When talking to the Lit last month, the Rev Peter Atkins made a connection between the life of St Ninian who lived in a time of change and uncertainty, and present times when our society is also experiencing fear, anxiety and confusion – both on the edge.
The existence of St Ninian is questioned by some experts who think that rather than an individual he may be an amalgam of a cluster of men.
The earliest written record is by Bede writing in 731, centuries after Ninian had died. Peter explained that the ‘traditional’ stories of the saint, who lived 360 – 432, describe the turmoil of the end of the Roman Empire, the conversion of the Celts and the Southern Picts to Christianity, and the establishing of Whithorn Abbey.
Tradition holds that St Ninian was a Briton who had studied at Rome. He was greatly influenced by a visit he made to St Martin of Tours at the Abbey of Mamoutier.
Martin was the son of a senior officer in the Roman army. Christianity had been made a legal religion in the Roman Empire in 313 and, when aged only 10 and with pagan parents, Martin attended the Christian church.
Peter described how Ninian became the first Bishop of Galloway and established his bishopric at Whithorn.
The story is that he brought stonemasons with him from Mamoutier to build the first whitewashed, stone-built church where previously they were wooden. This was Candida
Casa – the white house – Whithorn. Ninian continued his missionary work, preparing the foundation for the later efforts of St Columba.
The connection Peter made was that both Ninian and Martin (and later St Columba) represent transitional movements, not as individuals but as communities.
The character of the Church was changing.
Men who were leaders were leaving the civic, military society to become Christians and monks, and lead a simple life of manual labour and study.
In conclusion Peter’s summary was that St Ninian deserves more recognition for the conversion of the Picts than that given to St Columba.
There is only one more meeting of the Lit this session – which was due to be held on Tuesday (March 5) as the Buteman went to press - What Mary (Queen of Scots) did Next, by Elspeth Crocket.
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