St Ninian

Although it is hard to pin St Ninian down with anything approaching historical certainty – not surprising given the period – nevertheless he is celebrated as the first real missionary or apostle to the Northern Britons and Picts. What information we have is based on later writings such as the Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People from the 8th Century. What follows might best be described as part of the ‘Ninian Tradition’.

He was born in Galloway and educated in Rome. His manner and eagerness to learn brought him to the notice of the Pope, St Damasus, who decided to train the young man. After St Damasus died, his successor, St Siricus, consecrated St Ninian a Bishop and commissioned him to return to Britain to preach the Catholic faith. Traveling back to Britain through France he heard of the great work being done by St Martin de Tours (c. 316 – 397AD) at his abbey in Marmoutiers. St Ninian stayed at the abbey for some time and was encouraged and helped in his work by St Martin who became his friend and left a lasting impression on him. St Ninian returned to Scotland to begin an evangelical mission there. With the help of masons from St. Martin’s Monastery in Tours he began to build his church. The first church he built in Scotland (c.397AD) was the first Christian settlement north of Hadrian’s wall, and it was said to be a whitewashed stone building (Most churches of this time were wooden), which could be easily seen. He named it Candida Casa (The White House), and in the language of that time it became known as Whithorn. During recent archaeological excavations, remnants of a white plastered wall were found which could possibly be from this first church. St Ninian used this church for his base and from it he and his monks evangelized the neighbouring Britons and the Picts. He was known for his miracles, among them curing a Chieftain of blindness, and these led to many conversions. Following St Ninian’s death, the missionary foundation he helped to create, allowed Christianity to grow in strength and survive in Scotland.

From ancient traditions in this area St Ninian is said to have visited Torphican a few miles to the north west and Abercorn a few miles to the north east of Strathbrock, – both important Celtic Christian sites. St Ninian presumably visited these sites on the sort of missionary journeys he was famous for possibly on his way to the Picts in what is now Fife.



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