Home > Christian History > Celtic Christianity – in the Footsteps of St Kentigern (or St Mungo)

Celtic Christianity – in the Footsteps of St Kentigern (or St Mungo)

I lived in the North of England for 15 years. As a southerner, and therefore an ‘incomer’, it took a while for it to fully sink in that the northern counties of England were Christianised very early on in our island history. Monks, mainly from Ireland, had sailed across and planted Monasteries and Churches from Galloway in southern Scotland to Lindisfarne in Northumbria. This was not the Rome-centric Christian faith but the more vigorous and earthier Celtic form.

It’s a hugely thrilling and inspiring story which has impacted on many aspects of the Northern landscape.  I returned south 15 years later with a much greater appreciation of the mystery and beauty of a Celtic faith that is anchored so very securely in the ‘here and now’. It certainly strengthened my experience of God and I remain very grateful for the experience.

In my opinion, the best exponent of Celtic Spirituality is David Adam (his books published mainly by the SPCK).

You cannot live in these Northern counties very long before you come across the name of ‘Mungo’; usually as a place name (as in Mungrisdale in the Lake District) but more often as the founding name of a Church. I started to look into the story of this 6th century Saint … and what a story it is! Much of what we know of his life comes from Jocelyn, a monk at Furness Abbey, writing his hagiography in around 1180AD.

Mungo was an early Saint – to give him his baptismal name, Kentigern – who literally evangelised his way across Scotland, England and Wales. There are places (notably Glasgow, Cumbria and St Asaph) in all three countries of the UK which have an association with St Mungo.

Kentigern was born in 516AD at Culross on the northern shore of the Firth of Forth. He was almost certainly of royal blood but illegitimate. His father was a King of Rheged and his grandfather was King Loth (hence the name, Lothian). Kentigern was brought up in the Culross monastery and grew to become a godly man. As with St Cuthbert, we have several accounts of his miracles. At age 20, he left the monastery (due to certain petty jealousies) and travelled south on a missionary journey to Glasgow. He was obviously successful as he was consecrated very early on as the first Bishop of Strathclyde, conducting evangelistic trips into Aberdeenshire. He always travelled on foot, becoming known as St Mungo (meaning one dearly beloved).

Due to persecution which arose in Scotland, Kentigern moved south to Carlisle. From there he continued his work preaching to the people of Cumbria and founding a number of Churches across the county (Mungrisdale 550AD, Keswick 553AD). St Mungo then travelled as far south as North Wales where he met St David and founded a Christian community, St Asaph after one of his disciples. When Christianity (in the form of a local King near Penrith) took back control in Cumbria following the battle of Arderydd in 573AD, Kentigern was asked to return from Wales and he did so, travelling back via Cumbria to Scotland.

Kentigern revisited some of the Churches he had established on his way south; Great Crosthwaite (near Keswick), Mungrisdale (St Mungo’s Dale), Castle Sowerby, Caldbeck and Aspatria. All of these places continue to have their dedication to St Mungo.

Kentigern’s (St Mungo) Saints day is the 13 January.  He is rightly remembered as the ‘Apostle of North West England and South West Scotland’. The City of Glasgow’s 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 St Mungo’s original call to “Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the word”.

Along the way, St Mungo had many run-ins with the Druids but he lived to a good old age dying in his eighties, in either 603AD or 612AD (depending on your source!).

For a very good account of Kentigern’s life, see Shirley Toulson’s book ‘Celtic Journeys’ (Fount 1995) – now OP.

Advertisements
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: