Holy Island Coat of Arms Little-known Saints of the North
© Reverend Canon Kate Tristram
7. KENTIGERN:
 
St. Kentigern, also called Mungo, is a very popular saint, about whom little is known for certain, except that he died in 612. His name Kentigern means something like 'Lord of the Hounds', a title of honour in a society where dogs were highly valued, and the alternative name Mungo is probably a combination of 'my' with an affectionately shortened form of his full name. Modern writers have suggested 'my dear Kenti' as the meaning of Mungo.
 
The legendary outline of his life is as follows. His mother was the daughter of a king of Lothian, and his father the son of the great British king Urien of Rheged. His mother's father, enraged at her pregnancy, set her adrift in a small boat, which grounded at Culross. Mother and new-born babe were carded for by St Serf, the hermit of Culross, who also undertook the education of the growing boy. As a young man Kentigern went his own way, and was led by a pair of oxen to a place called Cathures, later to be Glasgow. This was the centre of his work as a missionary in the Kingdom of Strathclyde. Legend also credits him with extensive travels in Cumbria and in Wales, before he finally returned to his Glasgow home for his remaining years. Many tales are told of his wonder- working powers, including how he saved a distracted queen from her husband's anger by finding the ring she had lost, in the mouth of a salmon. The ring and the fish are now embodied in the coat of arms of the city of Glasgow.
 
It is a pity that nothing was written down about Kentigern until 500 years after his death and the material is clearly legendary. All the same, legends are not told about nobodies. Behind all the wonders we can trace the outline of a real and entirely credible man, an important missionary and monastic founder at a time when the old British kingdoms were beginning to give way to the incoming English. It was on the work of such men that the Christianity which survived the pagans and then converted them was built.
 
8. EATA (eeyatta)
 
Eata was one of St.Aidan's original twelve English boys in the school on Lindisfarne, the first school ever in Northumbria. By the time Aidan died in 651 Eata had become Abbot of Melrose, a monastery founded by Aidan on the River Tweed, which later was famous as the monastery where the 17-year-old Cuthbert entered as a novice immediately after his vision of St.Aidan' soul being escorted to heaven by angels. Eata must have been pleased when his monastery was given land at Ripon to found a daughter-house there. But later the Melrose monks had to return, as their Ripon site had been handed over to Wilfrid. Soon after, Cuthbert' great friend, Boisil the Prior (deputy-head) of Melrose died of the plague, and Eata asked Cuthbert to be the next Prior. Then came the meeting known as the Synod of Whitby, where King Oswiu decided that Northumbria should no longer accept Irish leadership. The Irish monks of Lindisfarne all went back to Iona, and Eata was asked to become Abbot of Lindisfarne as well as Melrose. Eata accepted this, but it seems that he chose to remain himself at Melrose, and sent his prior Cuthbert to sort out the Lindisfarne monks.
 
Then the Archbishop of Canterbury, Theodore of Tarsus, decided to divide the huge diocese of York, and Eata took the northern part, Bernicia. When this was again divided into the two dioceses of Lindisfarne and Hexham Eata became the fifth bishop of Lindisfarne. But when Cuthbert was asked to be bishop of Hexham for some reason not known to us he was unwilling to go there. Eata kindly agreed to transfer to Hexham and Cuthbert became Bishop of Lindisfarne. Eata died the following year.
 
As a personality Eata is rather shadowy to us, but one thing seems clear: he was a man of peace, who worked behind the scenes to make everything go smoothly, and who was prepared to accept what was not congenial to himself if it promoted the greater peace of the church. His acceptance of the Synod of Whitby and of the authority of the Archbishop contributed greatly to the unity of the church in Northumbria and in England.
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