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Holy Hierarch Kentigern (Mungo) of Strathclyde

Holy Hierarch Kentigern (Mungo) of Strathclyde, Bishop of Glasgow, Wonderworker

Commemorated: January 13/26

St Kentigern has been venerated for many centuries as one of the apostles of Scotland. He is best known in Scotland as Mungo, which means "darling", or "beloved one".

  The future saint was born in about 528 in Culross in Scotland. His mother was the holy princess Theneva. From his childhood St Kentigern became a disciple of St Serf, a great missionary among the Picts, who gave him the second pet name "Mungo". Young Kentigern began to live a very austere life and decided to become a missionary as well. He began to preach the Gospel in the Cathures region on the River Clyde, where the city of Glasgow now stands. The ascetic, following the Irish monastic tradition, fervently prayed day and night, kept a strict fast and lived in extreme poverty in a tiny cell, where he slept on a rock. With time, he was consecrated the first bishop of the Britons who lived in the small kingdom of Strathclyde. The bishop worked very energetically, developing his large diocese, building many churches and monasteries. He founded a church in Glasgow (its name means “Beloved green place”), which was later to become very famous. St Kentigern served in Strathclyde for 13 years, converting local people to Christ by his preaching and by example of his life.

   However, in 565 a strong pagan resistance began in that part of Scotland and Kentigern was exiled from the country. During the period of exile Kentigern worked for several years in Cumbria, in north-western England. Most of Cumbria comprises   the Lake District – a region of outstanding natural beauty with its numerous lakes, mountains, and breathtaking views. This land attracted many artists, writers and poets, for example, the great poet William Wordsworth and children’s author Beatrix Potter.  After Cumbria Kentigern travelled to Wales where he worked for some time with its patron - St David, and then founded a great monastery in Llanelwy in North Wales. The first Abbot of Llanelwy was Saint Asaph, so, with time, the town where the monastery was situated became known as St Asaph. It was recorded that 1,000 monks lived in this monastery at the same time.  

  Finally, under the new king of Strathclyde, who supported Christianity, Kentigern was allowed to return to Scotland. On his return, the saint laboured for some time in the place called Hoddom in the Galloway region in the south-west of the country; he founded a monastery there. Then he made Glasgow his main missionary centre and episcopal see. A large community of monks and disciples grew around the bishop. Wherever the preacher travelled, he always erected crosses and built churches. The town (later city) of Glasgow began to rise around the church, or the monastery, established by Kentigern, and it can be said that the present famous city owes its existence to this saint. In the 12th century a magnificent Cathedral of St Mungo appeared on the site of his original church.

  Kentigern was much loved and venerated by the people for his gift of working miracles. Once he miraculously lit a fire in St Serf's monastery, which had earlier gone out: he broke off several  frozen branches of a hazel tree, prayed over them and rekindled the fire. Another time he restored life to a tame robin of St Serf which had been killed by jealous people. The saint also miraculously helped the Queen of Strathclyde find her wedding ring that she had lost. The King accused her of unfaithfulness because of the loss and was going to execute her. But when the ring was found, through the prayers of St Kentigern, in the stomach of a salmon caught in the river, her innocence was proved.

  Kentigern, like many other Celtic saints, had his own bell; this bell used to ring by itself after someone’s death, calling on everybody to pray. A replica of his original bell, made in the 17th century, is kept in Glasgow Cathedral to this day. Over the many years of his life Kentigern devoted himself to the establishment of Christianity, monasticism and Church life in Scotland. The saint reposed in c.612 aged about 85.

His veneration began immediately after his death. Pilgrims from all over the country flocked to his relics, which were enshrined in Glasgow Cathedral till the Reformation. Now this ancient Cathedral is Presbyterian, but it is still dedicated to St Kentigern. The relics of St Kentigern lie in the tomb of the crypt of the Cathedral and are being visited by numerous pilgrims; and at the back of the crypt there is an ancient holy well, connected with the saint. All the parish churches in Scotland, which bear the name of St Kentigern, are officially dedicated to "St Mungo". Many of them are situated in the places where the saint preached or built chapels and churches.

  No fewer than nine churches in the north of England, particularly in Cumbria, are dedicated to St Kentigern. Thus, there are an ancient church and a holy well of St Mungo in the village of Caldbeck in this county. Water of another well of St Kentigern in Yorkshire is famous for healing of rickets. Many schools are named after Kentigern.

  Together with his mother St Theneva, St Kentigern is venerated as the patron-saint of Glasgow. He is also considered the enlightener of northwestern England and southwestern Scotland.

 The Glasgow’s coat of arms contains a depiction of St Kentigern and symbols of his four miracles (a bird, a bell, a tree and a salmon with a ring in its mouth). These symbols can be seen in many streets of the city and in the crest of University of Glasgow.

(c) Dmitry Lapa

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