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Symbols of St. Kentigern

face detail of St. Kentigern by J.Lewis
face detail of St. Kentigern by J.Lewis

Today is the feast of Saint Kentigern.

Born around the year 518, he was a disciple of St. Sernus the Abbot of Gilross. It was saint Sernus who named Kentigern 'Mungo', which means 'one dearly beloved.'

This was due to his piety and holiness of life, and legends of miracles abound even from his childhood. As a disciple of Sernus, Kentigern followed the Irish monastic tradition, praying fervently through out the day and night. He would often retreat to the River Clyde to pray there for several hours.

He kept strict fasts and lived in extreme poverty in a tiny cell, where he slept on a rock. His holy example and his preaching drew together a large community known as ‘Clasgu’ (‘dear family’), which ultimately grew into the town and city of Glasgow. He also founded the Monastery as St. Asaph in Wales.

symbols of Saint Kentigern/ Saint Mungo
symbols of Saint Kentigern/ Saint Mungo

Symbols of the saint
The robin The robin was a pet of the Abbot Sernus, which one of the monks accidentally killed. Kentigern placed his hand over the bird and prayed God return it to life - which he did.
The burning hazel tree

The burning tree is the symbol of another incident in Kentigern’s youth. He was left in charge of the holy fire in St Serf’s monastery, which was tended by the monks so that it never went out - however, he fell asleep and the fire went out. Kentigern broke off some frozen branches from a hazel tree nearby and miraculously rekindled the fire.

The fish

The King of Strathclyde accused his Queen of unfaithfulness because of the loss of her wedding ring. He was about to execute her, but through the prayers of St. Kentigern, the ring was found in the stomach of a salmon caught in the river Clyde, and her innocence was proved.

The Bell

Although not included in my depiction of St. Kentigern, as a pastor who traversed Scotland, Kentigern would have carried a staff and a bell. No doubt these would help with walking and to let locals know of his presence. The bell was kept in Glasgow cathedral until it went astray some time during the reformation. The bell was replaced with a replica in the 1700's.

This ancient Cathedral is now in Presbyterian ownership, yet is still dedicated to St. Kentigern. It is thought that his relics are in the tomb of the lower crypt of the Cathedral and are visited by both Russian Orthodox and Catholic pilgrims.

At the back of the crypt is an ancient holy well, also connected with the saint. Saint Kentigern is the patron Saint of Glasgow, and patron of Liverpool Archdiocese in the U.K.

Prayer to St.Kentigern.

'Saint Kentigern, vigorous defender of the faith, example of holy piety and missionary zeal, You whom God allowed to enkindle the holy fire; intercede for us, that God will raise men and women filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit to enkindle once again the flame of faith in our lands. Amen.'


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