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Saint Ninian
Patron Saint of our Church

Saint Ninian is acknowledged as Scotland's first saint with the date 397AD celebrated as the beginning of his mission to his people. He was a Christian Bishop, and was particularly active in the Whithorn and Galloway area of Scotland. He is also credited with being the first to bring Christianity to the 'southern' Picts, the people living in the parts of Scotland we know today as Perth, Fife, Stirling and around Dundee and Forfar.

Not much is known with certainty about St. Ninian, but according to oral traditions dating from the 5th century and confirmed in the writings of the Venerable Bede in the 8th century, a holy man named 'Nynia', born among the British people, introduced the Christian faith into Scotland long before the coming of Saint Columba.

In the 8th century a Latin poem ‘Miracula Nynie Episcopi’ was written by a monk at the monastery at Whithorn. In the 12th century Ailred of Rievaulx wrote his “Life of St Ninian”. Some stories in the books tell of the life, good works and goodness of the saint and some tell of cures and conversion of people to Christianity. Churches and altars across Scotland and further away in Europe were dedicated to St Ninian.

Archaeological research in modern times has confirmed the information about Ninian contained in the writings of Bede and others. There is clear archaeological evidence of the small church, the 'White' Church of Ninian, and the monastery he founded on the isle of Whithorn in the late fourth century.

The people Ninian encountered in late fourth century Scotland were trading and importing luxury goods from the Mediterranean and were working the land to produce food together. The Latinus Stone, which is the earliest Christian monument in Scotland shows that the community by that time was Christian. Historically we know that from the 7th century people made a pilgrimage to visit the shrine of St Ninian in Whithorn believing in his power to cure illness and perform miracles. The town became a cult centre and over many centuries both kings and commoners made the journey and the fame of Ninian and Whithorn spread.

In the 7th century Whithorn came under the control of the Northumbrian church. In AD731 Bede, a famous historian completed his book “History of the English Church and People”. In this book he said that Ninian was ‘a most reverend bishop and holy man of the nation of Britons’ who had been trained in Rome. The Episcopal see was named after St Martin and his church was known as Candida Casa because it was built from stone in a way unknown to the Britons. At this time there were arguments between the Celtic Church and the Roman Church. The Northumbrian church supported the Roman Church and Bede made much of Ninian receiving training in Rome. The complex of buildings revealed from this time was able to feed and house visitors to the shrine. One of a probable range of churches was also discovered with a burial chapel decorated with stained glass windows.

Archaeological searches have discovered that new churches were constantly being built and altered in Whithorn. By the 12th century a huge cathedral was on the hillside with a thriving town around it. The many people visiting the shrine needed food and other trades in the town, much like a visitor to the town today.


St. Ninian's Cave, Whithorn

It was only after the Reformation that Whithorn’s fortunes began to fail. Pilgrims still visit Whithorn and others come to discover the history of the town and its role in shaping the history of Scotland.

 

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