ST. NINIAN OR NINYAS, BISHOP, C.
THIS saint, who became the apostle of the southern
Picts, was son to a prince among the Cumbrian Britons, who inhabited
Cumberland and Galloway. From his cradle it seemed his only delight
to visit churches, to discourse on heavenly things, and to be
employed in exercises of devotion and piety. Whilst others take so
much pains in their education to advance themselves in the world, our
noble youth, sensible of the inestimable treasure of holy faith which
he had found, thought nothing difficult, and no labor great, that he
might improve his soul in the knowledge and practice of religion.
With this view, he bid adieu to the world, cut off the very root of
covetousness, sensuality, and ambition, by renouncing whatever might
flatter, or afford fuel to those passions, and forsaking a court, his
friends, and country, undertook a long journey to Rome. In that city
he spent many years, applying himself with his whole heart to the
exercises of the most heroic Christian virtue, and to the study of
the sacred sciences.
In this race he ran, as it were, with the strides
of a giant, and his soul was daily more and more inflamed with a
mighty love and zeal for God, whose honor he studied in all things to
promote. This motive and a compassion for his native country, which
had received the grace of faith more slowly and more imperfectly than
the southern provinces of Britain, engaged him at length to return
home, to impart to his countrymen a share of that blessing in which
their happiness consisted, and which was the great and sole end of
their very being. Those few who had already received some tincture of
the faith, he taught to set a due value on so great a treasure, and
to apply themselves with their whole strength to cultivate the same
in their hearts. He brought the idolators of that province into the
paths of eternal life, softened the fierce temper of Tudovald, king
of the Picts, and built a church of stone at Whithern, now in
Galloway; and as the northern Britons had never before seen any such
building of stone, the town, according to Bede and Malmesbury, took
from this edifice its name (importing a white house, in Latin Candida
Casa), since changed into Whithern. This saint fixed here his
episcopal see, and dedicated the church in honor of St. Martin, whose
tomb he probably had devoutly visited in his journey through France.
He converted from idolatry the Cumbrians, and all the provinces of
the southern Picts, as far as mount Grampus. The rest of North
Britain was converted by SS. Columba and Palladius. The former was
the apostle of the northern Picts in 565. The Scots, who, passing
from Ireland, settled in part of the country possessed by the Picts
in North Britain, acknowledge St. Palladius for their first bishop,*
though their modern historians tell us, that they received the first
seeds of faith in the year 200, under king Donald, by certain
missionaries sent from pope Victor. It is not to be doubted but the
light of faith had penetrated among the Caledonian Britons before
they were subdued by the Roman arms, in the expedition of Severus, in
208, as appears by Tertullian. (1. adv. Judæos, c. 7.) The
church of Whithern became a seminary of apostolic men and many
glorious saints. St. Ninian died on the 16th of September in 432. He
was illustrious for many miracles, and his relics were kept with
veneration, till the change of religion, in the church which bears
his name at Whithern. See his acts, and especially Bede,1. 3, c. 4.
The Saxon Chronicle, ann. 560. Alcuin, ap. Usser. Primord. p. 669.
William of Malmesbury,1. 3, de reg. Angl. John Fordun, Scotochron.1.
3. Leland, de Script. c. 33. Usher, Ant. Eccl. Britan. c. 15, p. 347.
Alford’s Annals, ann. 432. Sticker the Bollandist, t. 5, Sept.