The Legend of Saint Kentigerna


Translated and edited by Alan Macquarrie


This story is taken from the Aberdeen Breviary published in Edinburgh in 1510. It is the only major collection of legends of Scottish saints. Alan Macquarrie’s new edition, entitled Legends of the Scottish Saints is the first for over 150 years. The book was published in 2012 by Four Courts Press, Dublin.

The events described in this extract occurred over 1300 years ago in the place we now call Scotland at a time when people seemed more spiritual and more comfortable with the idea of a creator, Nonetheless there are in this story there are matters about children and parenting which are very much alive for us today.

We are grateful to Alan Macquarrie for giving us his kind permission to publish this extract.

Alan Macquarrie taught and researched in Scottish history at Glasgow University for 10 years, and later worked in the faculties of Education and of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Strathclyde for 18 years. He is an honorary research fellow in Scottish history at Glasgow University, and the author of a number of books, including Scotland and the Crusades (1985), The Saints of Scotland(1997) and Mediaeval Scotland: Kinship and Nation (2004).


The legend of Saint Kentigerna

The most devout matron Kentigerna drew her origin from distinguished parents of royal stock of the Scots; she was   daughter of Tigernach, a petty-king of the men of Leinster, and married by an indissoluble bond of matrimony to Feradach, petty-king of Moncheltrea ; she had for her brother a man most devoted to God called Comgan,, and for her son also a very gentle abbot called Fillan, most excellent for the seriousness of his manners. He was born of this Kentigerna, indeed, having a stone in his mouth; and on account of his son’s deformity, his father ordered him to be thrown into a nearby river or lake, and this was immediately done by his servants.

When she heard of her beloved son’s sudden drowning, I say, greatly moved to sighing, she earnestly begged God for a long time with wailing and sighs for the reviving of   her son, and that He would free him whole and unharmed from his deformity. When she had prayed, he was lifted up by His will by Whom all things are protected. Bishop Ibar, a man of great goodness and holiness, who was most firm in opposition to evil thoughts, while he was making his way towards this Kentigerna, found Kentigerna’s son Fillan, for whose restoration she had just recently been praying, playing among angels.

Approaching the lake, finding the boy alive under the water and the stone removed from his mouth, and wondering at this strange   miracle, the Bishop immediately lifted the child from the lake, and presented him unharmed and without any deformity to his mother Kentigerna. Afterwards he anointed him with chrism with the sign of the holy cross and marked him with teachings of the Christian faith by supernal virtue, and confirmed him in that faith by baptism.

After these events, St. Kentigerna completely practised and observed monastic living, pilgrimages and veneration of the relics of saints, humility, continence, great mercy and kindness and incredible hospitality towards Christ’s poor, until her happy death, by travelling with angels and consorting with saints, burning very strongly with the love of Christ.

Moreover, what comes to mind as even more commendable, so that she might gain   future joys, having left behind the kings with whom she had feasted splendidly day by day, and her homeland, friends and kindred, she came to the hermitage of Strathfillan with her son Fillan. and her brother Comgan, a most devout man supported by very great miracles, fleeing the company of earthly men; and she dwelt with them there for a long time in deepest contemplation.

Left at length without the companionship and presence of her dearest ones, her son and her brother Comgan, she betook herself to the island of Inchcailloch in Loch Lomond in Lennox for the sake of contemplation; taking to herself the solitary life of an anchoress, content with only herbs and water she passed her happy days in vigils and prayer, with all patience, integrity of life and holiness, presenting a most beautiful example to all women. But at length, after varieties of penitence and other merits of good deeds, full of days, she flew heavenwards to Christ on 7 January, having breathed forth her spirit. A parish church dedicated in her honour stands in that island to this day.


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