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St Kentigern d.c. 612
CALDBECK and Grinsdale, Bromfield and Castle Sowerby, Irthington; ~Aspatria and Crosthwaite
- the dedications to kentigern ring round the northern part of the diocese. Many
have seen them as clear evidence of a mission south of the Solway by the saint who
became Bishop of Glasgow and died about 612, to people then still unconquered by
We are however on much shakier ground than with the saints mentioned
by Bede. Almost the only fact recorded about Kentigern at an early date is the year
of his death. There is a fragmentary Life composed in the twelfth century for Herbert,
Bishop of Glasgow. Thirty years later, Jocelyn, a monk of Furness Abbey, wrote another.
Stories about Kentigern also occur in later liturgical books. No doubt all these
sources draw upon earlier writings and traditions, but the record reaches us from
five hundred years after Kentigern's own time. Somewhere behind the contradictions,
folk-tales, and later accretions lies the memory of an ascetic missionary bishop who
spread the Christian faith in the post-Roman period in Southern Scotland, as Columba
and his disciples were doing further north. Kentigern was particularly identified
with the kingdom of Strathclyde, later to be absorbed into Scotland. His connection
with the area of modern Cumbria is more problematical.
Jocelyn tells that Kentigern
left Strathclyde to escape a political plot, and went to Wales. On the way he visited
Carlisle and preached in the vicinity, and in the mountains erected a cross. The
place was called Crosfeld, the field of the cross. Kentigern was eventually recalled
from Wales by a new Christian king of Strathclyde, Rederech (Rhydderch), and first
established his see at Hodelm (Hoddam in Dumfriesshire), later moving it to Glasgow.
part of Jocelyn's account has been painstakingly analysed by Professor Kenneth Jackson,
who concludes that 'it is intend ed to explain the presence of a number of churches
in northern Cumbria dedicated to the saint, dedications which probably date from
the period between the early tenth century and 1092, when this district was part of
Strathclyde again, and (after 1018) of Scotland and of the bishopric of Glasgow or
as late as 1133, when it was taken from the bishop of Glasgow and formed into the
new bishopric of Carlisle They bear witness to the natural popularity of his cult
there at the time.
Archaeology and place names tend to bear out this conclusion. Only
two of the churches dedicated to Kentigern (Aspatria and Bromfield) have early remains,
and these are no earlier than the tenth century. The element cross as in Crosthwaite
- which is not necessarily the same place as Crosfeld - does not occur in Cumbrian
place-names before the tenth century. Jocelyn himself says that the church at Crosthwaite
was built in his own times. To claim a precise date like 553 for the foundation of
Crosthwaite is to exceed the warrant of either tradition or record. While there is
nothing which conclusively disproves that Kentigern worked in Cumbria, the evidence
is weak even by the spiders'-web standards of early medieval scholarship.
as above, also Mungrisdale and Kirkcambeck, and a post-medieval dedication at Dearham
(Note that the same saint was also known familiarly as Mungo.7~
SOURCES: The Lives of St Ninian and St Kentigern. ed. A P Forbes (The Historians
of Scotland, vol. V, Edinburgh, 1874); K H Jackson. 'The Sources for the Life of
St Kenfigern' in Studies in the Early British Church, ed. N K Chadwick (Cambridge,
1958); John MacQueen. 'YVain, Ewen, and Owein ap Urien', Transactions of the Dumfriesshire
and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society. vol. xxxiii (1956): E G 'Sowen,
Saints, Seaways and 3ettlemen~ (Cardiff, 1977) pp.83-93.