It is the 13th of January 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 614.
After the Fall of the Roman Empire, the usual scribes, record keepers, and depositories of written records were in disarray. Some have referred to the time after the fall as the "lost century" on account of lost records and gaps in our historical knowledge. Consider the British Isles at this time: the Romans had settled and then scrammed. "Roman-ness" may have been enough to unite disparate tribes, but with its disappearance, we are stuck trying to wrangle all the Picts, Scots, Angles, etc. As Christianity spread, it helped create a common culture. But how Christianity spread and what that culture was can be hard to ascertain.
We do have a veritable "who's who" of characters floating around the Isles in the era. Augustine of Canterbury is undoubtedly the most well-recorded as the apostle to the English. This is the time of David, the patron saint of Wales, and Columba, the Irish Evangelist. On this show, we've come across Aidan of Lindisfarne and the Heptarchy period, that is, the seven major kingdoms that constituted early Medieval Britain. If we scratch just a bit below the surface, these are also the days of Arthur, Merlin, and the Roundtable.
We might take Augustine of Canterbury and Merlin as the spectrum by which we determine historic from mythic. And in the 5th and 6th centuries, the line is often blurred. And it is in this context that we wish you a very happy St. Mungo's Day. The popular but later eclipsed Scottish saint is so wonderfully named that you might remember St. Mungo's House for Magical Maladies and Injuries from the Harry Potter series. And it makes sense that the Scottish author of that series would give a tip of the hat to Glasgow's patron saint. St. Mungo is said to have died on this, the 13th of January in 614.
Mungo was the son of princess Theneva of Loth. Theneva was found to be having an affair with her cousin, the King of North Rheged. Theneva's father, the King of the Gododdin, was so enraged he threw his then-pregnant daughter off the cliffs of the volcanic mound on which their city was located. But she survived. And so, some saw this as divine favor. But others saw this as evidence that she was a witch. The Gododdins and their King decided to put the pregnant princess on a boat in the Firth of Forth without a paddle.
The story continues with the pregnant Theneva washing ashore in Culross, Fife, to be taken in by St. Serf. Here the child was born and called "Mungo," a term of endearment approximating "dear one." The boy grew up in the monastery and, by the age of 25, was said to have been an evangelist on the River Clyde. He would set up a church at the confluence of the Clyde and the Moldinar Burn. Mungo's church and people would eventually center around here in a community known as the "Clas-gu" or "dear family." "Clas-gu," of course, will evolve eventually into our "Glasgow."
Mungo was said to have been banished for a time by the evil King Morken of Strathclyde, and it was during his absence that some of the more fantastic stories developed. He is said to have gone to Wales to meet with David and have baptized Merlin, who was said to have been evangelized by Mungo late in life. There is evidence that St. Columba did meet with Mungo, giving our bastard saint quite the Rolodex.
Upon his death, the people of Clas-Gu on the Clyde petitioned to have Mungo officially sainted by the church. For this, the people needed evidence of miracles done by the saint. They collected four. These miraculous stories involved a bird, a tree, a bell, and a fish. Today, the seal of the great city of Glasgow has four images: the bird, the tree, the bell, and the fish. In honor of their patron saint and the man who died on this, the 13th of January in 614, St. Mungo.
The reading for today comes from a Scottish Poet, George Mackay Brown. This is his "A Poem for Shelter."
Who was so rich
He owned diamonds and snowflakes and fire,
The leaf and the forest,
Herring and whale and horizon —
Who had the key to the chamber beyond the stars
And the key of the grave —
Who was sower and seed and bread
Came on a black night
To a poor hovel with a star peeking through rafters
And slept among beasts
And put a sweet cold look on kings and shepherds.
But the children of time, their rooftrees should be strong.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 13th of January 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by my favorite muggle, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.