THE southern Picts who live on this side of the mountains had, so it is said, long
ago given up the errors of idolatry and received the true faith through the preaching
of the Word by that revered and holy man Bishop Ninian (or Nynia); a Briton who had
received orthodox instruction at Rome in the faith and mysteries of the truth. His
episcopal see is celebrated for its church dedicated to St Martin, where his body
rests together with those of many other saints.' Those sentences of Bede contain virtually
all that can be said about Ninian. Bede wrote about 730, but drew upon traditions
preserved at the shrine of Ninian at Whithorn in Galloway, which had recently become
a bishopric of the Northumbrian church. The only other evidence is a poem of 'The
Miracles of Bishop Ninian', also written in the eighth century, and a twelfth-century
life by Ailred of Rievaulx. It can be deduced that Ninian flourished in the fifth
century and was active in Southern Scotland.
No written sources give any connection
between Ninian and Cumbria, although it can be guessed that any mission from post-Roman
Britain to the lands north of Hadrian's Wall could have set out from Carlisle. Claims
for Ninian's activity in our area rest on the name Ninekirks for the old church at
Brougham, and the dedication of a holy well at Ninewells by Brampton Old Church (which,
like Whithorn, is dedicated to St Martin); there is also a St Ninian's well at Brisco
near Carlisle. The earliest surviving records of these three names, however, are
all post-medieval: 1583, 1704 and C. 1839 respectively. Even the dedication of Ninekirks
is in doubt. The medieval dedication may have been to St Wilfrid. Eighth-century
metalwork has been found at Brougham, but there are no remains at Brampton earlier
than the twelfth.
Cults could and did spring up centuries after the time of a saint.
A fabric of supposition has been built upon very little evidence, and although past
scholars have claimed Ninian as a Cumbrian saint it would be better to suspend judgment.
COMMEMORATION: 18th September.
SOURCES: Betiastical History of the English
People, ed. B Coigraveani R A B Mynors (Oxford, 1969), p.222; Charles Thomas, Christianity
in Roman Britain to AD 500 (London, 1981); articles in Transactions of the Cumberland
and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, new series, vols. (1950) by
C M L Bouch, lviii (1958) by W 0 Simpson, and lxxxii (1982) by Robinson; The Lives
of St Ninian and St Kentigern, ed. A P Forbes, (The Historians ofScotland, vol. V.