Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Did St Ninian really exist?

The question as to whether St Ninian was the primary evangelist of what is now Scotland, or whether he is a later conflation of other figures, or even that thing so beloved of researchers, a scribal error, is discussed in an interesting piece by Christopher Howse in his weekly article in today's Daily Telegraph. The article can be read at Not a saint but a spelling mistake

There is a further account of St Ninian, with links and illustrations, here, and that also points to the very real historical uncertainty as to his existence, or at least his individual identity.

If St Ninian is a pious or historical construct then he is an old one - his place in the historical record derives from St Bede's Ecclesiastical History, and he was praised in verses addressed to Alcuin of York at the court of Charlemagne. It may be that Aelred of Rievaulx in the twelfth century was really responsible for devotion to St Ninian, writing as the Cistercian abbot was in the period of monastic expansion unfer King David I and King Malcolm IV.

Saint Ninian shown preaching to the Picts
A late medieval image from the Book of the Hours of the Virgin and Saint Ninian
Image: Wikipedia
Even if St Ninian did not exist per se his cult is an interesting example of how devotion and national identity were expressed in the middle ages.

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