are confirmed as “early” of the same century. The original stained glass windows were made by Wailes and Strang (1838-1860).

External points of interest include some Mediaeval gravestones (Knights Templar?) set into the south wall of the choir and also in the churchyard wall opposite the west door. To the right of the present west door is a doorway, blocked at some previous time which is all that remains of the former 12th century church.


The Church Building in More Recent Times

At the time of the change of millennium, people of the village showed a desire for some form of commemoration. It was decided that the one plain glass window on the north wall would be replaced with a stained glass window, in a style characteristic of the period, and depicting various aspects of the village and its surroundings. A design was produced by local artists Jan and Dawn Watson of Harbottle Grange. Following approval, the village people raised the necessary two thousand pounds to have the window produced. It was dedicated by the Archdeacon of Lindisfarne, the Ven. R. Langley on 17th  March 2002.

In the same year of the window’s dedication, a diocesan inspection of the church was carried out. The report caused great consternation, as the estimated cost of renovation was £23,000; a lot of money for a small village. Undeterred, a group of village people assembled, church goers and non-church goers, determined to see that their beautiful little historic church would stand to serve the village, the area, and visitors over the years ahead. Everybody in the village played a part organising collections, fund raising events, and whatever could be managed. In two successive years, the old Holystone Village Fair was brought to life again, and in only two years, the financial target had been reached.

Work started on the building in the spring of 2003. Inappropriate mortar used in the outside walls was removed and replaced with conventional lime mortar, defective timberwork was replaced, and the whole church was rewired. It was intended to replace the plasterwork in the nave, either in part or whole, as found necessary. On removing the old plaster, it was discovered that there were stone walls of immense character, particularly in the fan arrangement of stones over the windows. As a result, all the plaster was removed and the stonework repointed to show the walls as they were when built, in view for the first time since 1848. On completion of the work, there was a service of rededication, led by the archdeacon, Ven. R. Langley on 26th June 2005.


The Saints of Holystone

The name “Holystone” infers that the village must have some connection with the early Christian church. This is indeed so; various records confirm this. However, the records cover only a small part of what is required to confirm information about places, and virtually nothing about the saintly people allegedly connected with the village. We know that the foundations of the church are pre-Conquest; we know that there was a priory there, inhabited by Benedictine nuns. The biggest mystery surrounds the two wells in the village, and the names attached to them.

The better known of the two wells is The Lady’s Well, water from which was used to supply the village until recent years. In years gone by, in the 19th century or before, this was called Saint Ninian’s Well. Who changed the name and why is difficult to find – and why Saint Ninian – who was he?

Within The Lady’s Well is a cross, probably 19th century, bearing the inscription “IN THIS PLACE PAVLINUS THE BISHOP BAPTIZED THREE THOUSAND NORTHVMBRIANS – EASTER DCXXVII”. As a result of this the well has also been known as Saint Paulinus’ Well. Whether Saint Paulinus actually carried out his deed here in uncertain. It is claimed that he was in York at the time, although there is no reason why he should not travel to other places within his province from York while he was there. It is also difficult to imagine three thousand “locals” converging on Holystone from the surrounding area. They must have included the total population within thirty miles or so radius. However, this is not to state that the event did not happen. Once more, as with Saint Ninian, we may ask – who was Paulinus?

At the south side of the village is the second well, which carries the title “Saint Mungo’s Well”. We don’t know Saint Mungo’s connection with the village, but who was Saint Mungo?

It is well recorded that both Saint Ninian and Saint Mungo were based in Scotland, but at the time, where was Scotland, and where was Holystone in relation to Scotland? In Roman times, Hadrian’s Wall was the northern boundary of Maxima Caesariensis, with Valentia extending from there up to the Forth and Clyde. In Saxon times Northumbria in the east extended north to the Forth while Strathclyde in the west included Cumbria in its southern part. In present times, Holystone is less than ten miles from the Scottish border as the crow flies.

While it is not possible to present a connection of the saints with Holystone with any historical certainty, the following paragraphs may help to provide interesting information on them – Ninian, Paulinus and Mungo.


St. Ninian  (Ninias, Ninus, Dinan, Ringan, Ringen)  c.360-432AD

Most of the information we have about St Ninian comes from two main sources. One is from Saint Aelred (Ethelred) of Rievaulx (c.1110–1167AD) who was a Cistercian monk, abbot and historian in medieval Briton and France. The other is the Venerable Bede (673-735AD). The only other evidence is a poem called  ‘The Miracles of Bishop Ninian’, also written in the eighth century, along with a twelfth-century life written by Ailred of Rievaulx. We can be sure that Ninian flourished in the fifth century and was active in Southern Scotland.

Bede was an English scholar who wrote on early history and produced an encyclopaedia called the Ecclesiastical History of the English People which contained large excerpts from the writings of a man called Pliny the Elder  (23-79AD). Pliny was a Roman scholar whose major work consisted of 37 volumes and contained a summary of ancient knowledge. Pliny’s works were widely copied by later encyclopaedists. This has left the writings of Bede and Aelred open to question and debate. We have however, much to thank Bede for as he was reputedly the first to fix the date of events from the birth of Christ.

The earliest account of St. Ninian is in Bede (Hist. Eccles., III, 4): “the southern Picts received the true faith by the preaching of Bishop Ninias, a most reverend and holy man of the British nation, who had been regularly instructed at Rome in the faith and mysteries of the truth; whose episcopal see, named after St. Martin the Bishop, and famous for a church dedicated to him (wherein Ninias himself and many other saints rest in the body), is now in the possession of the English nation. The place belongs to the province of the Bernicians and is commonly called the White House [Candida Casa], because he there built a church of stone, which was not usual amongst the Britons.

St Ninian is often referred to as the apostle of the northern Britons and Picts, and was the first Apostle of Christianity in Scotland. The traditional story is that he was born either in Cumbria or Galloway but went to Rome as a young man to study Christianity. His manner and eagerness to learn brought him to the notice of the Pope, St Damasus, who decided to train the young man. After St Damasus died, his successor, St Siricus, consecrated St Ninian a Bishop and commissioned him to return to Britain to preach the Catholic faith.

The Lady’s, or St. Ninian’s Well

Travelling back to Britain through France he heard of the great work being done by St Martin de Tours (c. 316 – 397AD) at his abbey in Marmoutiers. St Ninian stayed at the abbey for some time and was encouraged and helped in his work by St Martin who became his friend and left a lasting impression on him. St Ninian returned to Scotland to begin an evangelical mission there. With the help of masons from St. Martin’s Monastery in Tours he began to build his church. The first church he built in Scotland (c.397AD) was the first Christian settlement north of Hadrian’s wall, and it was said to be a whitewashed stone building (most churches of this time were wooden), which could be easily seen. He named it Candida Casa (The White House), and in the language of that time it became known as Whithorn. St. Aelred, taking references from Bede in the twelfth century  states that while engaged in building his church at Candida Casa, Ninian heard of the death of St. Martin and decided to dedicate the building to him. St. Martin died about 397, so that the mission of Ninian to the southern Picts must have begun towards the end of the fourth century. During recent archaeological excavations, the remains of a white plastered wall were found which could possibly be from this first church. St Ninian used this church for his base and from it he and his monks travelled to preach to the neighbouring Britons and the Picts. He was known for his miracles, among them curing a Chieftain of blindness, and these led to many conversions. Following St Ninian’s death, the missionary foundation he helped to create, allowed Christianity to grow in strength and survive in Scotland.

A Cathedral was built to house the Saints remains and his church and shrine became a centre of pilgrimage. His shrine at Whithorn has seen many pilgrims; King James IV of Scotland, was said to be a regular visitor. Today the Cathedral is in ruins, but pilgrimages are still made to Whithorn and St Ninian’s cave, to which it is said he retired when he needed peace to meditate and pray.

There is little doubt that St Ninian carried out his mission in Scotland, although there is some confusion about the areas which he visited. It is quite possible that he visited Holystone; it is difficult to state exactly what “Scotland” was in his day. The evidence of his influence survives in the large number of churches dedicated to him throughout Scotland and in several locations in what is now northern England. No written sources give any connection between Ninian and Cumbria, although it can be guessed that after the Romans left, any mission in Britain to the lands north of Hadrian’s Wall could have set out from Carlisle. Claims for Ninian’s activity in our area rest on the name Ninekirks for the old church at Brougham, and the dedication of a holy well at Ninewells by Brampton Old Church (which, like Whithorn, is dedicated to St Martin); there is also a St Ninian’s well at Brisco near Carlisle. The earliest surviving records of these three names, however, are of a much later date: 1583, 1704 and c. 1839 respectively. Even the dedication of Ninekirks is in doubt. The medieval dedication may have been to St Wilfrid. Eighth-century metalwork has been found at Brougham, but there are no remains at Brampton earlier than the twelfth.

St. Ninian’s Cross

In later life St. Ninian undertook a journey northwards along the east coast in order to spread Christianity among the southernPicts. The word southern is almost certainly a misnomer based on the maps of early times which mistakenly show the east coast of Scotland as if it were the south coast. Placename evidence and local tradition seems to show that he may have travelled as far as the Shetland Islands. After his trip, he returned to his base and from there, trained many missionaries, among whom, it is said, was the man who converted Saint Columba. His work among the southern Picts seems to have had but a short lived success. St. Patrick, in his epistle to Coroticus, calls the Picts “apostates”, and references to Ninian’s converts having abandoned Christianity are found in Saints Columba and Kentigern. While the body of St. Ninian is known to be buried in the church at Whithorn (Wigtownshire), no relics are known to exist. The “Clogrinny”, or bell of St. Ringan, of very rough workmanship, is in the Antiquarian Museum at Edinburgh.

Saint Ninian’s day of commemoration is 18th September.

Saint Paulinus of York

Archbishop of York, died at Rochester, 10 October, 644.

Paulinus of York should not be confused with Paulinus of Nola, who lived 200 years earlier. There were also saints of the same name associated with Sinigaglia, Cologne, Capua, Leon, Trier and Wales.

In the middle of the fifth century the pagan Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain, driving the Christian Britons north and west into Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. In 597 a band of monks headed by Augustine of Canterbury (feast 26 May – not to be confused with Augustine of Hippo), sent by Pope Saint Gregory I, arrived in south eastern England, in the kingdom of Kent, and began to evangelize the people there, with considerable success, his stay in that area lasting 24 years.

In 601 a second group of monks arrived, including Paulinus (born around 584). He was a Roman monk in St. Andrew’s monastery at Rome, and was sent by St. Gregory the Great in 601, with St. Mellitus, St. Justus and others, to help St. Augustine and to carry the pallium ( a vestment worn by the Pope and archbishops) to him. He laboured in Kent – with the possible exception of a mission to East Anglia before 616 – until 625.

Sometime after 616, Edwin, the pagan king of Northumbria, which at the time was the region north of the Humber river – roughly the northern quarter of England, asked for the hand in marriage of Ethelburga, the sister of the king of Kent. He was told that a Christian princess could not marry a pagan, but he promised that she would be free to practice her religion, and that he would listen to Christian preachers, and seriously consider becoming a Christian himself. At this Ethelburga agreed to marry him, and went north in 625, taking with her as chaplain the monk Paulinus, who was consecrated bishop by St. Justus, Archbishop of Canterbury for the purpose.

Edwin heard the preaching of Paulinus for many months, and finally consulted his advisors. Coifi, the high priest of the pagan religion, advised adopting Christianity, since he said that the pagan religion had not proved satisfactory. Another nobleman agreed, saying: “Life is like a banquet hall. Inside is light and fire and warmth and feasting, but outside it is cold and dark. A sparrow flies in through a window at one end, flies the length of the hall, and out through a window at the other end. That is what life is like. At birth we emerge from the unknown, and for a brief while we are here on this earth, with a fair amount of comfort and happiness. But then we fly out the window at the other end, into the cold and dark and unknown future. If the new religion can lighten that darkness for us, then let us follow it.”

The other elders and counselors of the king gave similar advice, and so on Easter Eve, 12th April 627 the king and many of his chief men were baptized.(A much less reliable source, the Welsh Nennius, ascribes Edwin’s baptism to a Welsh priest.)

During the last year’s of Edwin’s reign, there was such peace and order in his dominions that a proverb arose: A woman could carry her newborn baby across the island from sea to sea and suffer no harm (Bede). But the peace did not last for long.   Other conversions followed, and the Church in Northumbria flourished. His work in instructing and baptizing the people of the north country were unceasing, and tradition recalls his ministry at Yeavering, Catterick Bridge, Dewsbury, Easingwold, Southwell, and elsewhere, while his own name is preserved in the village of Pallingsburn in Northumbria. Paulinus and his assistants baptized thousands, who followed their king into Christianity. One who was baptised by Paulinus was Saint Hilda, Abbess at Whitby in 627. However, six years later, King Edwin was defeated and killed by Cadwallon of Wales and Penda of Mercia at the battle of Hatfield Chase. Paulinus left his deacon James in charge of what remained of the Church there, with missionary work virtually impossible, took Queen Ethelburga, her two children, and Edwin’s grandson Osfrid back to Kent by ship and devoted himself to the Diocese of Rochester, which was then vacant.

It was after his flight that he received thepallium from Pope Saint Honorius I in Rome (634), sending him to be Archbishop of York, where he began to build a stone church, but before the letter arrived the first missionary efforts in Northumbria had ended.. Though Anglican writers have disagreed among themselves as to whether he was justified in leaving his archbishopric, Catholic writers, following St. Bede, have held that he had no choice and was the best judge of what was advisable under the circumstances. The elderly Paulinus was appointed bishop of Rochester, a post which he held for ten years till his death on 10 October 644. St. Bede describes him as tall and thin, with a slightly stooping figure; he had black hair and an aquiline nose and was of venerable and awe-inspiring aspect. He was buried in his church at Rochester, and, on the rebuilding of the cathedral, his relics were moved by Archbishop Lanfranc to a silver shrine where they lay until the Reformation.

His festival is observed in England on 10 Oct., the anniversary of his death.

Saint Mungo (Saint Kentigern)

St Mungo was one of the most important characters in the Church in Britain in the 6th and early 7th centuries. He was active in what is now central and southern Scotland, northern England and Wales, founding both Glasgow (he is its patron) and St Asaph’s. He supposedly knew St David of Wales, possibly St Columba, and was even supposed to be related to King Arthur, apparently being his great-nephew.

The surviving written material relating to him dates only from the 12th century, and it is difficult to determine what is fact and what is fiction. There are two accounts of his life, one by a monk called Jocelin of Furness, and an another, possibly earlier, which is anonymous and incomplete. There are, however, numerous references to him in early mediaeval Arthurian chronicles, as well as in the Welsh Troiads and the Welsh Annals. Moreover, many of the oldest churches in the north-west of England are dedicated to him, indicating his activity in the area.

St. Mungo lived in Scotland in the sixth century. During the fifth century, the Roman legions that had occupied Britain for four and a half centuries went back to Rome. The British drifted into minor kingdoms from which they defended themselves, both against invaders and also their neighbours. Mungo was born during a twenty-year peace brought about by the legendary King Arthur. But his arrival was anything but calm for his unmarried teenage mother.

We are told in the accounts that he was the son of Tannoc, or Tenew (later venerated as St Tenew), daughter of King Llew or Loth, after which Lothian was named. Mungo’s father is variously put either as Owain, son of Urien, the Prince of Rheged, or as Urien himself, who was Loth’s brother. According to Jocelin of Furness, Tenew had an affair (he says with her cousin, Owain). However, there is a problem accepting Owain, who later turns up in mediaeval Arthurian literature as a knight, as the father; Mungo, who died a very old man on 13th January 613, must have been born before 550. From the rough dates we can work out about the life of Owain (he died c.593), he was probably born about much the same time as Mungo. Given a choice of fathers, it seems much more logical to accept Urien of Rheged, whose principality covered present-day Cumbria and Dumfriesshire, as the father of Mungo.

When her father found that she was pregnant, he was obliged to follow the law of the times, which was that sex outside marriage was a capital offence, and kill her. (Jocelin says that Loth was pagan, but all the Arthur stories point to Loth being Christian). He decided to throw her off Traprain Law, a large hill outside Edinburgh and which at the time was still used a fortified settlement. However, she survived the fall. That apparently was not enough for Loth or his subjects, who were in two minds as to whether she might be a witch. So she was then cast adrift in the North Sea in a coracle. The vessel drifted to the coast of Fife, landing at Culross, where St Serf ran a religious establishment. There, on the beach, she gave birth to Mungo, or Kentigern as his proper name is. (Mungo is the nickname given by St Serf, but there is debate as to what it means. Some say “My Hound”, others “my dear heart”. Kentigern means “Chief Lord”.) Needless to say mother and child were discovered by St Serf and housed in his establishment; there Mungo was brought up and educated.

At the age of twenty-five we find Kentigern (the name means “head chief”, but he was popularly known as Mungo – in Cymric, Mwyn-gu, or “dear one”), beginning his missionary labours at Cathures, on the Clyde, the site of modern Glasgow. The Christian King of Strathclyde, Roderick Hael, welcomed the saint, and procured his consecration as bishop, which took place about 540. For some thirteen years he worked in the district, living a most austere life in a cell at the confluence of the Clyde and the Molendinar, and making many converts by his holy example and his preaching. A large community grew up around him, became known as “Clasgu” (meaning the “dear family”) and ultimately grew into the town and city of Glasgow.

The next point in the story is Mungo’s election as a bishop. Jocelin tells us that he was Bishop of the whole of the Kingdom of the North Britons and that he established his See in Glasgow. In fact this did not happen at this point, and Jocelin (who was writing his story at the command of the then Bishop of Glasgow (also called Jocelin) is merely being one-sided in his views. Tradition relates that Mungo’s base at this early period was at Hoddom in Dumfriesshire, which was within the principality of Rheged, and where the foundations of a 6th-century stone church was recently discovered during gravel excavations (scandalously, the foundations were demolished). It would seem therefore that Mungo’s first position in the church was to the inhabitants of his father’s and grandfather’s territory. There is nothing unusual in this. It was normal throughout the western Christian world at this period (and for a long time to come) for senior clergy to be part of the ruling establishment. Few, apart from ruling families and those around them, were able to have their children educated (and education was a Church preserve). Many younger offspring and presumably illegitimate offspring inevitably entered its service. Equally inevitably, these were the people who were then chosen as bishops, abbots and abbesses. Columba, for example, was a royal prince. So too were many of the other Celtic saints – and Anglo-Saxon ones as well. What we are seeing in Mungo’s case is the illegitimate son’s reconciliation with his family.

Mungo’s life was not particularly spectacular, although it is recorded that he did recite the entire book of Psalms every day. By the time he had reached his mid-twenties the only bishop in Scotland had been murdered, and Mungo reluctantly agreed to become bishop of Strathclyde. The death of King Arthur in a fierce battle with Prince Mordred (possibly Tannoc’s brother) had touched off  more than a century of more warring. Morcant Bulc, a local petty king who was no friend of Christians in general or of Mungo in particular, arrived to visit the new bishop. He had unseated Mungo’s paternal grandfather in the north and was boasting in front of the the bishop as being the new king of Strathclyde. Riding with him was a young man named Caten, Mungo’s cousin, who brought his horse alongside Mungo, kicked him in the chest with his stirrup, and shouted, “Bastard bishop!”

About 553 a strong anti-Christian movement in Strathclyde forced Kentigern to leave the district, and he travelled south, staying for a time with St. David now St. Asaph’s, of which he appointed the holy monk Asaph superior in succession to himself.

He went  first into the southern part of Rheged, into what is now Cumbria, where there are now many churches dedicated to him, and then to what is now Wales. There, after meeting with St David at Menevia, and afterwards founding a large monastery at Llanelwy, he was asked by a ruler in north Wales to act as bishop to his own people. Like most bishops of the period, he set up a religious settlement away from the power centre, where clergy could be trained and others taught. This was at St Asaph’s, one of the Welsh sees. St Asaph was in fact Mungo’s assistant there (and his successor when he left). The result was Mungo’s second episcopate.

On his way to Wales and exile, Mungo was obliged to approach Prince Urien, his paternal uncle, to cross his territory and work among the pagans of the Lake District. The two became fast friends and Mungo spent several years in the region, travelling daily from well to well as the town crier, giving out news and the Gospel. His influence spread as bitter rivalries were resolved at the wells, thieves returned loot and feuding neighbours were reconciled.

In the north of Britain in 573, Morken was overthrown by Redderech, who was either the ruler of Dumbarton or had had a claim to the throne of Dumbarton. In taking over Morken’s realm, he created a new and powerful kingdom, known subsequently as the Kingdom of Strathclyde, which stretched from the top of Loch Lomond to the borders of present-day Cheshire. Redderech asked Mungo to return, accompanied by many of his Welsh disciples. This he did, first going back to Hoddom in Dumfriesshire, evangelising the districts of Galloway and Cumberland, but then further north to the real seat of power, Dumbarton. This was his third episcopate.

However, although Dumbarton was the official capital, peace meant that royal residences could operate outside the confines of an armed camp. Redderech and his wife Queen Languoreth (who may well have been the model for the Gwenevere of the mediaeval Arthurian writers) had palaces at Govan and at Rutherglen, now both parts of Glasgow. As bishop, in 581 Mungo was given his own estate in which to establish a religious and educational community, where he was visited by St. Columba, who was at that time labouring in Strathtay.  This was done on the site of what is now Glasgow Cathedral. As such, this makes Mungo founder of Glasgow.

Mungo was a missionary bishop who travelled extensively, but he always felt that a missionary offensive from the south of England was necessary to convert the island to Christianity once and for all. To this end in 590, he went to Rome to visit Pope Pelagius II, who agreed to send his prefect Gregory and others of his best to Britain. Just as the crew was to reach land, word came to them that Pelagius lay dying and Gregory was to succeed him. For the time being the mission was abandoned. But Gregory would make good on his intent. Before the end of the century, St. Augustine of Canterbury would land in Kent with forty missionaries. Mungo would never be in the ranks of the pioneer missionaries – he was brought up and lived his entire life in a predominantly Christian milieu. Lothian, Rheged, Wales, Strathclyde had been Christian long before he was born. At Govan, where Redderech and Languoreth lived, there has been a church since the 6th century, dedicated to St Constantine (not the Roman emperor) who had been a ruler in the area in the early 6th century. Dumbarton had had a Christian ruler, one Corotech, at the time of St Patrick, a good century earlier; (Patrick wrote to him, denouncing him for capturing and enslaving Irish Christians whom he had baptised, the inference being that this was not acceptable practice for a Christian.)

While there was good news of the church in the south, a pagan army stood on the brink of taking Scotland again and undoing all the work of St. Mungo’s lifetime. But he would know little of it. His last days were lived quietly in his parish in Glasgow. On January 13, 603, the eighty-five-year-old Mungo had a keen urge for a hot bath. When he was lowered into the warm water he muttered his last few phrases, “My children, love one another; be hospitable; keep the laws of the church”. Following this, he “yielded up his spirit”.

He was buried on the spot where now stands the beautiful cathedral dedicated in his honour. His remains are said still to rest in the crypt. His festival is kept throughout Scotland on January 13th.



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