Wednesday, September 16, 2009


It is very fitting that the first full day of the Forward in Faith Scotland Conference should fall on the Feast of St Ninian. A bishop and confessor, his date of birth is unknown. But he is revered as the first Apostle of Christianity in Scotland. He died around 432. The earliest account of his ministry is a very short passage in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History:

"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". (III, 4)

The facts given in this passage form practically all we know of St. Ninian's life and work. In the twelfth century, St. Ælred compiled a life of St Ninian which is usually regarded as mingling legend with fact. From it we learn 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. Now, St Martin died about 397, so that helps us to locate St Ninian's mission to the southern Picts towards the end of the fourth century. We also learn that while St Ninian founded at Whithorn a monastery which became famous as a school of monasticism within a century of his death, his work among the southern Picts seems to have had but a short-lived success.

St Patrick, in his epistle to Coroticus, terms the Picts "apostates", and references to Ninian's converts having abandoned Christianity are found in Sts Columba and Kentigern. The body of St Ninian was buried in the church at Whithorn (Wigtownshire), but no relics are now known to exist. The "Clogrinny", or bell of St Ringan, of very rough workmanship, is in the Antiquarian Museum at Edinburgh.
(The above was adapted from The Catholic Encyclopaedia)

Morning Prayer today included this Office Hymn, which was enthusiastically sung to the tune “Moscow”:

Ninian of Galloway,
Homage we fondly pay
And tribute bring;
Saint by our church proclaimed,
Scotland's apostle named,
Thy praise we sing to thee,
Thy praise we sing.

Born of our Scottish race,
God led thee forth by grace
To find in Rome
That pearl so richly priced,
That faultless creed of Christ,
And bear it safely home,
And bear it home.

Softly the Christian mourn
Dawned o'er the lone Whithorn
Like kindly sun;
Nobly thy loyal band,
Led by thy sure command,
Our kingdom won for Christ,
Our kingdom won.

Where once thy footsteps trod,
Unquenched, the fires of God
Await thy hand;
Renew thy fervent care.
Tender to God thy prayer
To bless our native land,
To bless our land.


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