St. Ninian (+c. 432),
Apostle to the Picts, Abbot of Candida Casa
("White House") Monastery, Bishop of Whithorn
Bishop and confessor; date of birth unknown; died about 432; the first
Apostle of Christianity in Scotland.
The earliest account of him is in Bede (Hist. Eccles., III, 4): "the
southern Picts received the true faith by the preaching of Bishop
Ninias, a most reverend and holy man of the British nation, who had been
regularly instructed at Rome in the faith and mysteries of the truth;
whose episcopal see, named after St. Martin the Bishop, and famous for a
church dedicated to him (wherein Ninias himself and many other saints
rest in the body), is now in the possession of the English nation. The
place belongs to the province of the Bernicians and is commonly called
the White House [Candida Casa], because he there built a church of
stone, which was not usual amongst the Britons". The facts given in this
passage form practically all we know of
St. Ninian's life and work.
The most important later life, compiled in the twelfth century by St.
Aelred, professes to give a detailed account founded on Bede and also on
a "liber de vita et miraculis eius" (sc. Niniani) "barbarice scriptus",
but the legendary element is largely evident. He states, however, that
while engaged in building his church at Candida Casa, Ninian heard of
the death of St. Martin and decided to dedicate the building to him. Now
St. Martin died about 397, so that the mission of Ninian to the southern
Picts must have begun towards the end of the fourth century.
[ The Life of St Ninian by Aelred, Abbot of Rievaux can be read at:
St. Ninian founded at Whithorn a monastery which became famous as a
school of monasticism within a century of his death; his work among the
southern Picts seems to have had but a short lived success. St. Patrick,
in his epistle to Coroticus, terms the Picts "apostates", and references
to Ninian's converts having abandoned Christianity are found in Sts.
The body of St. Ninian was buried in the church at Whithorn
(Wigtownshire), but no relics are now known to exist. The "Clogrinny",
or bell of St. Ringan (Ninian), of very rough workmanship, is in the
Antiquarian Museum at Edinburgh.
St. Ninian of Galloway, Bishop, Missionary to Scotland
(Nynia, Ninias, Rigna, Trignan, Ninnidh, Ringan, Ninus, Dinan)
He was a Celt, born in southern Scotland in about 360, and is regarded
as the first major preacher of the Gospel to the people living in
Britain north of the Wall--that is, living outside the territory that
had been under Roman rule. He is said to have studied in Rome (note that
he is contemporary with Ambrose, Jerome, and Augustine), but was chiefly
influenced by his friendship with Martin of Tours, with whom he spent
some considerable time when he was returning from Italy to Britain.
It is probable that he named his headquarters in Galloway after Martin's
foundation in Gall. Martin had a monastery known as LOCO TEIAC, a
latinised form of the Celtic LEUG TIGIAC. LEUG means "white, shining,"
and TIG means "house" (a shanty, or SHAN-TIG, is an old house). The
suffix -AC means "little." Thus, Martin's monastery had a name which in
Celtic means "little white house." At about the time of Martin's death
in 397, Ninian built a church at Galloway, in southwest Scotland. It was
built of stone and plastered white, an unusual construction in a land
where almost all buildings were wood. He called it Candida Casa (White
House) or Whithorn, presumably after Martin's foundation at Tours.
Archaeologists have excavated and partially restored his church in this
From his base at Galloway, Ninian preached throughout southern
Scotland, south of the Grampian Mountains, and conducted preaching
missions among the Picts of Scotland, as far north as the Moray Firth,
He also preached in the Solway Plains and the Lake District of England.
Like Patrick (a generation later) and Columba (a century and a half
later), he was a principal agent in preserving the tradition of the old
Romano-British Church and forming the character of Celtic Christianity.
Some historians think that the number and extent of his conversions has
been exaggerated, but throughout southern Scotland there are many and
widespread churches that bear his name, and have traditionally been
assumed to be congregations originally founded by him.
Our information about him comes chiefly from Bede's History (Book 3,
chapter 4), an anonymous eighth century account, and a 12th century
account by Aelred. Aelred is writing 700 years after the event, and is
for that reason rejected as untrustworthy by many critics. However, he
claims to rely on an earlier account, "written by a barbarian." This
suggests that he may have had an authentic record by a member of
Ninian's community in Galloway.
Troparion of St Ninian
Having been instructed and blessed by saints, O holy Father Ninian,
thou didst return to Northern Britain to preach Christ to thine own
Following thine example, O Apostle of the Picts, Light of those
in the darkness of paganism,
True shepherd of the sheep, Teacher of the
Orthodox Faith and Founder of Candida Casa,/
pray that we will tirelessly labour for
Christ among our fellow countrymen, that our souls may be saved.
O God, who by the preaching of thy blessed servant and bishop Ninian
didst cause the light of the Gospel to shine in the land of Britain:
Grant, we beseech thee, that, having his life and labours in
remembrance, we may show forth our thankfulness by following the example
of his zeal and patience; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and
reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
See "The Christian Island," by Beram Saklatvala (J M Dent, London, 1969)
Whithorn Priory and St Ninian, Galloway, South West Scotland
The first Christian settlement in Scotland
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