LANCASTER
WHITHORN
CARLISLE
CARTMELL
FURNESS
TOGETHER
CUMBRIA AND BORDERS

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Jesus  and  Mary and the Disciples

 

Cumbria Christianity

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 the Anglo-Saxons.

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.

This 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.

DEDICATIONS: 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~

COMMEMORATION: 14th January.

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.