siricius, st

Saint Ninian

Saint Ninian
Born 360, Cumberland
Died 432, Whithorn
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church; Eastern Orthodox Church; Anglican Communion
Major shrine Whithorn Priory, now lost
Feast September 16
Attributes crozier, book, holding a model of a white church
Patronage diocese of Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada; diocese of Galloway, Scotland

Saint Ninian (c. 360 - 432) (also Nynia and Trinnean) is the earliest known bishop to have visited Scotland. Neither his place and date of birth, nor his early life, are known with any certainty. Also known as Saint Ringan.

Traditional story

Ninian is first mentioned by Bede, in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People (book III, chapter 4). Bede's comments are limited to two sentences. Also dating from the eighth century is a source known as "The Miracles of Bishop Nynia".

The traditional story is that he was born in Brythonic Cumbria but travelled to Rome as a young man to study Christianity. There he was made a bishop and given the task of converting the Picts by the Pope, St Siricius.

Tradition (first mentioned by Bede) states that around 397 he set up his base at Whithorn in south-west Scotland, building a stone church there, known as the Candida Casa which means the White House. From there he began work among the Northern Brythons of the surrounding area. Later he undertook a journey northwards along the east coast in order to spread Christianity among the southern Picts. The word southern is almost certainly a misnomer based on the maps of early times which mistakenly depict the east coast of Scotland as if it were the south coast, and it is possible that what is meant is the peoples living around the Firth of Forth. Placename evidence and local tradition suggest that he may have travelled as far as the Shetland Islands. He trained many missionaries, among whom, it is said, was the man who converted Saint Columba.

The archaeological evidence to date does not contradict this version of Ninian's life. Remains of an old Christian cemetery have been found at Whithorn, underneath the medieval church.

In 2001, the Glasgow University Celticist Thomas Clancy argued that St. Ninian was in fact the same man known in Old Irish as St Finnian and in Brittonic as *Uinniau, likewise a mentor of St. Columba, and that the form 'Ninian' is due to an 8th century scribal spelling error. Some scholars seem to be accepting that this could have been the case.

Locations connected with St Ninian

Many places in Scotland and elsewhere have been named after St Ninian or have connections with him. Many are listed on the Whithorn Trust website.


External links

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