Magazine article Compass: A Jesuit Journal

St=Mungo: Christianizing Britain in Small Strokes

Magazine article Compass: A Jesuit Journal

St=Mungo: Christianizing Britain in Small Strokes

Article excerpt

The life of St. Mungo, lived in Scotland in the sixth century, is a veritable soap opera with feuding cousins, uncles and nephews. In the century before Mungo's birth, the Roman legions that had occupied the island of Britain for four centuries were suddenly withdrawn. The islanders drifted into minor kingdoms from which they defended themselves against invaders and opportunist neighbours. Mungo was born into an unprecedented calm: the island was enjoying a twenty-year peace won by the legendary King Arthur. But his arrival was anything but calm for his unwed teenage mother.

High on the great rock lookout of Traprain Law, thirty kilometres east of Edinburgh, King Loth ruled as far as the eye could see. Although he wasn't strictly a believer, he had agreed to the founding of a convent within his realm and allowed his daughter Tannoc to be schooled there.

When Tannoc was fifteen, she was summoned to the King's court to be presented to a noble suitor, Prince Owen. It was a promising moment, but unexpectedly, Tannoc rejoined that she was already "promised to a king far greater" than the prince would ever be. Infuriated, King Loth banished her to work for a swineherder. While she was herding her pigs, the spurned Prince Owen discovered her and raped her. Learning some time later that his daughter was pregnant, King Loth had her thrown over a hundred-metre cliff in a cart. A troop of soldiers then towed her, miraculously still alive, out to sea where she was set adrift.

The tides, being tides, changed, and Tannoc drifted towards land again. As she dragged herself ashore, the first birth pangs struck. She discovered an abandoned campfire and there in the open spaces, in a region she knew not, she gave birth to a baby boy. The next day local shepherds discovered the mother and child and took them to the kindly priest of the village of Culross, who lifted the little boy into his arms and uttered the words "my beloved" or Mungo, although Kentigern would be his Christian name. The priest gave refuge to the mother and child.

Mungo's life was not particularly spectacular, although he did recite the entire book of Psalms every day, sometimes neck-deep in frigid Scottish rivers. As a young priest and eventually a bishop, he was more influential in small strokes.

By the time Mungo had reached his mid-twenties the only bishop in Scotland had been murdered, and Mungo reluctantly agreed to become bishop of Strathclyde. …

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