Saint Ninian

St. Ninian Bishop of Whithorn (Nynia, Ninnidh)

Apostle to the Picts, Abbot of Candida Casa (White House) Monastery, Bishop of Whithorn

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. Aelred, 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.

The Life of St Ninian by Aelred, Abbot of Rievaux can be read at: http://www.uk-christian.net/boc/ninian.htm

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 (Ninian), of very rough workmanship, is in the Antiquarian Museum at Edinburgh.

Extracted from http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11084a.htm

Another Life of St. Ninian of Galloway, Bishop, Missionary to Scotland

(Nynia, Ninias, Rigna, Trignan, Ninnidh, Ringan, Ninus, Dinan)

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 (note that he is contemporary with Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine), but was chiefly influenced by his friendship with Martin of Tours, with whom he spent some considerable time when he was returning from Italy to Britain.

It is probable that he named his headquarters in Galloway after Martin’s foundation in Gall. Martin had a monastery known as LOCO TEIAC, a latinised form of the Celtic LEUG TIGIAC. LEUG means “white, shining,” and TIG means “house” (a shanty, or SHAN-TIG, is an old house). The suffix -AC means “little.” Thus, Martin’s monastery had a name which in Celtic means “little white house.” At about the time of Martin’s death in 397, Ninian built a church at Galloway, in southwest Scotland. It was built of stone and plastered white, an unusual construction in a land where almost all buildings were wood. He called it Candida Casa (White House) or Whithorn, presumably after Martin’s foundation at Tours. Archaeologists have excavated and partially restored his church in this century.

From his base at Galloway, Ninian preached throughout southern Scotland, south of the Grampian Mountains, and conducted preaching missions among the Picts of Scotland, as far north as the Moray Firth, He also preached in the Solway Plains and the Lake District of England. Like Patrick (a generation later) and Columba (a century and a half later), he was a principal agent in preserving the tradition of the old Romano-British Church and forming the character of Celtic Christianity. Some historians think that the number and extent of his conversions has been exaggerated, but throughout southern Scotland there are many and widespread churches that bear his name, and have traditionally been assumed to be congregations originally founded by him.

Our information about him comes chiefly from Bede’s History (Book 3, chapter 4), an anonymous eighth century account, and a 12th century account by Aelred. Aelred is writing 700 years after the event, and is for that reason rejected as untrustworthy by many critics. However, he claims to rely on an earlier account, “written by a barbarian.” This suggests that he may have had an authentic record by a member of Ninian’s community in Galloway.

From Whithorn Trust

“St. Ninian is a shadowy figure in history. He is acknowledged as Scotland’s first saint with the date 397AD celebrated as the beginning of his mission to his people.

There is very little that we know about him. No written references to St Ninian from the period he was alive have been found. We can only refer to works written many years after his death. Historians now read these texts carefully trying to separate the truth from tradition and embroidery from fact.

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.” -Whithorn Trust on Saint Ninian and Whithorn