September 2011-St. Ninian of Whithorn

St. Ninian of Whithorn The earliest account of him is in the 7th century writings of St. Bede, who states; “the southern Picts [Scots] received the true faith by the preaching of Bishop Ninian, 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 Ninian himself and many other saints rest in the body.”  

A  more complete account of his life was compiled in the 12th  century by St. Aelred the Cistercian Abbot of Rievaux in Yorkshire. His biography states that, “He was a Celt, born in southern Scotland in about 360, and is regarded as the first major preacher of the Gospel to the people living in Britain north of the Wall–that is, living outside the territory that had been under Roman rule.” He is said to have studied in Rome and was a contemporary with St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, and St. Augustine.

From his base at Galloway, Ninian preached throughout lowland Scotland.  He was a principal agent in preserving the tradition of the old Romano-British Church and forming the character of Celtic Christianity. Historians recognize that throughout lowland Scotland there are many churches and monastic settlements that bear his name, and are traditionally assumed to be congregations originally founded by him.

The monastery founded by St. Ninian at Whithorn became famous as a school of monasticism within a century of his death. His work among the southern Scots bore much fruit and paved the way for later missionaries such as St. Patrick and Sts. Columba and Kentigern. St. Ninian reposed in peace in Whithorn Abbey in 432 and he was buried in the church that he founded.  

Whithorn’s history as an Early Christian centre cannot be doubted. Archaeologists have uncovered clues from the earliest settlement in the 5th century. The people were trading and importing luxury goods from the Mediterranean and were working the land to produce food together. The Latinus Stone, which is the earliest Christian monument in Scotland shows that the community was Christian. Historically we do know that from the 7th century people have made a pilgrimage to visit the shrine of St Ninian in Whithorn believing in his power to cure illness and perform miracles. The town became a cult centre and over many centuries both kings and commoners made the journey and the fame of Ninian and Whithorn spread.

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