Saint Mungo is the commonly used name for Saint Kentigern (also known as Cantigernus (Latin) or Cyndeyrn Garthwys (Welsh)). He was the late 6th century apostle of the Brythonic Kingdom of Strathclyde in modern Scotland, and patron saint and founder of the city of Glasgow.
and the southern Brythonic regions of modern England
, this saint is known by his birth and baptismal name: commonly Kentigern, more correctly Cyndeyrn. The name means 'chief prince'. The epithet 'Garthwys' is of unknown meaning. In Scotland and the Northern Brythonic
areas of modern England, he is called by his pet name
of Mungo, derived from Brythonic my-nghu
) meaning 'dear one'. An aged church in Bromfield, Cumbria
is named after him, also.
The 'Life of Saint Mungo' was written by the monastic hagiographer
, Jocelin of Furness
, in about 1185. Jocelin states that he rewrote the 'life' from an earlier Glasgow legend and an old Gaelic
document. There is certainly a partial earlier life in the Cotton MS in the British Library
. There is also a later 'life', based on Jocelin, by John of Tynemouth
Mungo's mother, Thenaw
, also known as St. Thaney
, was the daughter of the Brythonic king, Lleuddun
(Latin, Leudonus), who ruled in the Haddington
region of what is now Scotland
, probably the Kingdom of Gododdin
in the Old North
. She fell pregnant, after being seduced by Owain mab Urien
according to the British Library
manuscript. Her furious father had her thrown from heights of Traprain Law
. Surviving, she was then abandoned in a coracle
in which she drifted across the River Forth
. There Mungo was born.
Mungo was brought up by Saint Serf who was ministering to the Picts in that area. It was Serf who gave him his popular pet-name. At the age of twenty-five, Mungo began his missionary labours on the Clyde, on the site of modern Glasgow. Christianity had been introduced to the region by Saint Ninian and his followers welcomed the saint and procured his consecration by an Irish bishop. He built his church at the confluence of the Clyde and the Molendinar Burn, where the present medieval cathedral now stands. For some thirteen years, he laboured in the district, living a most austere life in a small cell and making many converts by his holy example and his preaching.
A strong anti-Christian movement in Strathclyde, headed by a certain King Morken, compelled Mungo to leave the district, and he retired to Wales, via Cumbria, staying for a time with Saint David at St David's, and afterwards moving on to Gwynedd where he founded a cathedral at Llanelwy (now St Asaph). While there, he undertook a pilgrimage to Rome. However, the new King of Strathclyde, Riderch Hael, invited Mungo to return to his kingdom. He decided to go and appointed Saint Asaph as Bishop of Llanelwy in his place.
For some years, Mungo fixed his Episcopal seat at Hoddom in Dumfriesshire, evangelising thence the district of Galloway. He eventually returned to Glasgow where a large community grew up around him, becoming known as Clas-gu (meaning the 'dear family'). It was nearby, in Kilmacolm, that he was visited by Saint Columba, who was at that time labouring in Strathtay. The two saints embraced, held long converse, and exchanged their pastoral staves. In old age, Mungo became very feeble and his chin had to be set in place with a bandage. He is said to have died in his bath, on Sunday 13 January.
In the 'Life of Saint Mungo', he performed four religious miracles in Glasgow
. The following verse is used to remember Mungo's four miracles:
- Here is the bird that never flew
- Here is the tree that never grew
- Here is the bell that never rang
- Here is the fish that never swam
The verses refer to the following:
- The Bird — Mungo restored life to the pet robin of Saint Serf, which had been killed by some of his fellow classmates, hoping to blame him for its death.
- The Tree — Mungo had been left in charge of a fire in Saint Serf's monastery. He fell asleep and the fire went out. Taking branches from a tree, he restarted the fire.
- The Bell — the bell is thought to have been brought by Mungo from Rome. It was said to have been used in services and to mourn the deceased. The original bell no longer exists, and a replacement, created in the 1640s, is now on display in Glasgow.
- The Fish — refers to the story about Queen Languoreth of Strathclyde who was suspected of infidelity by her husband. King Riderch demanded to see her ring, which he claimed she had given to her lover. In reality the King had thrown it into the River Clyde. Faced with execution she appealed for help to Mungo, who ordered a messenger to catch a fish in the river. On opening the fish, the ring was miraculously found inside, which allowed the Queen to clear her name. (This story may be confused with an almost identical one concerning King Maelgwn of Gwynedd and Saint Asaph.)
Mungo's ancestry is recorded in the Bonedd y Saint
. His father, Owain was a King of Rheged
. His maternal grandfather, Lleuddun, was probably a King of Gododdin
was named after him. There seems little reason to doubt that Mungo was one of the first evangelists of Strathclyde, under the patronage of King Rhiderch Hael, and probably became the first Bishop of Glasgow
Jocelin seems to have altered parts of the original life that he did not understand; while adding others, like the trip to Rome, that served his own purposes, largely the promotion of the Bishopric of Glasgow. Some new parts may have been collected from genuine local stories, particularly those of Mungo's work in Cumbria. S. M. Harris has shown that Mungo's associations with St Asaph were a Norman invention. However, in Scotland, excavations at Hoddom have brought confirmation of early Christian activity there, uncovering a late 6th century stone baptistery.
Details of Mungo's infirmity have a ring of authenticity about them. The year of Mungo's death is sometimes given as 603, but is recorded in the Annales Cambriae as 612. 13 January was a Sunday in both 603 and 614. David McRoberts has argued that his death in the bath is a garbled version of his collapse during a baptismal service.
In a late 15th century fragmentary manuscript generally called 'Lailoken and Kentigern', Mungo appears in conflict with the mad prophet, Lailoken alias Merlin. Lailoken's appearance at the Battle of Arfderydd in 573 has led to a connection being made between this battle, the rise of Riderch Hael and the return of Mungo to Strathclyde.
The Life of Saint Mungo bears similarities with Chrétien de Troyes's French romance Yvain, the Knight of the Lion. In Chrétien's story, Yvain, a version of Owain mab Urien, courts and marries Laudine, only to leave her for a period to go adventuring. This suggests that the works share a common source.
On the spot where Mungo was buried now stands the cathedral
dedicated in his honour. His shrine
was a great centre of Christian pilgrimage until the Scottish Reformation
. His remains are said to still rest in the crypt.
His festival was kept throughout Scotland on 13 January. The Bollandists have printed a special mass for this feast, dating from the 13th century. His feast day in the West is 1 July. His feast day in the Eastern Orthodox Church is 14 January.
Mungo's four religious miracles in Glasgow are represented in the city's coat of arms. Glasgow's current motto Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of His word and the praising of His name and the more secular Let Glasgow flourish, are both inspired by Mungo's original call "Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the word".
Hugh Grant's middle name is Mungo.
Mungo or Kentigern is the patron of two Presbyterian church
schools in Auckland
, New Zealand
: Saint Kentigern College
, a private co-ed college, and Saint Kentigern School
, an exclusive boys-only private junior school, with over 2,000 students combined.
- Dave Sim used The Life of St. Mungo in his work Cerebus. In Sim's radical reinterpretation, the verses refer to an inability in males to raise above the supposed dominance of females.
- J.K. Rowling created St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries in her Harry Potter series of books, most likely due to her Scottish roots. St Mungo's is a wizarding hospital in London.
Sources and references
- Sabine Baring-Gould & John Fisher. (1907). Lives of the British Saints.
- Chrétien de Troyes; Burton Raffel (1987). Yvain, the Knight of the Lion. Yale University Press.
- A. W. Wade-Evans. (1934). Welsh Christian Origins.
- John J. Delaney. (1983). Pocket Dictionary of Saints. Image Books.
- D. O. Hunter-Blair. (1910). Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Kentigern
- Nigel Tranter. (1993). Druid Sacrifice. Hodder & Stoughton.
- Chris Lowe. (1999). Angels, Fools and Tyrants. Canongate Books & Historic Scotland.
- Elizabeth Rees. (2000). Celtic Saints: Passionate Wanderers. Thames & Hudson.
- The Catholic Encyclopedia - St. Kentigern (Mungo)