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Vita Sancti Kentigerni (Life of Saint Kentigern)

Saint Kentigern

Vita Sancti Kentigerni (Life of Saint Kentigern) by Jocelyn(e) (Jocelin), a monk of Furness

Authorship

Jocelyn  (Jocelyne, Jocelin) of Furness wrote Vita Sancti Kentigerni for Jocelyn (Jocelin), Bishop of Glasgow (and Abbot of Melrose) sometime between AD 1175 and 1214 (Lindsay McArthur Irvin claims AD 1185).  Being a monastic English Cistercian monk of Furness Abbey (presently in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria), Jocelyn adapted or translated “Celtic” hagiographies for an Anglo-Norman audience.  Canon John Quine, at the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society’s Annual Meeting on 16 April 1914, claimed: “as Jocelyn [of Furness] was Abbot of Rushen in 1187, witnessing the Charter of King Reginald, he was doubtless the architect of the Cistercian House of Rushen”.  Jocelyn states that he wrote Life of Saint Kentigern using an Old Irish document and an earlier Glasgow legend as sources.  It is apparent that Jocelyn altered parts of the original life that he did not understand while adding others that served his purposes.  Some new parts may have been collected from genuine local stories, particularly those of Kentigern’s work in Cumbria.

Content of Vita Sancti Kentigerni

This work begins with a Prologue “in the form of a letter on the life of Saint Kentigern, Bishop and Confessor”.  In Chapter iv (four), we learn of “the mother Taneu [Thaney, Teneu] and the boy Kyentyern [Kentigern]”.  His father, Owain mab Urien, was a King of Rheged (Urien of Rheged being the historical basis for the Arthurian Urience of Gorre).  Kentigern’s maternal grandfather, Lleuddun (Leudonus, Lot), was a King of the Gododdin (Lothian was named after him).  Lot, in this instance, is an archetypal Lot who was later to appear in Arthuriana as King Lot.  Additionally in Chapter iv, “so it was his custom to call him in the language of his country Munghu”, which gives Kentigern’s Glasgow name, Mungo.  In Chapter xxi (twenty-one), we are told “a certain tyrant, who was called Morken, who was persuaded by power, honor, and riches to walk in great and wondrous matters above him, ascended to the throne of the Cambrian kingdom.”  So in Chapter xxii (twenty-two), it is shown that “it was commanded by Morken that if Kentigern appeared any longer in his sight he would atone with the most serious penalties since Kentigern had mocked him.”  In Chapter xxiii (twenty-three), we are told “after being instructed by divine revelation, Kentigern departed from those territories and headed eagerly for the road which turned towards Wales, where at that time the holy patron Dewi [David] shone forth in his pontificate …”  A strong anti-Christian movement in Alt Clut (now Strathclyde) is seen, headed by this King Morken, that compelled Kentigern to leave and retire to Wales, via Cumbria, staying for a time with Saint David [Dewi], and afterward moving on to Gwynedd where he founded a cathedral at Llanelwy.

In Chapter xxxi (thirty-one), we see “he gave … Saint Asaph … the governance of the monastery, … Kentigern placed him as successor to his bishopric.”  In Chapter xxxiii (thirty-three), it is shown that “King Rederech [Riderch, Rhydderch Hæl], … was filled with great joy. … taking off his royal vestments and kneeling with clasped hands, … he offered his person to Saint Kentigern and yielded to him the dominion and sovereignty over all his kingdom.”  According to Oswald Hunter-Blair, King Rhydderch Hæl enticed Kentigern back to Alt Clut.  Appointing Saint Asaph as Bishop of Llanelwy in his place, Kentigern decided to return.  There seems little reason to doubt that Kentigern (Mungo) was one of the first evangelists of what would become Strathclyde and probably became the first Bishop of Glasgow.  In Vita Sancti Kentigerni’s final chapter, xlv (forty-five), it is said: “In the same year that Saint Kentigern was released from the affairs of men and departed into heaven, King Rederech [Riderch, Rhydderch Hæl], who has been named often, stayed for a longer time than usual in a royal village which is called Pertnech [Partick].  A certain foolish man, who was called Laleocen [Lailoken], lived at his court, and he received his necessary sustenance and garments from the bountifulness of the king.”  At the end of Vita Sancti Kentigerni, one reads: “Here ends the life of the most holy Kentigern, Bishop and Confessor,  who is also called Mungo in Glasgow.”

The Names Kentigern and Mungo

Kentigern (Cyndeyrn in Welsh, Kentigernus in Latin) was a late-6th-Century-AD missionary in the Northern Kingdom of Alt Clut (Strathclyde), and the patron saint and founder of Glasgow.  In England and Wales, this saint is known by his baptismal and birth name Kentigern (Cyndeyrn).  The name likely stems from the Brythonic Cuno-tigernos, which is composed of the elements cun (a hound) and tigerno (a lord, prince, or king).  According to Kenneth Jackson, the evidence is based on the Old Welsh Conthigirn(i).  Other etymologies have been suggested, including the Brythonic Kintu-tigernos (chief prince) based on the English form Kentigern.  The Old Welsh Conthigirn(i) and Old English Cundiʒeorn do not support this assertion.  It is worth noting that the Welsh cynt (and the Cornish and Breton equivalents) mean ‘sooner, earlier, prior’ and not ‘chief’ as is assumed by the derivation.  Suggestions that the name may derive from the Brythonic Kon-tigern: kom– (with; in Latin com-, con-, co-) are unfounded.  The element is barely known in Brythonic personal names and the meaning ‘co-prince’ or ‘our ruler’ seems unlikely as a birth name.  Moreover, the Brythonic Kontigernos would have been rendered in Welsh as Cynteyrn which does not occur.  Although, with the occurrence of Cyndeyrn one can easily see how the d and the t could be interchangeable.

In Scotland, Kentigern is known by the name Mungo.  It is possibly derived from the Cumbric equivalent of the Welsh fy nghu ‘my dear (one)’.  This meaning is disputed by Donald Attwater.  The name Mungo has a Gælic parallel in the form Mo Choe or Mo Cha, under which guise Kentigern appears in Kirkmahoe.  In old age, he became very feeble and his chin had to be set in place with a bandage.  On a Sunday 13 January, it is said that he died in his bath.  David McRoberts has argued that Kentigern’s death in the bath is a garbled version of his collapse during a baptismal service.  The year of Kentigern’s death is sometimes given as AD 603 but is recorded in Annales Cambriæ as 612.  One must remember that the Annales do not contain actual year dates, instead have “year one, year two, et cetera” that are arbitrarily assigned year dates.  The 13th of January was a Sunday in both 603 and 614, so it is most likely that the year AD 603 for Kentigern’s (Mungo’s) death is accurate.  This, in turn, affects the date for the Battle of Arfderydd, mentioned later in the Annales as AD 573.  With Kentigern’s death occurring in 603, Arfderydd would be 564.

Lailoken (Laleocen)

As presented earlier, Vita Sancti Kentigerni tells of “a certain foolish man, who was called Laleocen” living at or near the village of Pertnech (Partick) within the Kingdom of Alt Clut (Strathclyde).  Laleocen prophesied the death of King Rederech (Riderch, Rhydderch Hæl).  Laleocen (Lailoken) was a semi-legendary madman and prophet who lived in the Caledonian Forest in the late 6th century.  Lailoken’s name may be a form of Llallogan.  It appears in Cyfoesi Myrddin a Gwenddydd ei Chwær (Conversation of Merlin and his Sister Gwenddydd), a poem in which Gwenddydd calls Merlin Llallawg and also Llallogan (the diminutive form of Llallawg).  This name is comparable to the Modern Welsh llallog meaning “brother, friend, lord, honour, dignity”, also “a twin; twin(-like)”.  In the late 15th-century story Lailoken and Kentigern, Saint Kentigern (Mungo) meets a naked, hairy madman called Lailoken in a deserted place.  He was condemned for his sins and forced to wander with beasts as companions.  Specifically, this was because Lailoken was responsible for the deaths of all of the persons killed in the Battle of Arfderydd.  This battle was fought on the plain between Liddel and Carwannok.  Having told his story, the madman leaps up and flees from the presence of the saint, and hurries back into the wilderness.  Lailoken appears several times more in the narrative until at last asking the saint for the Sacrament, prophesying that he was about to die a triple death.  After some thought on the matter, Kentigern grants Lailoken’s wish.  Later that same day, the shepherds of King Meldred (Maldred) capture Lailoken, beat him with clubs, then cast him into the river Tweed where his body is pierced by a stake.  This fulfilled Lailoken’s triple death prophecy.

Myrddin Wyllt

Rachel Bromwich, Alfred Owen Hughes Jarman, and Tim Clarkson tell us that, like a wild man of the forests in what is now southern Scotland, Lailoken is often equated with Myrddin, the Welsh antecedent to Merlin.  Elis Gruffydd called him Myrddin Wyllt (Welsh for “Myrddin the Wild”).  In Cornish, he is Marzhin Gwyls, in Breton, Merzhin Gueld.  Winifred MacQueen, John MacQueen, and Stephen Thomas Knight state that in Lailoken and Kentigern, “…some say he was called Merlynum” (as in the 12th-century Vita Merlini Silvestris).  Myrddin’s legend is rooted in history.  He is specifically linked with the Battle of Arfderydd (now Arthuret) in which Rederech (Riderch, Rhydderch Hæl) of Alt Clut (Strathclyde) defeated Gwenddoleu.  After the battle, Myrddin went insane.  He fled into the forest to live with the animals and receive the gift of prophecy.  According to Annales Cambriæ, the battle took place in 573 (keep in mind the arbitrary nature of assigning years in the Annales).  Myrddin (as Merlin) was a prophet and madman who was introduced into Arthurian legend by Geoffrey of Monmouth.  In Middle Welsh poetry, he counted as a chief bard and the speaker of several poems in Llyfr Du Cærfyrddin (Black Book of Carmarthen) and Llyfr Coch Hergest (Red Book of Hergest).  Camilla Seymour and John Randall say that elsewhere he is called Myrddin Emrys (“Ambrosius”), Merlinus Caledonensis (“of Caledonia”), and Merlin Sylvestris (“of the woods”).

Vita Sancti Kentigerni‘s comparable texts

In the late 15th-century fragmentary manuscript called Lailoken and Kentigern, the saint appears in conflict with the mad prophet.  Lailoken’s appearance at the Battle of Arfderydd has led to a connection being made between this battle, the rise of Riderch (Rederech, Rhydderch Hæl), and the return of Kentigern (Mungo) to Alt Clut (Strathclyde).  Vita Sancti Kentigerni bears similarities with Chrétien de Troyes’ French romance Yvain, or The Knight of the Lion.  According to Joseph John Duggan, Yvain (a version of Owain mab Urien) courts and marries Laudine, only to leave her for a period to go adventuring.  This may or may not suggest that the works share a common source.

Conclusion

Jocelyn of Furness wrote Vita Sancti Kentigerni for Jocelyn, Bishop of Glasgow sometime between AD 1175 and 1214.  Being a monk of Furness Abbey, he adapted or translated “Celtic” hagiographies for an Anglo-Norman audience.  This Vita begins with a Prologue “in the form of a letter on the life of Saint Kentigern, Bishop and Confessor”.  His father was Owain, son of Urien of Rheged (the historical basis for the Arthurian Urience of Gorre).  Kentigern’s maternal grandfather was Lleuddun (Leudonus, Lot), a King of the Gododdin.  Lot is an archetype who was later to appear in Arthuriana as King Lot.  In the final chapter, xlv (forty-five), it is said: “In the same year that Saint Kentigern was released from the affairs of men and departed into heaven, King Rederech … stayed for a longer time than usual in a royal village which is called Pertnech.  A certain foolish man, who was called Laleocen, lived at his court, and he received his necessary sustenance and garments from the bountifulness of the king.”  At the end of Vita Sancti Kentigerni, we read “Here ends the life of the most holy Kentigern, Bishop and Confessor,  who is also called Mungo in Glasgow.”  Kentigern was a late-6th-Century-AD missionary in the Northern Kingdom of Alt Clut, and the patron saint and founder of Glasgow.  In England and Wales, he is known by his baptismal and birth name Kentigern (Cyndeyrn).  The year of his death is most accurately given as 13 January AD 603.  With Kentigern’s death occurring in 603, the Battle of Arfderydd would be AD 564.

Vita Sancti Kentigerni tells of “a certain foolish man, who was called Laleocen” living at or near the village of Patrick within the Kingdom of Alt Clut.  He prophesied the death of King Rhydderch Hæl.  Laleocen (Lailoken) was a semi-legendary madman and prophet who lived in the Caledonian Forest in the late 6th century.  Like a wild man of the forests, Lailoken is often equated with Myrddin Wyllt, the Welsh antecedent to Merlin.  In Lailoken and Kentigern, it is said: “…some say he was called Merlynum”.  Myrddin is specifically linked with the Battle of Arfderydd in which Rhydderch Hæl of Alt Clut defeated Gwenddoleu.  After the battle, Myrddin went insane.  He fled into the forest to live with the animals and receive the gift of prophecy.   Lailoken’s presence at the Battle of Arfderydd has led to a connection between this battle, the rise of Rhydderch Hæl, and the return of Kentigern to Alt Clut.  Arfderydd connects Lailoken and Myrddin, whether purposefully or by chance.  Kentigern (Mungo) is thereby forever associated with Lailoken (Myrddin, Merlin).