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Orthodox Christian Missions

St. Ninian: Apostle to the Southern Picts

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St NinianCommemorated September 16

Very little is know about St. Ninian. What follows is a good summery of the information taken from Fr. Peter-Michael Preble’s blog.

Bishop and confessor; date of birth unknown; died about 432; the first Apostle of Christianity in Scotland. The earliest account of him is in Bede (Hist. Eccles., III, 4): “the southern Picts received the true faith by the preaching of Bishop Ninias, a most reverend and holy man of the British nation, who bad 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”. The facts given in this passage form practically all we know of St. Ninian’s life and work.

The most important later life, compiled in the twelfth century by St. Ælred, professes to give a detailed account founded on Bede and also on a “liber de vita et miraculis eius” (sc. Niniani) “barbarice scriptus”, but the legendary element is largely evident. He states, however, 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 the mission of Ninian to the southern Picts must have begun towards the end of the fourth century. 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.

Lastly, a Western hymn to St. Ninian, which I found here.

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.


Written by Stephen

September 16, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Posted in European Saints, Saints

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