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Bishop. He was the son of their king, but he had
humbled himself by relinquishing secular dignity, and
now was exalted by a far higher spiritual office. The
children of this world, the more they valued its gifts
of wealth and power, the more they would conceive
that he had made a sacrifice ; and they who had the
opportunity of seeing any thing of the peace and joy
he had in Christ, would see that he had not been
wrong in making it. Here was a living instance of giving
up the world for Christ. Wbat it was to be a Prince
they saw, and they would think much of it. The
Bishop might have had these goods of wealth and
honour, but he preferred to be a servant of Christ, and
of the people of Christ, to struggle with poverty, to
submit to hardships, to overcome iU-will, imkindness,
and obstinacy, by meek endurance. The sacrifice they
could appreciate ; and when they heard him speak of
leaving all to follow Christ, and of taking up the cross,
his words would come home to them, for what he said
was real ; it had an interpretation in his own doings.

This wiU in a measure account for the great success
which attended the first opening of his work amongst
them. It is described as an outbreak of enthusiasm,
which ran through the people, and enabled him at once
to do the work of years.

If he preached at all as did the great models of his
day, we cannot wonder at it. They preached as men
who realized what is unseen, for the great truths of
eternity were the groundwork of all they said ; and they

84 ST. NINIAn's return to BRITAIN.

came forth from deep and earnest meditation on these
truths, to speak of them to others, with earnestness
and aiFection, their own minds being filled with the
ideas and affections which corresponded to them. As
one who had really seen some land of bliss, or awful
suffering, or impending danger, they spoke of them
in a natural and real way, and by their very sincerity,
and the vivid impression of their own conviction of all
they said, they carried others along with them. They
could trust to the spontaneous flow of their minds, for
they had been schooled by severe lives and serious
thought, to deep awe and reverence, and been trained
in the full and exact knowledge of Christian truth ;
and as Bishops almost exclusively were preachers,
they had long time for thought, experience, and so-
briety, before they undertook so high an office. They
could speak freely, for they spoke of what they really
knew by personal experience, and long acquaintance
with the ways of holy living ; and this without erro-
neous and vague statements, or the risk of irreverence,
familiarity, or excitement.

It was the age of Ambrose, Chrysostom, and Augus-
tine ; and Ninian came into Britain, as it were, from
their school, with all the fulness of view and varied
thoughts which an ac(iuaintance with Clu'istians and
Christian Theology, in its highest form, would give.
And this was expressed to the Britons in their own
language ; that language which, unlike most of the
other subjects of the empire, they still retained and
cherished, and which would be more likely to be pre-
served and usually spoken in remote and mountainous
districts, as Cumbria and Galloway. And we know how
it gladdens the hearts of the Celts of these days, in
Wales and Ireland, to hear their own language, and


how they thiiik no harm can come in it ; and can im-
agine what the Britons would feel at hearing it from
St. Ninian.

It may be they were of the same imaginative and
susceptible temper which we iind in those remains of
their race, for the effect of the Saint's preaching was
immediate and very great. " Crowds of people col-
lected together and came to meet him ; there was un-
bounded delight among them all, and wonderful devo-
tion. Every where did the praises of Christ resound,
for they all held him as a prophet. At once, the
active labourer, entering his master's field, began to
pull up what was ill-planted ; what was ill brought
together, to disperse ; to pull down what was built
amiss." This was his first beginning. " Afterwards,
having cleared the minds of the faithful from all their
errors, he began to lay in them the foundation of the
holy faith ; to build the gold of wisdom, the silver of
knowledge, and the stones of good works. These all
he taught by word, exhibited by example, and con-
firmed by numerous mii-acles."


St. Ninian in Galloway.

The province which was assigned to St. Ninian seems
to have been the western portion of our northern
counties, and the Scottish Lowlands, south of the
Wall of Antoninus. In the direction of the heathen,
it was, of com-se, unlimited ; the field was open for him
to convert all he could. In Scotland there were, pro-


bably, very few Christians ; in the English portion
they were but partially converted and very ignorant.
What arrangement was made between the new Bishop
and the Bishop of York, or of any unknown See, in
whose diocese this country was lying before, we cannot
tell. The British Bishops might gladly receive amongst
them a missionaiy Bishop, as they afterwards did St.
Germanus, to assist in eradicating evil and promoting
the good of their people; or there may have been
some definite district assigned to him ; and of this it
may be that a trace remained in the limits of St. Ken-
tigern's diocese of Glasgow, which seems to have taken
the place of St. Ninian's, and extended to the Cross on

This district was occupied by different tribes of
Britons, having the same language and character, ex-
cept that those in England were more influenced by
Roman civilization. Those to the north consisted of
five tribes, whose country had been formed into a new
province, by Theodosius, A, d. 367, under the name of
Valentia. They lay between the two walls, and were
in an intermediate state of civilization, between the in-
habitants of the ancient provinces, who had for cen-
turies been under Roman influence, and the wild un-
subdued inhabitants of the Highlands. Their country
was but partially occupied by the Romans, Avho used it
chiefly for military occupation and defence against the
Caledonians ; and though the inhabitants were Roman
citizens, those who lived in the more remote portions
of the district probably differed little from the barbarous
state in which Cjesar had found our whole island.

It was among the English portion of his people that
St. Ninian first laboured. His history implies that, as
was natural, he first went among his own people and


the friends of his early years, to impart to them the in-
estimable benefits he was commissioned to diffuse ; and
in accordance with this, Leland distinctly speaks of his
first mission as being to the coast of Cumberland, be-
tween St. Bees Head and Carlisle.

The circumstances of the country were not, how-
ever, such as were in any way suited for his long con-
tinuance or permanent establishment there. Cumber-
land lying just within the southern wall and being filled
by military establishments,^ was now the scene of war-
like preparation, and the fearful anticipations, and mis-
erable realities of a bloody and exterminating warfare.
It was a time of bitter distress to the Provincial Britons ;
and sad, indeed, was the sight presented to St. Ninian.
The peace and tranquillity he had left in his native land
was at an end. It was just the time at which the wild
hordes of Picts, who had been restrained whilst the
vigorous hand of Theodosius held the reins of empire,
were again, a year or two after his death, coming
like a flood over the fair fields and rich and civilized
abodes of the Provincials. In the following year, 398,
it was necessary to send two additional legions into
Britain to save the province from utter ruin ; and it
was now but thirteen years before it was finally aban-
doned by the Romans.

St. Gildas has depicted in strong colours the savage
invaders, and the wretchedness of the helpless Pro-
vincials. It needs, however, no exaggeration to re-
present the greatness of their suflerings. They had
long been shielded by the power of the empire. Four
legions evidence alike the danger from the barba-

1 There were stations at Moresby, Ellenborough, Burgh by
the Sands, besides Carlisle and Penrith, and those at Stanwix,
Bowness, and along the line of the wall.


rians and the security of the inhabitants. They had,
from the first, been taught to forget their warlike
liabits in the luxuries of ease, and to delight in a
slavery which presented itself in the form of com-
fort and refinement. The works of long continued
peace — the improvements of civilization — the beauty of
their cities — their costly and elegant houses, now fell
before the destroyers, whose cupidity they had excited.
Hardy and warlike Picts poured from the fastnesses of
the Highlands ; poor, uncivilized, unclothed, what the
Britons themselves had been 300 years before. Their
ill-will was increased by the very circumstance that
their countrymen had identified themselves with the
invaders, whose yoke they had themselves with diffi-
culty avoided. Rapine, bloodshed, and cruelty followed
in their course, and the Provincials, unable to cope
with them, were driven from their peaceful homes, and
witnessed the destruction of their cherished possessions,
and the death of their dearest friends. Such were the
miseries which met St. Ninian on returning to the
home of his childhood, and led to his retiring to a more
peaceful district to establish his Church. It is not
improbable that he was accompanied by some of his
family, who might seek a refuge on the retired shore of
Galloway, from the rapine and harassing inroads to
which their old homes were exposed. We find, at
least, that lus brother was his companion in after years,
and, as one ancient Life reports, his mother and rela-
tions were settled near him. His father may have died
before he saw, on earth, the face of his son, or witnessed
the blessings which he brought to his countrymen.
He was removed from the joy of seeing the fruits of
Ninian's preaching ; from the distress of beholding the
calamities of his country.


The plan which St. Ninian proposed to adopt for
carrying on the work of a missionary Bishop, required
a place where he might erect a Church, where he
might himself permanently live, and form a religious
society. For this it was most important to select
a position which would be retired, and secure alike
from the interruptions of a rude soldiery or the out-
rage of bai'barian tribes. And the place which he
chose was singularly adapted for his purpose.

The country between the walls was the very ground
on which the battles of the contending armies would
continually be fought ; like the suburbs of a besieged
town, which neither party sp^tred, but made the arena
of thek mutual combats. To the south-west, however,
the extensive promontory of Galloway stretched be-
yond the scene of war, and being guarded by the sea
on either side, had on the whole remained almost un-
disturbed by the changes which had gone on around it.
It was removed from the ordinary course of the
invading Highlanders, and had not itself any objects to
attract their rapacity. It had scarcely been affected
even by the Roman power. Agricola, in the year S3,
had contemplated an expedition to Ireland, and with
this view, had overrun the country ; roads had been
made, and encampments formed, but, afterwards, as
he seems not to have had any object in pursuing the
natives into their fastnesses, its remote situation made
it little frequented by the Romans. It appears to have
continued without giving much occasion for military
establishments, for few Roman remains are found in it.
What is now a bare and uninteresting district,
where the slow progress of plantations endeavours to
compensate for the want of natural wood, was then
covered by thick forests, and occupied by Britons,


living in all their uncivilized simplicity. The tribe
was called the Novantes ; and Ptolemy mentions their
two towns as Rerigoniimi and Leucopibia. The lat-
ter was the one which St, Ninian fixed on as the
site for his Church. It was conforming, so far as
he could, to the ancient rule, to fix the seat of a
Bishop in a city, that the shepherd may be where his
flock principally are foxind ; and in this place the
greatest number of Christians would be gathered. Of
its identity with Whithern there can be no doubt, and
the very probable and generally received conjecture is,
that the Leucopibia of our present copies of Ptolemy
should be Leucoikidia — Whitehouses ; so identifying
its three names, Leucoikidia, Candida Casa, and
Wliithern, which is derived from the Saxon fern,
house. Baxter suggests that it is so called from the
practice of the Celts (he says Picts, but there were
no Picts in Galloway till long after this time) to
wliite-wash their houses. It seems most probable that
the name was prior to St. Ninian's arrival, and not
derived, as commonly said, from the Church he built ;
for whatever be made of the latter part of the word,
Leuco speaks for itself, and Casa like aern, seems ra-
ther to indicate an ordinary dwelling than a Church.
There had been a castra stativa close adjoining the
town which is the only Roman position traceable in
GaUoway ; and a road wliich Agricola had formed
along the coast, had been continued to Leucopibia.
But in their present pressing circumstances, the en-
campment doubtless would be abandoned. The town
itself lies but two or three miles from the extremity
of the promontory, which branches off from the main
one of Galloway, and running far into the sea, forms
almost the most southern point of Scotland. It is thus


without access by land except on the north ; and being
naturally difficult of access, and out of the direct line
towards Ireland, is now one of the most retired places
in Scotland. Few had any inducement to visit it from
the north ; and its southern and western sides are
guarded by lofty and precipitous rocks, and only here
and there aiFord access for vessels.

Here, then, St. Ninian might securely fix his See,
removed from the troubles and dangers which occupied
the rest of Britain ; and hence go forth to traverse the
wild woodlands for the purpose of evangelizing the
people. At the same time, the town was probably, as
we may judge from the encampment and the road, one
of the most important which the natives had. While,
the promontory, called Burrow Head, which rises near
it, is seen from and commands a view of the exten-
sive diocese in which his lot was cast.

One looks with interest at the position of the Min-
sters of York or Lincoln, which are conspicuous
through the whole surrounding districts — ever present
remembrances of Divine Truth, and mai'ks of him who
sits there the spiritual father of the flock. Such was
the position of St. Ninian's See. As you stand on the
fine headland, with sea on every side, you almost look
down on the mountains of the Isle of Man, which rise
out of the sea, before you. To the right stretch the
successive promontories of Galloway almost to Port
Patrick ; the hiUs of "Wigtonshire, Kirkcudbrightshire,
and Dumfriesshire, rise in successive and lofty ridges,
from the shores of the Solway, to the north ; while,
due east, you may trace the coast of Cumberland, to
St. Bees Head, or even to Blackcomb, backed by its
fair blue hiUs, so picturesque in outline ; and as the
light and shade alternate on the view, you may make


out each bay and headland, and even the white houses
by the shore. Surely this was a place where the Saint
might stand and survey the field in which he had to
work. He had given evidence enough that he was no idle
dreamer or slave of weak atFection. Still we may well
suppose that when he looked down from this central
point, and had before him headlands and mountain
tops which marked out the wide district committed to
him, he would regard with especial tenderness, the dis-
tinctly marked shore where he had been baptized and
spent his youthful years ; — those hills which he had
looked up to from his home. They would recall the
remembrance of those who were gone, and awake more
fervent prayers for his country, now in the scene of
distraction and warfare.

We have said that the manners of the people had
been but little affected by the influence of the Romans.
It is probable that their way of life was very much
what that of the Britons had been before they were
refined by Roman colonization, or as those of their
neighbours the Moeatoe, who at the beginning of the
third century inhabited barren mountains and marshy
plains, had no manured or cultivated lands, but fed
on the milk and flesh of their flocks, or what they
got by hunting, or some wild fruits ; fish they never
ate, though they had great plenty of them, and when
in the woods they fed on roots and herbs.

There still remain in Galloway, circles, and Crom-
lechs, and Cistvaens, traces of what St. Ninian might
see lingering as a broken, but still living system. The
Druid religion was proscribed by the Romans. It was
a strong, too strong a bond to be allowed to remain
among the Britons ; but the superstition was still
deeply rooted in the minds of the people, and a reve-


rence long after hung around the enclosures which
had been consecrated by Druid rites. At present
therefore they must have been in a wretched religious
condition ; the public exercise and ministers of their
own religion, were proscribed, and the truth had made
little progress amongst them. There were indeed
Christians, but in an ignorant and ill-informed state ;
and to revive religion amongst these persons, and to
correct their errors, was one great part of his work.

St. Ninian's plan was not merely to disperse Clergy
in separate districts through the country, but to con-
centrate his strength in one point, and there to have a
Church in some degree worthy of the design for which
it was intended. The Churches of the Britons were
generally of wood. In the cities no doubt, when the
Romans had introduced their arts, and wealth abounded,
the Churches, like the other pubhc buildings, would
be of stone ; but in remote and poorer places where
wood was plentiful, it was more natural to make
them of that material. It was ready to their hands ;
stone they did not need, and could not afford, and might
not have the art of working ; as St. Ninian had con-
templated in taking his masons from Tours. Bede
speaks of the Church as built of stone in a way un-
usual among the Britons. His words probably apply
to the form as well as the material of the building,
as he afterwards contrasts the Churches of the Picts
with the Roman fashion. These Pictish Churches,
and those of the Britons of Bede's days, and of the
Irish, were of wood ; such they now are in Norway,
where neither skill nor labour are spared in the beauty
of the workmanship with which they are adorned.

St. Ninian however desired to use materials for liis
Church, which, by their strength and permanence,


might image forth the perpetuity of that Kingdom
to which it belonged ; and in whicli the services mi^ht
be performed with becoming dignity. He had Rome
in his mind ; and as he had there doubtless planned
what he would raise on the wooded shores of Britain
he might often now in thought return to the ma-
jesty and splendour of the Ritual and Churches of the
Apostolic See ; so that whatever simplicity and poverty
there might of necessity be elsewhere, the Cathedral at
least would aiford a model of what was aimed at, and
which might be copied in their measure by the other
Churches. Such doubtless was the practice, that the
Mother Chm'ch of the diocese should be the place in
which the due order of Divine Service might be kept as
a guide to the rest.

Natural piety would move St. Ninian to this work,
as indeed it had all along been near his heart. But it
must also have been very important in its effects on
the people, as a perpetual witness to the truths he
taught. That we should give of our best to God, and
that what is spent on places specially dedicated to His
service is in some more immediate way given to Him is
a natural sentiment. This sentiment is implanted in
the human heart, in common with those others which
seem to have produced every where, among people who
had any sense of religion, an external form and expres-
sion of it. Places appropriated for sacred services
where God was believed to be especially present ; an
order of men set apart to serve Him, offerings of our
best and costliest possessions, and grace and beauty in
the ornaments of His House, and the conduct of its
services, — these are the spontaneous dictates of the
heart, and caiTy with them the evidence of their
being a part of natural religion, as well as what we


commonly call such. Surely it is with this view that
we should look on the fail- forms of ancient art, their
temples, their graceful processions, their choric poetry,
as the offering of natural piety to the Supreme
Being. Corrupted and polluted it is true they were,
but so were the fundamental doctrines of essential
religion ; and as we are used there to sever the over-
laying errors from the elementary truths, and think
it no prejudice to the Divine original of the true por-
tions, that corruption should have attached to them,
so let us regai'd the ceremonies of the heathen, and
the taste and wealth they lavished on them, as the
yearnings of the human soul after Him, to Whom
it desires to do all homage.

And the consideration was very important in refer-
ence to the conversion of the heathen, as well as to
the maintenance of religion among Christians ; for
instead of falling in with their true and right notions
as to what a religious system ought to be, we may
by a neglect of external Religion directly clash with
what they conceive we ought to do, which they wiU
the more deeply believe, the more they are prepared
by natural piety for embracing the Gospel. Instead of '
Chiorches, by their very forms and ornaments, and ser-
vices, being silent and ever present preachers of the
truth, embodying practical devotion, as being its fruits,
they may give the he to our professions, and hinder
the reception of rehgion. We have power, we have
generally wealth. Ninian had not much of either,
yet he made no delay, but made it his first work to
build the house of God on a scale which excited the
admiration of the people, and suited the high pur-
poses for which it was set apart.

It was during the time the Church was bxiilding, that


is, in November 307, that St. Ninian was divinely
warned of the death of St. Martin, and so deep was
the veneration he entertained for that holy man, that
he dedicated the Church under his name ; a name it
afterwards retained, though when the Saint by whom
it was built, and whose remains were laid there be-
came more known, it was commonly called St. Ninian's,
and is spoken of as dedicated to him.

In Rome they built the Churches over the tombs of
the Martyi's, and so dedicated them to their memory,
and in other places it was usual to deposit some of the
remains of a martyr under the altar of the Church,
which was to be consecrated, a practice observed by
the great Saints of the age. At AYhithern however
there was no martyi', and St. Ninian had not brought
any relics, so it seemed as it were providential that
St. Martin, one of the greatest Saints of the age,
though not a martyr, should yet be honoured thus,
and he to whom St. Ninian owed so much be re-
garded as the patron of his Church, and the model to
be perpetually kept in view by his people.

I pass by the story which the present tradition of
the country reports, that St. Ninian first settled in
the Isle of Whithern, three or four miles from the
present Church and town, and afterwards removed to .
that which was his ultimate position. It seems in-
compatible with the history, which speaks but of one
place, and that the one where he at first engaged in
building his Church ; for it was in progress at the time
St. ]\Iartin died, that is within a year after his arrival
in Britain. There is an old dismantled Chapel, as it
were a land-mark, on the top of one of the hills in the
Isle, which the people connect with St. Ninian, and

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanLives of the English saints (Volume 2) → online text (page 7 of 33)