The Celtic Literature Collective

Fragment of the Life of S. Kentigern
Cott. Mss. Titus A xix f.76-80

Many regions indeed have I traversed, carefully investigating the manners of the same, and the devotions of their clergy and laity. I have found every land venerating its own provincial saints with appropriate and repeated heraldings of praise. But when at length I came to the kingdom of the Scotti, I found it very rich in the relics of saints, illustrious in its clergy, glorious in its princes. Nevertheless, in comparison with other kingdoms, it was still behind hand, slumbering in negligent sloth as regards the reverence for its saints. For verily when I noted in the wide domains of the saints the scantiness of the honour paid to their own, I took up my pen for the honour of the most holy confessor and bishop, Kentigernus, who, in comparison with others, glittereth like Lucifer among the stars; and just as Symeon, once a monk of Durham, wove together a history of his own Saint Cuthbert, so I, a cleric of S. Kentigern, at the instance of Herbert, the venerable Bishop of Glasgow, have, as best I might, devoutly composed a sort of a work from the material found in the little book of his virtues, and from the oral communication of the faithful made to myself.

Before proceeding, by the help of Christ, to describe the life and miracles of the most holy confessor and bishop Kentigern, it is fitting that I warn my readers at the outset to give credence to what is said, and to weigh rather the matter than the diction, and if by chance any of it should seem to them to be composed rudely, let them remember that proverb of the blessed Jerome where he saith, " Much better is it to say true things rudely, than to utter false things gracefully." Let them remember also that the kingdom of God standeth not in the richness of eloquence, but in the blossoming of faith. Nor let them despise the setting forth of things, in themselves useful and wrought not without the Divine help, on account of any uncouth names or words difficult to be understood by those who hear, or local designations, where barbarism, as I think, hath rendered rude the tongues of foreign tribes. But let all in common know this, that passing by for the sake of brevity many other things about the man of blessed memory which were worthy of being recollected, I shall commit to writing a few out of the very many, to avoid fatiguing my readers. And every one will faithfully be able to observe this who will give his attention to his miracles, which still appear throughout Cambria. To the arrangement of these instances, few as they are, which I now briefly attempt to weave together, I now by the help of God address myself.

Of the Cause of the Conception of S. Kentigern.
Of his Mother's Constancy in Tribulation.

Since God, who is ever wonderful in His saints, worketh in. marvellous wise, either by Himself or by them, whatsoever he disposeth, we shall faithfully to the faithful declare certain of the things wrought by the blessed Bishop Kentigern, as we have heard and know and understand. So a certain King Leudonus, a man half Pagan, from whom the province over which he ruled obtained the name of Leudonia in Northern Britannia, had a daughter under a stepmother, and the daughter's name was Thaney. Now this girl, so far as her faith, was concerned, being a Christian, after that the sound of the doctrine of the apostles was breathed into her ears, set herself most devoutly to learn what she could of the Christian rites. She constantly meditated upon the virginal honour and maternal blessedness of the most holy Virgin Mary, the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, and, revolving it in her mind, in her simplicity said, "O how glorious is the name of this honourable Virgin, and how gloriously is it praised by all people through the four quarters of the world; would that both in her virginity and in her bringing forth I could be made like unto her, for the honour and salvation of my nation in these northern parts." Verily by daily giving utterance to these things she weaned her mind and intellect from all evil desire, and for her honest devotion was deemed meet to conceive, but in another way than she willed; for what she willed could not be. But on account of the presumption of her vanity, and the forwardness of her vain-glory, she endured many and great sufferings. For she had for a suitor a most graceful young man, namely, Ewen, the son of Erwegende, sprung from a most noble stock of the Britons; yet neither by words, nor by gifts that expressed his love, could he in any wise incline the mind of the young virgin to marry him (in the Gestes of the Histories he is called Ewen, son of King Ulien), and the more she resisted the more ardently did his love burn. Now, when the king, the girl's father, after many kind words and gentle speeches, which he thought might incline her mind to the love of the young man, began to see that he was labouring to no purpose, he spoke to her harshly: "Either thou shalt be handed over to the care of a swineherd, or thou shalt please to be married to this young man. Choose now of these two which thou wishest." The king indeed said this, imagining that the mind of the girl might in this way be led to the love of the young man. Now, when she had the choice given her, she preferred to be a lowly servant in the house of the poor man, as a chaste virgin, than to live a great lady in the royal tents as one who was not. She, therefore, by choosing the service of the swineherd incurred the king's indignation and exceeding wrath. Now the swineherd showed all possible respect to the young woman, the charge of whom he had undertaken; for he was a chaste man, and secretly a Christian; and in truth, day by day, in the fields and at home, he taught her what he had learned from Christian teachers; for he had learned in Scocia from blessed Servanus, a sacred teacher of the faith, the doctrine of the law of Christ. This Servanus, in the primitive church of the Scotti, was the disciple of the venerable Palladius, the first bishop of the Scotti, who was sent in the year of the Incarnation 430, by Pope Celestine, as the first bishop to the Scots who believed. He found blessed Servanus in Albania before him, a Christian man, and after that he had sufficiently trained him in ecclesiastical learning, he made him his suffragan for the instruction of those whom he could not himself reach. Now Ewen, the suitor of the maiden, seeing that the venerated lady was despised by her father on account of his love for her, was exceedingly sad at heart, for he loved her much. Therefore, adopting a stealthy counsel, he secretly sent a woman to her to try if perhaps by flattering words and persevering suggestion he could lure to himself that love from her, now in miserable plight, which while she was in comfort he had found impossible. So coming very often to the girl, the woman would say, "Alas, that so illustrious a royal child should choose to undergo so vile a service." Now, when she found she could in no wise, by these words and others like unto them, excite love in response to his in the heart of the maid, she said to the young man, " It were easier to turn stones into wood, and wood into stones, than to recall the mind of this virgin from the folly she has adopted."

How S. Kentigern was conceived.

On hearing this, the young man, being inflamed with the fire of a natural love in his heart, said, with many anxious sighs, "If perchance I could touch the knot of the virginity of this girl, perhaps after that she would consent to me." The youth was beardless, and, dressed in female attire, as though he were the female servant of some master engaged in country work, he came frequently to the girl as she fed the herds of swine in the fields. One day starting up from a lurking-place, he found her sitting alone without any companion, beside the stream of a little fountain which flowed by the edge of a certain wood, whither she was wont to come frequently to drink and to wash her hands. The young man tenderly addressed her, and coaxed her with his words, saying, " Hail, virgin, royal child, fairest of girls, come with me, I pray thee, dearest sister, for I have made a bundle of dry wood, and I have no man to place it upon my shoulders. Anse then, and help me, that God, the rewarder of all goodness, may make thee happier in all thine undertakings. Moreover, I believe that if thou delay not to come with me thou wilt be for ever the more fortunate." This the young man said, thinking that by a chaste embrace he might raise her from the care of swine to a royal palace, and make her, instead of the keeper of hogs, a lady over knights. The gentle girl, moved by the speech which came from the lips of the young man, who desired much to possess her,—for in her innocence she believed every word,—straightway in her simplicity followed the youth, successful in his craftiness, whithersoever he willed to go. And when they had arrived at a place which suited his purpose, straightway tbe young man suddenly laid hold of the girl as if in play, and in a moment impregnated her, while she resisted the violence with all her might. The young man, straightway rising, esteemed her whom he had thought a virgin to be the concubine of the swineherd. And as his love accordingly cooled, he said to the girl, who was unable to speak for sobs and tears, "Weep not, my sister, for I have not known thee as a man is used to know a virgin. Am I not a woman like thyself? It is folly to cry for what is done in sport. Go in peace. It is in thy discretion to weep or to be silent."

Of the Simplicity of his Mother.

When therefore the young man retired, the virgin remained wretched and sorrowful, in doubt whether she was defiled or no; since she had heard from the youth, whom she thought to be a woman, that she had not been touched as a virgin is touched by a man, and chiefly because the tokens of her sex were then beginning to appear in her as in every woman at the conception of a child, so that she could not discern the certain sign of corruption, although she had suffered from pain in the flesh. For at such times the membranous structures are naturally relaxed, as well in virgins as in those bearing children, and thus the means of defilement always lie more nearly within reach. And because this was unknown to the young man, he went away deceived, when in return for the scorn which he had received at her hands he left her with the scorn turned back upon herself. Of this action therefore he took no account, until it was recalled to his memory a long time afterwards by S. Kentigern his son, as is written in the following pages. But the virgin, persevering in her first intention, was unwilling to reveal to any one what had taken place, so as the child grew in her womb, and yet the mother remained silent on the subject, it became in the end known to all that she was pregnant. And as she was in this condition, and moreover was ever calling on the name of Christ, her father ordered her to be stoned, according to the laws of her country, as a daughter who had played the whore, and broken the law of her fathers. For the law commanded at that time, that any noble woman caught in fornication was to be overwhelmed by stones; a slave-girl, with the sign of her wickedness branded on her face, was to be held in scorn by all


The pregnant girl having therefore been handed over to the executioners, there arose a dispute among them who should throw the first stone at her; but because none of the officers presumed to cast one at one'of the royal family, and yet dared not in any way neglect the judicial sentence, if such it might be called, they brought her to the top of a hill, which is called Kepduf, that, placed in a chariot and precipitated from the top of the hill, she might be consigned to a terrible death, and yet the agents therein should seem as if blameless of it. Now, when she stood in the presence of instant death, and recognised by Divine inspiration the cause of her misfortune, raising her eyes and her hands to heaven she exclaimed and said, "O most holy Virgin Mary, because in my folly I desired what is impossible, namely, to be compared unto thee, 'the like of whom never hath been and never will be,' I acknowledge that this punishment, which has been predestinated for me, is justly due. Now, therefore, with sighs and tears I implore thee, pray to thy Son, my Lord, that at least for the sake of the infant whom with undefiled mind, but overcome by the frailty of the flesh, I have conceived, He may in His mercy save me in the impending fall from the pains of death. For I believe, 0 most holy of the holy ones, my lady, queen not only mine, but most excelling queen over all, that whatsoever thou demandest from my Lord, thy Son, the king of all, is straightway granted without delay." Then in full faith, and signed with the sign of the life-giving cross, as she gave way in no wise to lust, although being over come by a man she conceived, so when violently cast down in the chariot from the top of the high mountain, she came down to its foot unhurt.

Of the Miracles that appeared in the Rock

Now the pregnant young woman, chaste and simple, finding herself saved from this terrible danger, and esteeming that she had been made fruitful as she previously desired by an angel of the Lord, gave thanks unto God, saying, "From the ends of the earth have I called unto Thee, O Lord; when my spirit was in heaviness from peril, and Thou heardest me from Thy holy hill. Therefore I will not fear the thousands of the people who compass me about, for thou hast holpen me and comforted me." So fully then, as is thus shown, was her heart fixed in the constancy of faith, and so entirely was she proved by virtuous action, that to her might be referred what is said in the scripture, " Who shall find a brave woman," etc. In the forementioned wonderful fall, other miracles came to be wrought to the praise of God. For when the waggon with the pregnant woman was cast down backwards by the hands of the executioners from the mountain, straightway turning round in running down the mountain the pole became fixed in the earth, and when this was drawn out a most limpid fountain straightway began to gush forth, which has not ceased to flow till the present day. Moreover the ruts of the two wheels in the hard flint still present a great miracle to the beholders. O wonder greatly to be admired, because the very soft wood was able to indent the hard stone like melted wax! Now they that stood by when they saw these miracles said that the girl with child deserved rather life and reverence than the sentence of death.

How she was left alone in the Sea.

Now the king was again greatly excited against her by those who administered his law, who imputed this miracle to the sleight of the magic art, and, in order that he might not appear to prefer his love for his daughter before the justice of his kingdom, said, " If she be worthy of life, let her be given over to the sea, and then her God will free her from peril of death if He so will." They brought her therefore to the firth, which is about three miles from Kepduf, to the mouth of a river which is called Aberlessic, that is the Mouth of Stench, for at that time there was such a quantity of fish caught there that it was a fatigue to men to carry off the multitude of fish cast from the boats upon the sand, and so great putrefaction arose from the fish which were left on the shore, where the sand was bound together with blood, that a smell of detestable nature used to drive away quickly those who approached the place. She then was accompanied to the sea-shore by many men and women weeping bitterly. Some said, "O what a dreadful judgment is this awarded by a father to his child! What hath the king's daughter done that she should undergo such deadly ills as these! It is cruelty to exact punishment twice for the same crime. Let the judge who maketh no distinction perish; he is entirely cruel." And as she was consigned to the waters, the voice of all who bewailed her was heard saying, "May the Lord Who delivered thee from death also free thee from peril in the waters!" And as the innocent woman consigned to death heard the voices of those who bemoaned her, she began to cry unto the Lord, saying, " Judge them, O Lord, that hurt me; fight thou against them that fight against me. Take the arms and the shield and come unto my help."

How her Father perished, cut off by Divine vengeance.

Meanwhile the king regarded the death of his daughter as nothing, unless the swineherd perished in a similar manner. He therefore pursued him, who fled with hasty steps. When he saw he could in no wise escape the king, he turned aside a little out of the way into a marshy place in hopes of saving his life. And when even there he found he could get no safe retreat, snatching up a javelin he transfixed the king, throwing it upon him from behind by means of a thong. But the friends of the king, in the place where he fell, erected in his memory a great royal stone, placing on the top of it a smaller one carved, which remaineth to this day at a distance of about a mile to the south of Mount Dumpelder. O how earnestly should the award of the just judge be announced to all men, in that what the king, without investigating the truth, had hastily inflicted on the innocent, himself received in his own person! Meanwhile, the mother of the blessed child, who even now within her womb was guiding her by divine inspiration, was put into a coracle, that is, a boat made of hides, and carried out into deep water beyond the Isle of May. And as that pregnant girl departed from the shore all the fish of that self-same coast attended her in procession as their mistress, and after the day of her departure the take of fish there ceased. And the river-mouth, so prolific in fish as mentioned above, because it received the child unjustly condemned, remaineth unproductive unto the present day; but the fish who followed her remain where she was abandoned. From that time until now the fish are found there in such great abundance, that from every shore of the sea, from England, Scotland, and even from Belgium and France, very many fishermen come for the sake of fishing, all of whom the Isle of May conveniently accommodateth in her ports. But the mother of the blessed child was left alone in the midst of the sea. She most devoutly committed the pure conscience, which she maintained, to God who made the heaven and the earth and all that is therein, Who keepeth truth and executeth judgment for those who suffer injuries. And when the morning dawned she was in safety cast on the sand at Collenros, which, according to sailors' computation, is thirty miles distant from the Isle of May in Scotland; but she suffered grievously from the pangs of travail.

The Birth of S. Kentigem.

But she, tortured with continual pain and with her cheeks suffused with tears, prayed, saying, "Lord Jesu, Almighty Father, Whose hands have made the sea and the dry land, and at Whose nod all the elements exist, Who hast caused me, though adjudged to death both on land and on sea, to land here in safety, suffer me not now to perish. For I know, I know assuredly, that for a short time impunity fostereth vice and promoteth boldness in sinning, while the correction of faults nourisheth virtue and showeth the ways of righteousness. Wherefore I implore Thee, O kind Father, that the punishment which I have twice already suffered may avail to the remission of all my sins; and if aught remain in me of which Thou art disposed to take vengeance, at least spare the innocent offspring which Thou hast willed should be formed within my womb, that in the ends of the earth Thy salvation may, through it, be greatly increased, as I desired before it was conceived. For it is I who have sinned; it in truth hath done nothing amiss." As she lay on the ground earnestly praying, suddenly a heap of ashes, which the day before had been gathered together by some shepherds close to the shore, was struck by a gust of the north wind, which scattered around her the sparks which lay hid within them. When therefore she had found the fire, the pregnant young woman, as best she could, dragged herself at once to the place indicated by God, and, in her extreme necessity, with anxious groans, she made a little heap with the wood which had been collected the day before by the aforesaid shepherds to prepare the fire. Having lighted the fire, she brought forth a son, the chamber of whose nativity was as rude as that of his conception, "For there was no room for him in the inn." O poverty, praiseworthy in the King, which repeated in his follower enriched him also. After she had brought forth her son, and a long sorrow seemed impending, it happened that some herds came to the spot, and when they found the girl having the boy, and bursting forth in sighs and tears and sobs, moved with compassion, some of them made up the fire, others gave her of the food they had brought with them; but others went straight to blessed Servanus, who at that time was teaching the Christian law to his clerks, with one accord, saying, "My Lord, thus and thus have we found."To whom the saint said, "A dia cur fir sin," which in Latin means "O utinam si sic esset!" And the youths replied, "Yea, father, it is a true tale, and no fable which we tell; wherefore we pray thee, my Lord, come and see, that thy desire may without delay be satisfied. And he also, when he had learnt the order of the events, rejoiced with great joy, and said, "Thanks be to God, for he shall be my dear one." For as the child was being born, when he was in his oratory after morning lauds, he had heard on high the Gloria in Fjxcelsis solemnly sung. He remembered, therefore, the joy of the angels and the visit of the shepherds to Bethlehem, even to the child Christ and His mother Mary, seeing that in some respect the birth of the servant had a similarity to that of the Lord, in the chant of the angels, and the visit of the shepherds, in the solitude of the place. Triumphantly, with his clerics, with a loud voice he sang the hymns of praise, Te Deum Laudamus and Gloria in Excelsis. "Come, therefore, dearest brethren, since thoughts cannot be subject to human condition, as they often affect the things which distress us as well as those which please us, I think, in the opinion of all the faithful, men should be exhorted not to presume to think that the conception of this blessed child hath contracted the taint of fornication. For it seemeth to me that the meeting of his father and mother excels in sanctity lawful marriage: seeing that it was the intention of the father to allure the mind of the virgin towards marriage with himself, while the devotion of the mother prompted her by preserving her virginity to avoid the society of men. From the agreement of both there proceedeth, in the case of others, an espousal, in their meeting lawful love abounded, and the virgin devotion was not destroyed, although the mother in conceiving suffered injury in the flesh, while she lost not her virginal devotion. Verily virginity is not lacking when the integrity of holy devotion abideth. Even in law she is not esteemed as defiled who yieldeth not assent to the defiler, but is regarded as a virgin. For when any handmaid of Christ suffereth injury in the flesh, she loseth not the reward of virginity, but it is reckoned to her as reward, as Lucy said to Paschatius: If thou makest me to be violated against my will, my chastity is doubled so far as gain is concerned. And aa the petition of the virgin could not be fulfilled without the male sex, on this wise did the conception of the blessed Kentigern take place. Therefore is this conception to be considered as holy, which was the means granted by God to her prayer. That union which the Lord predestined to happen is not to be imputed to sin; for was it not meet that the Lord should manifest in the course of events which attended the birth, how much He loved the vow of the virgin in adopting the son ? Be praise, therefore, to Him alone who governeth the world, who hath, among others, blessed our country Britain with such a patron."

Forbes, Alexander Penrose. Lives of S. Ninnian and S. Kentigern. Historians of Scotland, vol. V. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1874