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thoughts fixed without some external help, the very
moving and changes that occur distract and unsettle
them. To guard against this and another evil, that of
idle and vain conversation, St. Ninian, on his journeys,
always carried his Psalter and some book for religious
reading ; and, besides saying the Psalms, when he
stopped to rest, or to refresh his horse, (for he used to
ride on his long travels through the rough woods and
hills of his diocese,) he would take out his book and
read with careful attention.

And to secure himself from any unnecessary oc-
casions of distraction, he seems to have observed the
rules which our good Bishop "Wilson gave himself, and
so has most forcibly given us. " Never be curious to


know what i^ passing in the world, any further than
duty obliges you ; it will only distract the mind when
it should be better employed." " The best way to pre-
vent Avandering in prayer is not to let the mind wander
too much at other times, but to have God always in
om' minds in the whole course of our lives."

We may here quote the beautiful language of St.
Aelred. It was intended as a lesson for lay people,
living at home, as well as for professedly religious men.
It was to be read in the long winter evenings in the
hall, as weU as in the refectory. It has been read in
many a house and many a monastery, in the olden
times of merry England ; it may have awakened then
a sense of the importance of guarded thoughts, and the
danger of curiosity. It may do so for some one now.

" When I think," says the good Abbot, " of the very
religious habits of this most holy man, I am filled
with shame at the slothfulness of this om* miserable
generation. Which of us, I ask, even at home among
the members of his own family, does not in social in-
tercourse and conversation, introduce more frequently
jocose than serious subjects, idle rather than useful, car-
nal than spiritual ones. Those lips which Divine grace
has consecrated to praise the Lord, or to celebrate the
holy mysteries, are daily polluted by detraction and
worldly talk, and whilst they feel a distaste for the
Psalms, the Gospels, and the Prophets, they run the
live-long day through the vain and sh:uneful works
of men. ' And when they travel, is not the mind like
the body, in continual wandering, the tongue in idle-
ness to any good ? Reports of the characters of un-
godly men are continually brought forward ; the gravity
suited to a religious man is destroyed by laughing and
stories ; the affairs of Kings, the duties of Bishops,


the ministrations of the C'lergy, the contentions of the
powerful, above all, the life and character of every one
is the subject of discussion. We judge every thing ex-
cept our own judgment ; and what is more to be
grieved at, we bite and devour one another, so that
we are consumed one of another. Not so the blessed
Ninian ; crowds hindered not his tranquillity, nor did
travelling interfere with his meditations, nor his de-
votions become lukewarm through lassitude. Wher-
ever he was journeying he raised his mind to heavenly
objects in prayer or contemplation, and when he turned
aside on his journey, to rest himself or his horse, he
delighted to take out a little book, wlaich he always
carried for the purpose, and read, or said Psalms, for
he felt what the Prophet David says, " How sweet
are Thy words unto my tliroat, yea, sweeter than
honey unto my mouth."

Nay it was said so highly favoured was liis prac-
tice, that by special grace the very rain was turned
aside from falling on him, forming as it were a vault
above and around him. And once it happened, to
give the substance of St. Aelred's narrative, that he
and his brother, called Plebeia, a man of equal holi-
ness, were on a journey, and as was their wont, so-
laced themselves with the Songs of David. When
they had travelled some distance they turned from
the public road to rest themselves awhile, opened
their Psalters, and were refreshing their souls vnth
religious reading. Presently, the bright clear sky
was clouded over, and the rain fell heavily ; the thin
air, however, like an arched vault, formed over the
servants of God, and continued as an impenetrable
wall against the falling waters. Whilst, however, they
were saying their Psahns, St. Ninian turned his eyes


from the book, an unlawful thought, nay, an unre-
strained desire, affected his mind. The supernatural
protection was withdrawn, and the rain fell on him.
No useless lesson this — that the unseen guardianship
which is over us in prayer, which screens us from evil,
that the grace which is then around us, is for the time
withdrawn, if wilful distractions are admitted. His
brother observed the change, and understood the
cause ; he gently reminded him of his fault, and the
Saint, coming to himself, blushed at having been
carried away by foolish thoughts, and in the same
instant he thi-ew off the imagination, and the rain Avas

It is to be hoped the reader will rather seize the lesson
this ancient tale affords, than smile at its simplicity.
Who can say how many a wandering thought has been
checked by thinking of it, when the brethren of "SYlii-
thern, day by day, and year after year, said their
Psalter in St. Ninian's Church — checked by recalling
the lesson which it teaches ; of evil kept off from
the soul by earnest attention, and falling unrestrained
upon it when we wilfully wander.

The next miracles are connected with the trials of
St. Ninian. His portion, as that of all the saints, was
to follow in his Master's steps, to labour for the un-
thankful, to win souls by suffering, to endure reproach,
to bless those that cursed liim. There are intimations
incidentally occurring in the latter part of his life,
which shew that he was often in danger from power-
ful men, and exposed even to the loss of life.

The chief opposer of his labours was a king of those
parts, called Tuduval ; the prince, perhaps, of the
whole tribe of the Novantes. He was, for a Galwegian
chieftain, wealthy, powerful, and influential, but withal


proud, grasping, and the slave of passion and unbridled
license and ambition. It may easily be conceived that
he felt the opposition which existed between his own
spirit and St. Ninian's, and instinctively resisted him.
He felt that he belonged to a kingdom which must fall
before that, of which the Bishop was a minister, and
strove the more earnestly because his time was short.
The admonitions of the holy preacher were disregarded,
his lessons of righteousness, temperance, and judgment
were derided ; his teacliing, nay his holy life, were
assailed and detracted from ; all the influence the
prince possessed was exercised to withstand him, and
his doctrine was met with open and direct opposition.
For a time the enemy summoned so much strength,
and exercised so wide and baneful an influence, that
it seems as if the conversion of the people was be-
coming hopeless. It was as a land on which the gentle
dew and rain from heaven fell in vain ; it brought
forth no fruit, but only thorns and thistles, and seemed
nigh to be given up as accursed and reprobate.

But the prayers and patient suflerings of the Holy
Brotherhood at Whithern, went up for a memorial ;
they wielded the weapons of the Saints, meekness,
righteousness, and truth ; and their intercessions for
their persecutors and defamers prevailed. AVhen their
cause seemed hopeless, the Divine arm was lifted up to
help them. He who took the lead in resisting them,
the resolute persecutor and opposer of the truth, felt a
hand laid on him to stay his course. Tuduval was
seized by a violent illness, which ended in the loss of
sight. Laid on a bed of suffering, and precluded
from the sight of the outward world, reflection brought
him to himself. His conscience recalled the marked
events of his soul's history, and his opposition to St.


Ninian would be the most prominent. The possi-
bility of all proving true which he had often scoffed
at ; the consciousness of his wrong doings, even ac-
cording to his own ideas of wrong ; the undefined
dread of future retribution, all Avould combine to
awaken consideration. Then the purity of the Chris-
tians' lives — ^their present peace — their future hopes —
would suggest the thought how much better it were
to be as one of them ; nay, that there was something
in them more than human ; the miracles scoffed at
before would recur to his memory, and the truth of
the Saint's claims take possession of his mind. So it
was ; a light spread through the soul, Avhilst the out-
ward organs were in darkness. Repentance and con-
fession of his wrong doings followed, and without delay
he called for his friends, took their advice, and sent them
with expressions of contrition and humiliation to St.
Ninian. He besought him not to treat him as he knew
he deserved, but to imitate the mercifulness of liis Lord,
to retm'n good for evil, love for hatred.

We may imagine the deep joy which the holy Bishop
felt at the return of one who seemed lost for ever. In
his mind there was no place for glorying over a fallen
enemy, no notion of personal triumph, no revengeful
delay of reconciliation, but a going out to meet him
whom he saw afar off. He offered up first a prayer to
God, a prayer of thankfulness for this work of His grace,
a prayer that his enemy might be freed from his suffer-
ings, and at once set out with the utmost humility and
devotion. At first he gently reproved him for his sin,
then with heaUng hand touched his head, and impressed
upon his eyes the sign of our salvation. At once the
pain was gone and tlie blindness departed. Tuduval
became a sincere convert, humility and purity took the


place of his former vices, and he devoted himself to St.
Ninian's guidance, treating him with the deepest reve-
rence, as recognizing that God was indeed with him and
ffuided him in all his ways. The effect of tliis miracle
of Divine grace in the conversion, even more than in the
cure of the strehuous persecutor must hav6 been very
o-reat. The power and influence which had been used
to oppose, would now be devoted to aid the cause of
relifj-ion, and so exercised, would indeed produce their
true and proper results. To this time, probably, we
may assign the general conversion of the people.

It Avas, perhaps, during the period of the previous
persecution that the event occurred which St. Aeh-ed
next narrates. It was inii)ortant as removing a scandal
which might have stood greatly in the way of the
progress of religion. It seems that clergy were fixed,
whether before St. Ninian's arrival, or by him, in
separate districts, whi(di St. Aelred, in the language
which would be most intelligible to his readers, de-
signates as parishes. An unhappy girl who had been
seduced by a powerful master, at his instigation, ac-
cused the clergyman of being the father of her child.
The effect was astounding. The good were distressed :
the weak offended ; the wicked rejoiced ; and the low-
minded ridiculed ; the whole sacred order was blas-
phemed by the ungodly. St. Ninian, however, was in-
wardly assured of the innocence of the priest ; and in
full trust took the most public means of manifesting it.
He proceeded to the Church, summoned the clergy and
whole body of the people, preached and then con-
firmed. The mother appeared with her child and
openly denounced the priest ; the utmost excitement
prevailed ; shame and derision were the portion of the
good ; when St. Ninian called on the child just born


to declare his father ; a voice was given to the infant
and the truth declared.

One other miracle is recorded, which, like the one
of the school boy, was associated with a permanent
record in the name of the place, and a mark in a stone
which, in St. Aelred's days, was shown in Galloway.
But now we know nothing of the stone, and Pinker-
ton says, there is no place which he knows of the
name. The miracle itself is, in some points, like one
narrated by the Ecclesiastical historian, Sozomen, of
St. Spiridion, a shepherd Bishop in Cyprus, who con-
tinued his simple employment in the care of flocks,
after he was chosen to be a shepherd of souls. Of
course there is no reason why the miracle should not
have been performed by both saints. And if there be
reason to think that the Almighty did exercise mira-
culous powers through His Saints, and that around
them and in them there was a spiritual agency at
work, let us be cautious how we judge these tales, let
us tread carefully on what may be hallowed ground.

The story is this. St. Ninian and his brethren had
many flocks and herds, which they kept for their own
use ; for milk and cheese would be monks' fare ; and
for hospitality to strangers and the use of the poor ;
making provision to fulfil the precept which Bishops
and their chapters and all monasteries were used to
keep in mind, to exercise hospitality without grudging.
These cattle were kept in pasture grounds, at some
distance from the monastery, and St. Ninian went to
bless the herds and their keepers. The Bishop had
them all brought together, lifted up his hands, and
committed himself and aU that was his to the guard-
ianship of God. He then went round them, and
with his staff marked the ground within the limits


of which they were to stay, something like what was
afterwards done as a superstitious spell. He then
retired to the house of an honourable matron where he
and his brethren were to lodge. After refreshing them-
selves with food, and their souls with the word of
God, they retired to rest. Meanwhile robbers arrive,
and seeing the herds unenclosed and ungxiarded, ex-
pect an easy prey. The cattle remain quiet, no sound
is heard, no dog even is heard to bark ; they enter
within the limits, but do it to their cost. The bull of
the herd attacks and severely gores the ringleader of
the thieves, and himself, digging his hoof violently into
the ground, impresses the mark of it on the rock, as if
in wax. The mark remained, and the place was
called in Saxon, Farres Last, that is, the Bull's foot-
mark, Tauri Vestigium, as the Latin life explains it.
Meanwhile after his regular morning prayers, St. Nin-
ian arrives, finds the poor robber with his entrails torn
out, and now lifeless, and the others running about as
if insane, within the limit he had marked around the
cattle. He was deeply moved with pity, and entreated
that the robber might be restored to life ; nor did he
cease from prayers and tears till the same Power which
had caused his death restored him again to life. The
other robbers who seemed possessed on seeing St.
Ninian, fell at his feet in fear and trembling, and beg-
ged forgiveness. He kindly reproved them, pointed
out the punishment which awaited the robber, and at
last, after giving them his blessing, allowed them to
depart. The result was the sincere conversion of the
man whose life had been restored.

Perhaps the strangeness of this narrative ought not
to be any hinderance to our believing it. As the most
wonderful instance of his prayers being heard, even to


bringing the dead to life, its circumstances are especially
dwelt on in the religious services for his day. And we
are sure the people of Galloway would have been
disappointed, if they had not found this story in the
Life of their own Sainted Bishop ; for like the tree
and the spring, Farres Last must have made an early
and deep impression on their minds ; and often doubtless
was the stoiy told to the stranger who passed that
way, and to their own little ones, and they would go to
see the deep impression of the bull's foot ; and the
sermon which St. Ninian had preached would be afresh
inculcated, and the fact appealed to as the most vivid
evidence of the wrongness and the possible unexpected
evil which might at any time await the cattle stealer.

We may now pass on to St. Ninian's conversion of
the Southern Picts, of whom he is designated the

Conversioti of the Picts.

The labours of St. Ninian extended over a wide dis-
trict ; and were exercised among great troubles and
dangers, from the unsettled state of the country, and
the continual hostilities which prevailed. The tract
of country, which, so far as we know, had no Pastor
but himself, stretched from sea to sea, and, besides the
(now) English portion of it, from the wall of Antoninus
to that of Severus. The Western part, however, was
his special care. The rest was a scene of war and
rapine during the chief part of his Episcopate ; and


after fruitless endeavours to repel the inroads of the
mountaineers, the Koman forces were at length with-
drawn A. D, 410, and the Provincials left to defend them-
selves as best they could.

The tribes of St. Ninian's diocese had retained
their original divisions of clans, and though they were
rendered less fit to cope with the unsubdued and im-
civilized portions of the same great Celtic race, whom
we know as Picts, they yet combined, and maintained
themselves as a distinct people .in possession of their
territory. The Picts might rob, but do not seem to
have displaced them. The separate princes united in
the election of a common leader, and though harassed
by internal broils and breaches of their federal com-
pact, the Western tribes, with the exception of Gallo-
way, continued for six centuries as an independent
body, forming the British kingdom of Strathclydd.
During all the wars which rent this unhappy district,
Britons, Picts, and Scots, it is said, united in reve-
rencing St. Ninian. He Avas allowed to travel, without
molestation, tlu'ough countries which were the seat of
war. His calm presence seemed to bi'eathe of peace
and love, and to inspire awe even in the wildest bar-
barians. It has been so in these latter times. The Isle
of Man was to be spared by the French, for the sake
of Bishop Wilson, and in the wars of the Low Coun-
tries at the beginning of the last century, the Arch-
bishop of Cambray was treated with reverence by all
the contending parties, and made his Episcopal journeys
unmolested in the midst of hostilities.

Who can say that it was not owing to the influence
of the holy truths, and the practical goodness incul-
cated by St. Minian, that the tribes of his diocese did


SO unite and retain a social life after the convulsions
which resulted from the departure of the Romans ?

And now, after many years of patient toil and as-
siduous teaching, having brought the people, imme-
diately committed to him, to some unity of faith and
goodness of life ; his ardent desire for the salvation
of men prompted him to undertake the conversion of
a tribe, who did not as yet know the name of Christ,
and were bitterly hostile to his own countrymen.
These were the Southern Picts, a division of the nu-
merous tribes, who, secured by the mountains of the
Highlands, had never submitted to the yoke of the
Romans, and now in the decline of their power re-
venged themselves on them, and on the tribes of their
own island, who had yielded and been civilized by

It seems that Caledonians and Picts are but dif-
ferent names for the same people, given originally to
one tribe or other, according to the circumstances of
their localities or ways of life, and then borne by
all in common. As inhabitants of the forests of the
Lowlands they had early had the name of Woodmen,
Caledones, given them. Another portion again who
occupied the plain country between the Grampians
and the sea, to the north of the Frith of Forth, were
called Peithi, a name which signifies inhabitants of the
open country, and by the Romans, Picti, (as the Welsh
peithen is from the Latin pecten, and etfaith is from
effectus,) and from them the whole race received the
name. It was the coincidence between their own Celtic
name, and their painted bodies, which gave a point to
the well known line of Claudian, " non false jUomine
Picti," which would have had little force, if they were
only called so, because of their being painted. These


inhabitants of the plain country are the Southern
Picts. Those who remained in the fastnesses were
called Northern Picts, and the distinction of these two
poi'tions of the race would become more marked, from
the different habits of life, which would gradually
result from their different localities. The distinction
was recognized in the middle of the fourth century,
when they were respectively called by the Romans,
Deucaledones, and Vecturiones ; of which the former,
it is said, means separate or far Caledonians, those, that
is, farther removed from the Roman districts ; and
Vecturiones is another Celtic form of Picts, P and V
being interchanged, and the rest of the word, Peith-
wyr, or Peithwjron, differing from simple Picts, as
Englishmen does from English.

These Vectui-iones — they to whom the name of Pict
first belonged, are the tribe of which St. Ninian was
the Apostle. They had first established themselves
on the Eastern coast, as has been said, north of the
Frith of Forth and of the Roman wall ; and many
authors confine them to this district. Others say that
after the withdrawal of the Roman forces they passed
the wall, poured in upon the Eastern coast of Valentia,
and took up a position wldch they permanently occu-
pied, south of the Forth, in the Lothians, and even
reaching to Northumberland ; they had previously
acquired more settled habits than the mountaineers,
and so were fitted to establish themselves permanently
in the counti'ies they subdued. They existed as a sepa-
rate people in the time of Bede, who accurately dis-
tinguishes them from those who lived within the
mountain district. It was, he says, when St. Columba
went to convert the Northern Picts, that he found


the Southern ones had been converted previously, and,
as they stated, by St. Ninian.

It seems most probable that it was after their occu-
pation of the country south of the Forth, (supposing
they did occupy it,) that he went amongst them. It
was that occupation which gave them a more distinct
and permanent nationality ; nor is it to be supposed,
that they should have become Clmstians, and after-
wards have attacked with so much cruelty the people
to whom they were indebted for the knowledge of the
Gospel ; we will not think so ill of them, barbarians
as they were. And the dates would lead to the same
conclusion. The Romans retired in 410. Ninian had
then been thirteen years in Galloway. He lived for
twenty-two years longer. The first thirteen years
would not be more than enough for the work he had
to effect among his own people. The last twenty-two
allow space for the Picts to have come down and occu-
pied the Eastern portion of Valentia, and to have been
visited and converted by St. Ninian.

They had overrun and seized on a part, the farthest
from his Church, of that wide field which had been
committed to his care. He was not then gomg beyond
his measure in endeavouring to win them over. It is
an early and a beautiful instance of the power of the
Church to reduce under her saving sway, and by the
ai-mour of truth, meekness, and righteousness, those
whom carnal weapons had in vain opposed — to lead
captive the conqueror.

"It deeply grieved the Holy Bishop," St. Aelred
proceeds, " that Satan, when he had now been driven
from the rest of the world, had found a place in the
hearts of the Picts, in a corner of the island, near the
ocean. He girt himself accordingly as an energetic


athlete to put down his tyranny, taking to himself the
shield of faith, the helmet of hope, the breast-plate of
love, and the sword of tlie Spirit, which is the word of
God." As associates in his labours, as comforters, and
advisers, after the example of St. Paul, he took with
him a body of holy brothers, those of his Clergy and
religious society, who were most suited for the work.
Happily they had not to overcome the hinderance of a
different language, for though the dialects of the various
portions of the Celtic race were distinguished, there
still remained a sufficient similarity to allow of their
being mutually understood, even after a much longer
and greater separation than had yet taken place ; as
it is said the people of Brittany and the Welch now

Online LibraryJohn Henry NewmanLives of the English saints (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 33)