St Kentigern was born on the 13th January 518AD, the son of St Enoch, who at the age of 16 gave birth to one who would be affectionately named Mungo by the Priest who found the young mother and infant by Culross on the River Forth.
‘Mungo’ was a term of endearment. Just like today if you were to lift up a little baby you might call them ‘darling’ or ‘dear one’ – that was the response of the priest. Mungo, which was to become Kentigern’s affectionate nickname translates as just this, ‘dear one’ or ‘my beloved’. The priest of this Christian community, who embraced Mungo, is considered to be St. Serph, although it can’t be said for sure given that much of the information we have from this time is fragmented. The priest and the Christian Community lovingly welcomed Enoch and Mungo as family, despite the risks that came with this. Therefore, it was Culross that Mungo would have called home – the place where Enoch raised him, where he was formed and grew into adulthood, where he learned about God and the world.
Enoch must have been a great teacher; she certainly had received a good education herself. One thing that rubbed off on Mungo was his mother’s love for nature and it’s inhabitants. You can imagine little Mungo out on walks or adventures with Enoch, running about fields, climbing rocks and encountering birds and animals and all. Mungo had a special love for these wild creatures – one that we see in his first ‘miracle’ – the ‘bird that never flew’…
If you’ve ever seen the City of Glasgow’s Coat of Arms then you’ll discover that it features a bird, in fact, it features a bird, a bell, a tree and a fish – all representing miracles attributed to St. Mungo.
The story behind the bird came from Mungo’s childhood. When Mungo was little, some of the local kids began throwing stones at robins that were pecking away at the ground looking for their tea. One of the poor robins took a hit and keeled over. The boys deserted, hoping to not be caught but instead of hiding himself, Mungo ran towards the little bird that was believed to be dead. He picked it up and, holding it in his hands, and prayed for God to heal the bird and restore it to life and the bird came round. The villagers believed this event to be a miracle, whether or not the bird was stunned or actually dead. In this, we see Mungo’s love for this little creature and also his trust in God to provide, to heal.
Mungo was asked to visit an old priest who was poorly in a neighbouring town. Mungo thought he’d be back in Culross by nightfall. However, the priest was really ill and so Mungo thought he should stay on and then later that night the priest died. As a result of this Mungo had a ‘last request’ to fulfil - the priest had asked him to ensure he was buried in a little church a day’s walk away that St. Ninian had founded around 100 years before. So, Mungo did as the priest wished and the morning after his death, he set off to that church. Upon arriving at nightfall, he found a small community of Christians and the next morning he said Mass for the deceased priest and buried him there in the church. After this he was ready to set off home, remember, it was a daytrip that he had set out on two mornings prior. However, his heart broke for that small community of people. They had not seen a priest in years and were living in fear of a large Druid community nearby that was attracting their young and threatening their people. Mungo, feeling their sense of loss, like sheep without a shepherd, offered to remain with the people who gladly welcomed him. Within a short time, the sad and fearful community began to come to life, there was a buzz about the place. Soon after Mungo settled, his mother joined him to assist in the village and in his mission. Quickly she began serving the parish community and was greatly loved.
What a day trip!
This village that Mungo arrived in was called Cathures back in the day. It’s not known as that now. Some suggest that Enoch is responsible for the naming as she loved her little church community and so was said to have named the place “The Beloved Church”, or in her native tongue, “Eglais Cu”, known today in Gaelic as Glashu, or the city that is known commonly in this land as Glasgow.
St Mungo in Exile
Mungo had been sent into exile and he was heading for Wales. However, upon hearing that the people in Cumbria had succumbed to idolatry and paganism, he took a three-year detour. Mungo recognised that these people were lost and met them where they were at, quite literally, gathering round village wells each day. People didn’t just go to draw water but to meet neighbours, catch up on the latest news and trade. It was at these wells that Mungo brought the Good News of Christ and the effects of this were evident. Not only were family and friends reconciling and people amending their ways but these wells that satiated the people’s bodily thirst became fountains of living water where Mungo baptised the multitude of converts. Mungo made many friends, but like all of the saints, he wasn’t winning friends to boost his ego or become powerful but to lead them to Christ. By the grace of God and Mungo’s yesses, namely to have his plans interrupted, Christianity grew rapidly in Cumbria. However, it was not long until Mungo had to flee, again.
St Mungo went off to Wales and like everywhere else he’d travelled to, Mungo made more friends in Wales. From what we’ve heard, you might think that all of Mungo’s friends were happy and saintly people. However, it would be wrong to assume that his friends were kind towards him initially, in fact some of those who Mungo would call friend were exceptionally hostile to him at times but he pursued a friendship with them, trusting in Christ to open their hearts. One of these men was a belligerent king who had once been a monk but was lured away by the riches of his inheritance. This king married then murdered his wife, then after this on another occasion he murdered his nephew then took his nephew’s wife as his own. He was clearly not the happiest or most saintly man. Yet, even though this king had some rap sheet, Mungo still desired to win his friendship so that the king could come to know Christ’s mercy and he did!
The ripple effects of Mungo’s perseverance in friendship, even when tough, were mighty with many encountering the love of God and choosing to follow Him.
Back to Glasgow
When things had calmed down north of the border, and Mungo was invited to return to Glasgow, he turned to God in prayer and consulted with his friends who he founded the monastery with. Then, upon discerning it was what God wanted and recognising the massive work that needed done to convert the people who had lapsed, Mungo and over 600 monks made the trip from Wales to Glasgow. It was not a direct trip, door to door, but one that included a stop in Dumfries and Galloway, where Mungo and his companions spent many years preaching and befriending the people there.
When Mungo returned to Glasgow, he was at bus-pass age, that time in life where most people retire, kick back, take life a little easier and enjoy being at home. However, Mungo was still focused on winning hearts for Christ – a compelling desire that led him on a two-year trip to Rome to consult with the Pope. He returned with ‘the bell that never rang’ and the promise of support from the Church to evangelise the English – neighbours whose souls Mungo hoped to win for Christ
In 603AD the great Saint died and went to his eternal home. His legacy is still with us and we pray for his continued intercession for Glasgow, Strathclyde and indeed Scotland.