Saint Kentigern, founder of Glasgow, died on the 13th of January in the year AD603.
Here’s another guy with a shed load of names. He is variously known in Scotland and wider church circles as St. Kentigern or St. Mungo, and in Wales or Welsh as ‘Mwyn-gu’ or ‘Munghu’ (‘dear one’ in Cymric or Brythonic) or ‘Cynderyn Garthwys’, and by his mother as “my dear beloved son” – probably. St. Mungo’s mum features prominently in his early story, beyond the obvious reasons. According to the 1185 ‘Life of Kentigern’ by Jocelyn of Furness, the saint was born illegitimate at Culross in Fife in about AD518. His mum was called Thenaw (Thenew or Enoch) and was a daughter of a King of the Britons, called Lothus, from whom the province of Lothian derives its name. Mungo’s dad’s name is unknown, but in his book, ‘Druid Sacrifice’, Nigel Tranter has Mungo’s mum, Thanea, be the christian daughter of the 6th Century pagan King Loth of the Gododdin of Lodonia, niece to King Arthur, sister to Gawain ap Urien, and giving birth to Kentigern after being raped by Prince Owen ap Urien of Rheged, a man she had refused to marry.
In a tale written as only Tranter knows how. Thanea and the unborn Mungo are set adrift in a coracle with no oars and end up being washed up on the shores of Fife, where they are rescued by Saint Serf. Tranter didn’t make up the story about St. Serf, because it is oft repeated elsewhere that Mungo was brought up by St. Serf (or Servanus) at his monastery until he had reached manhood. But a perusal of Skene shows that the connection between the two saints involves an anachronism, as St. Serf didn’t arrive on the scene until the 7th Century, after Mungo’s death. Nevertheless, Mungo did grow up in a christian community of the Celtic Church at a time when most folks were pagans. Perhaps because there was some truth in the story of the fortunate, if not miraculous, rescue of his mother, Mungo became quite devout. As he grew up, his fellow pupils became jealous of him and, not unusually, even unto these enlightened days, he was picked on for being different. Eventually, he had enough and ran away to form his own religious community. You couldn’t really accuse him of petulance in the sense of, “He’s my god and I’m going alone!” but Mungo certainly appears to have been a single minded and determined kind of guy.
Mungo was also saintly and kind and, for a country full of pagans, he kept bumping into the odd saint, now and again, such as old St. Fergus of Kernach. It must’ve been a gey bump, for the aged monk upped and died. Nothing loth, Mungo hoisted the body onto a cart and yoked up a couple of wild bulls, then solemnly commanded them to “take him to the Lord.” Whereupon, the bulls (oxen) pitched up with the cart at a place called Cathures, which is where Mungo buried him and did the honours over his grave. That was round about the time Mungo was twenty-two and it’s about then he began to be called by his given name of Kentigern (meaning ‘head chief’ – not head chef!). He began his self-appointed missionary task at this Cathures on the Clyde and was welcomed, initially, by Roderick Hael, the christian King of Strathclyde. Roderick was christian enough to procure Kentigern’s consecration as a Bishop, which happy event occurred around AD540. So, for the next thirteen years or so, Kentigern lived an idyllic, albeit austere, life in a monastic cell at the confluence of the River Clyde and the Molendinar Burn. He laboured at converting the pagan locals and achieved much by his holy example and preaching. Over time, a large community of followers grew up around Mungo/Kentigern and the place began to be referred to as ‘Glasgu’ (‘dear family’) – ultimately corrupted to Glasgow, of course, but then you were way ahead.
Kentigern wandered near and far to bring the gospel of the lord to anyone who could be made to listen and from time to time, he got as far Hoddom, in Galloway, and the neighbouring Kingdom of Strathclyde, which included the area known as Cumbria. Around about AD553, Kentigern emigrated to Clwyd in North Wales in the face of opposition from a strong anti-Christian movement in Strathclyde. In Wales, he bumped into another saint, St. David, whom he met at Menevia. On the basis that he was going to be in Wales for some time, Kentigern (or ‘Cynderyn’) founded a monastery at Llanelwy, which, incidentally, is now Saint Asaph’s, because Mungo appointed Asaph to be his successor as ‘Superior’.
Unlike the warlike Columba, Kentigern was a truly peaceable bloke and didn’t stick around in Strathclyde and Galloway to fight his christian corner. But, in AD573, after the Battle of Arthuret, the christian cause was rekindled in Cumbria and Kentigern and his ‘disciples’ were invited back, by his former mentor, King Roderick. Instead of ‘Glasgu’, Kentigern settled his ‘see’ at Hoddam and spent the next eight years or so evangelising through the local districts and even down into Cumberland. Legend has it that on his travels (or travails) at that time, Kentigern encountered Merlin – either King Arthurs’ legendary Wizard or the historical ‘Myrddin Wyllt’ (or ‘Lailoken’) of ‘Peartnach’ (Partick) – but either way, he is said to have been converted and baptised by Kentigern shortly before his (Merlin’s) death, which he had self-prophesised.
Ultimately, however, Kentigern returned to ‘Glasgu’ in about AD581 and, a couple of years later, he bumped into yet another saint. On that occasion, it was quite a saint to bump into; no less a personage than the venerable Columba. According to legend, or the Catholic Encyclopaedia, the two saints, by now quite old in years and surely (or surly) candidates for ‘grumpy old man of the year’, “embraced and held long converse, and exchanged their pastoral staves.” Kentigern died on the 13th of January, AD603 and he was buried on the spot where the cathedral dedicated to his memory now stands in Glasgow. His remains are said to rest in the crypt.