The Life of St Ninian
by Ailred, Abbot of Rievaux
Translated from the Anglic language into Latin
It hath been the desire of many of the wise who have lived before us to commit to writing the lives, the manners, and the words of the saints, especially of those who have flourished in their own times, and thus to redeem from oblivion, and perpetuate the memory of, the example of the more perfect life to the edification of posterity. But they who had distinguished genius, and fluency of speech, and the lightness of eloquence, did this the more usefully in so far as they gratified the ears of those who listened to them by polished language. Yet those, to whom on account of the barbarism of their native land, the faculty of speaking gracefully and elegantly was lacking, did not defraud posterity of an account of those who were to be imitated, although in a more simple style. Hence it happened that a barbarous language obscured the life of the most holy Ninian, whom the sanctity of his ways and his distinguished miracles commend to us, and the less it gratified the reader the less it edified him. Accordingly it hath pleased thy holy affection to impose upon mine insignificance the task of rescuing from a rustic style as from darkness, and of bringing forth into the clear light of Latin diction, the life of this most renowned man, a life which had been told by those who came before me, truly indeed, but in too barbarous a style. I embrace thy devotion, I approve thy desire, I praise thy zeal, but I know my own inexperience, and I fear to strip it of the coarse garments in which it hath hitherto been hidden, and not be able to deck it in those in which it may appear more comely. But since I cannot refuse what thou dost enjoin, I will attempt what thou commandest, as I prefer to be judged by thee incompetent rather than obstinate. Mayhap, what my imperfection denieth, thy faith will supply, thy prayer secure, thy sanctity obtain. He too for whose honour and love thou desirest me to do this will assist thy pious vows, thine aspirations, and my attempt and study. Moreover, by his merits, thou trustest that to me may be given the learned tongue and the copious speech. To this must be added that which thou sayest, that the clergy and people of thy holy church, who are moved by a rare affection for the saint of God under whose protection they live, will recieve with the greatest devotion what I write, since, as thou sayest, the desires of all have specially selected me for this work. I undertake therefore the burden which thou layest upon me, moved indeed by thy prayers, but quickened by faith. I will labour as He will deign to aid me, who maketh eloquent the tongues of infants, so to temper my style, that on the one hand an offensive roughness obscure not so high a matter, and on the other hand, that a freedom of speech, not so eloquent as fatiguing, cheat not of the desired fruit of this my labour the simplicity of those who cannot appreciate a proper rhetoric. May the grace of the Saviour bless this undertaking, and may He who bestowed upon him the virtues whereby he is deemed meet to be held in everlasting remembrance make us who record them worthy, and bestow upon us the reward of our toil, that his prayer may ever attend us in the way whereby we hasten to our fatherland. And in the hour of our departure, when we await the end of the way and the beginning of the life, may his consolation be near us, and for his holy merit's sake the eternal reward of the heavenly good things.
Divine authority, which from the beginning is acknowledged to have constituted the holy patriarch Abraham a father of many nations, and a prince of the faith predestinated from ancient times, by such an oracle as this - "Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I shall show thee, and I will make of thee a great nation," recommendeth to us the glorious life of the most holy Ninian, on this wise, that this most blessed one leaving his country, and his father's house, learnt in a foreign land that which afterwards he taught unto his own, "being placed by God over the nations and kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant." Of this most holy man, Venerable Bede, calling attention in a very few words to the sacred beginnings of his life, the tokens of his sanctity, the dignity of his office, the fruit of his ministry, his most excellent end, and the reward of his toil, thus writeth concerning him :--
"In the year after the incarnation of the Lord 565, at the time when Justin the Less, after Justinian, had recieved the government of the Roman Empire, there came to Britain out of Ireland a presbyter and abbot, remarkable for his monastic habit and rule, by name Columba, with the intention of preaching the word of God in the provinces of the Northern Picts; that is, to those who were separated from the southern regions by lofty and rugged ranges of mountains. For the Southern Picts themselves, who dwell on this side of the same mountains, had long before abandoned idolatry, and embraced the faith in the truth, by the preaching of the word by Bishop Ninian, a most reverend and holy man, of the nation of the Britons, who had at Rome been regularly instructed in the faith and mysteries of the truth; the seat of who episcopate, dedicated to Saint Martin, and a remarkable church, where he resteth in the body along with many saints, the nation of the Angles now possesseth. That place, appertaining to the province of the Bernicii, is vulgarly called 'At the White House', for that there he built a church of stone in a way unusual among the Britons"
On the trustworthy testimony of this great author, we have been made acquantied with the origin of Saint Ninian, in that he stateth that he was of the race of the Britons, trained in the rules of the faith in the Holy Roman Church; with his office, in that he declareth him to have been a bishop and a preacher of the word of God; with the fruit of his labours, in that he proveth that the Southern Picts were converted from idolatry to the true religion by his toil; and, with his end, in that he witnesseth that he resteth along with many saints in the Church of Saint Martin. But that which he briefly, in view of the tenor of his history, seemeth barely to have touched upon a book of his Life and Miracles, written in a barbarous style detaileth at greater length. This book, never varying from the foundation of this witness, hath recorded in historical fashion the way whereby he made this commencement, merited such fruit, and attained unto so worthy an end.
Therefore in the island of Britannia, which long ago, as they say, took its name from Brutus, among a race of the same name, and of no ignoble family, did the blessed Ninian spring: in that region, it is supposed, in the western part of the island (where the ocean stretching as an arm, and making as it were on either side two angles, divideth at this day the realms of the Scots and the Angles), which till these last times belonging to the Angles, is proved not only by historical record but by actual memory of individuals to have had a king of its own. His father was such a king, by religion a Christian, of such faith in God, and of such merit, as to be deemed worthy of a child by whom what was lacking to the faith of his own nation was supplied, and by whom another race that had not known the sacraments of the faith became imbued with the mysteries of our holy religion. He in very infancy, regenerated in the water of holy baptism, preserving immaculate the nuptial robe which clad in white he had received, a conqueror of vice, presented in the sight of Christ; and that Holy Spirit whom he first received to cleanse him, he merited by his most holy ways to maintain as the instructor of his pious heart. For by His guidance, while yet a boy, though not in sense one, he shunned whatsoever was contrary to good morals, and discordant with the laws of the truth. But whatsoever was of the law, of grace, of good report, whatsoever was useful to man, or well-pleasing to God, that he ceased not to follow with a mind already mature. Happy was he whose delight was in the law of the Lord day and night, who like a tree planted by the water-side brought forth his fruit in due season, seeing that in the vigour of manhood he strenuously fulfilled that which he had learnt with the greatest devotion. Wonderful was his reverence about churches; great his love for the brethren. He was sparing in food, reticent in speech, assiduous in study, agreeable in manners, averse from jesting, and in everything subjecting the flesh to the spirit. Wherefore bending his mind to the sacred Scriptures, when he had learnt according to their way the rules of the faith from the more learned of his race, the young man came by the exercise of his penetrating genius to see, what by the divine inspiration he had gathered from the Scriptures, that much was wanting to their perfection. On this mind he began to be agitated, and not enduring anything short of perfection, he toiled and sighed. His heart was hot within him, and at last in meditation the fire kindled. "and what," said he, "shall I do? I have sought in mine own land Him whom my soul loveth. I sought Him, but I have found Him not. I will arise now, and I will compass sea and land. I will seek the truth which my soul loveth. Surely needeth it such toil as this. Was it not said to Peter, 'Thou art Peter, and on this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it?' Therefore in the faith of Peter there is naught inferior, naught obscure, naught imperfect, naught gainst which false doctrine and perverse opinions, like the gates of hell, can prevail. And where is the faith of Peter but in the See of Peter? Thither certainly, thither I must betake me, that, going forth from my land and from my kinsfolk, and from the house of my father, I may be deemed meet in the land of vision to behold the fair beauty of the Lord, and to visit His temple. The false prosperity of the age smileth on me, the vanity of the world allureth me, the love of earthly relationship softeneth my soul, toil and the weariness of the flesh deter me, but the Lord hath said, 'He that loveth father or mother more than me is unworthy of me, and he that taketh not up his cross and followeth me is unworthy of me.' I have learnt moreover that they who despise the royal court shall attain to the heavenly kingdom." Wherefore, animated by the impulse of the Holy Spirit, spurning riches, and treading down all earthly affections, the noble youth betook himself to pilgrimage, and having crossed the Brittanic Sea, and entered Italy by the Gallican Alps, he safely arrived at the city.
The most blessed youth having arrived at Rome, when he shed tears, proofs of his devotion, before the sacred relics of the apostles, and had with many prayers commended the desire of his heart to their patronage, betook himself to the Bishop of the Supreme See, and when he had explained to him the cause of his journey, the Pope accepted his devotion, and treated him with the greatest affection as his son. Presently he handed him over to the teachers of truth to be imbued with the disciplines of faith and the sound meanings of Scripture. But the young man, full of God, took notice that he had not laboured in vain or to no purpose; he learnt moreover that on him and his fellow-countrymen many things contrary to sound doctrine had been inculcated by unskilled teachers. Therefore with the greatest eagerness, with enlarged mouth, receiving the word of God, like a bee he formed for himself the honeycombs of wisdom by arguments from the different opinions of doctors, as of various kinds of flowers. And hiding them within his inmost heart, he preserved them to be inwardly digested and brought forward for the refreshment of his inward man and for the consolation of many others. Verily it was a worthy recompense that he who for the love of truth had despised country, wealth, and delights - brought, if I may so say, into the secret treasure chambers of truth, and admitted to the very treasures of wisdom and knowledge, - should receive for carnal things spiritual things, for earthly things heavenly things, for temporal blessings eternal goods. Meanwhile, as chaste in body, prudent in mind, provident in counsel, circumspect in every act and word, he was in the mouths of all, it happened that he rose to the favour and friendship of the Supreme Pontiff himself. Wherefore, after living in a praiseworthy manner for many years in the city and having been sufficiently instructed in the sacred Scripture he attained to the height of virtue, and, sustained on the wings of love, he rose to the contemplation of spiritual things. The the Roman Pontiff, hearing that some in the western parts of Britain had not yet received the faith of our Saviour, and that some had heard the word of the gospel either from heretics or from men ill instructed in the law of God, moved by the Spirit of God, consecrated the said man of God to the episcopate with his own hands, and, after giving him his benediction, sent him forth as an apostle to the people aforesaid. There flourished at this time the most blessed Martin, Bishop of the city of Tours whose life, rendered glorious by miracles, already described by the most learned and holy Sulpicius, had enlightened the whole world. Therefore the man of God, returning from the City, full of the Spirit of God, and touched with the desire of seeing him turned aside to the city of Tours. 'With what joy, devotion and affection he was received by him, who shall easily tell? By the grace of prophetic illumination the worth of the new bishop was not hid from him, whom by revelation he recognised as sanctified by the Holy Spirit and sure to be profitable to the salvation of many. The pillars in the tabernacle of God are joined one with the other, and two cherubim stretching out their wings touch each other; sometimes borne up on wings of virtue they soar to God, sometimes standing and folding their wings they become edifying to each other. Therefore coming back from these exalted things to what is earthly blessed Ninian besought of the saint masons, stating that he proposed to himself that, as in faith, so in the ways of building churches and in constituting ecclesiastical offices, he desired to imitate the holy Roman Church. The most blessed man assented to his wishes; and so, satiated with mutual conversations as with heavenly feasts, after embraces, kisses, and tears shed by both, they parted, holy Martin remaining in his own See, and Ninian hastening forth under the guidance of Christ to the work whereunto the Holy Ghost had called him. Upon his return to his own land a great multitude of the people went out to meet him; there was great joy among all, and wonderful devotion, and the praise of Christ sounded out on all sides, for they held him for a prophet. Straightway that active husbandman of the Lord proceeded to root up what had been ill planted, to scatter what had been ill gathered, to cast down what had been ill built. Having purged the minds of the faithful from all their errors, he began to lay in them the foundations of faith unfeigned; building thereon the gold of wisdom, the silver of knowledge, and the stones of good works: and all the things to be done by the faithful he both taught by word and illustrated by example, confirming it by many and great signs following.
But he selected for himself a site in the place which is now termed Witerna, which, situated on the shore of the ocean, and extending far into the sea on the east, west, and south sides, is closed in by the sea itself, while only on the north is a way open to those who would enter. There, therefore, by the command of the man of God, the masons whom he had brought with him built a church, and they say that before that none in Britannia had been constructed of stone. And having first learnt that the most holy Martin, whom he held always in wondrous affection, had passed from earth to heaven, he was careful to dedicate the church itself in his honour.
Therefore this light set upon a candlestick began to those who were in the house of the Lord to shine forth in heavenly signs and radiant flames of virtue, and to enlighten darkened minds with the clear and burning word of the Lord, and to warm the cold. There was in that region a king (for the whole island lay subjected to diverse kings), by name Tuduvallus, whom riches, power, and honour had excited to pride, in whom the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye, and the wealth of the world had so ministered to his haughtiness, that he presumed himself to be able to do as much as any one, and he had the presumption to believe that what anyone could do was both possible and lawful to him also. He, despising the admonitions of the man of God, alike secretly depreciated his doctrine and manners, and openly opposed his sound teaching so that the earth seemed rejected and nigh to cursing, in that, drinking in the rain that came oft upon it, it brought forth thorns and thistles, and not wholesome herbs. But at a certain time, when he had been more than usually hostile to the man of God, the heavenly Judge suffered no longer that the injury to his servant should go unavenged, but struck him on the head with an unbearable disease, and broke the crown of the health of him that walked in his sins. To such an extent did his sickness prevail that a sudden blindness darkened those haughty eyes, and he who had opposed the light of truth lost the light of sense; but not in vain, nor to the increase of his folly. For the poor man lay oppressed by pain, deprived of sight; but, darkened externally, he became enlightened in the inward parts When returning unto himself he confessed his sin, seeking a remedy from him alone, to whom he had hitherto exhibited himself as an enemy. At last, calling together his relations, taking advice from them, since he could not go himself, being debarred by his infirmity, he sent messengers to the man of God, beseeching him not to enter into judgment with his servant, nor to reward him according to his deeds, but as an imitator of the divine benignity, to return good for evil, love for hatred. The most blessed man hearing this, not elated with human pride, but abounding as ever in the bowels of compassion, having, first offered up prayer to God, went straightway to the sick man with the greatest kindness and devotion. And first he corrected him with tender reproof, and then touching the head of the sick man with healing hand, he signed the blind eyes with the sign of the saving life. What shall I more say? The pain fled, the blindness was driven away by the coming light, and so it came to pass that the disease of the body cured the disease of the soul, and the power of the man of God expelled the disease of the body. Healed therefore in both, in body and mind, he began thenceforth with all affection to cherish and venerate the saint of God, knowing by experience that the Lord was with him, and directed all his ways giving him power against everything that exalteth itself against the knowledge of Christ, since he was ready to avenge every disobedience and injury inflicted on the servant of Christ. If, therefore, this contemptuous and proud man, by the grace humiliation and penance, was deemed meet to be healed by the holy man, who shall doubt that he, who with sure faith and sincere and humble heart, seeks the aid of so great a saint for the curing the wounds of his inner man, shall obtain a speedy remedy by his holy merits. But let us now go on to other things, which seem so much the greater, in proportion as they are proved to be contrary to nature itself
There was a certain girl in the service of one of the noblemen, as to the sinful flesh fair of face and graceful of aspect, on whom, when an unchaste young man had cast his eyes, he was seized with a blind love, and not able to subdue the flame of the lust which he had conceived, began to urge the girl to consent to sin. At length by solicitation or by money he caused that she should conceive sorrow to bring forth iniquity. The unhappy woman yielded to the others lust, little reckoning of the judgement of God, while she hoped to evade the eyes of man; but by the swelling of her womb the crime was betrayed, and soon laughter was turned into weeping, joy into sorrow, pleasure into pain. But what could she do? whither turn? The law, her parent, her master were feared. Wherefore the unhappy woman made a covenant with death, and put her trust in a lie, believing that she would seem less guilty if she said that she had been deceived or forced by some one of great name. Being urged therefore by the elders to denounce the guilty man, she laid the charge of violence on the presbyter to whom the bishop had delegated the care of the parish. All were astonished who heard that word. They acquitted the girl of the crime which they thought a man of such authority had committed. The good were scandalized, the wicked elated, the common people laughed, and the sacred order was scoffed at; the presbyter, whose fame was injured, was saddened. But the innocence of the priest by the revelation of the Spirit was not hidden from the bishop beloved by God. He bore, however, with impatience the scandal to the Church and the injury to holy religion. Meanwhile the days of the woman were accomplished that she should bring forth a child, and she bore a son, not, as was supposed, to the disgrace of the priest, but to that of the father and the unworthy mother. For the bishop summoned to the Church all the clergy and people, and having exhorted them in a sermon, laid his hands on those who had been baptized. Meanwhile the bold woman, casting aside all shame, bursting in among the people with those who belonged to her, thrust this child in the face of the presbyter, and vociferated in the ears of all the congregation that he was the father of the child, a violator and deceiver. A clamour arose among the people; shame among the good, laughter among the wicked. But the saint, commanding the people to keep quiet, ordered the child to be brought to him, being then only one night old. Wherefore, inflamed by the Spirit of God, when he had fixed his eyes on him, he said, 'Hearken, O child, in the name of Jesus Christ, say out before this people if this presbyter begat thee.' O this marvellous work worthy of all admiration! O strange clemency of God! O the ineffable power of the faith of Christ. Verily, all things are possible to him that believeth; but what shall I say? [What could not the faith of Ninian do? Certainly nature waiteth on faith, age on virtue; shall not nature wait upon the Lord of Nature?] Age is not needed to produce an instrument, nor teaching for the office, nor time practice, but at the instance of faith the divine power gave eloquence to the tongue of the infant, and out of the mouth of a babe and suckling, it confounded the guilty, convicted the liar, absolved the innocent. Accordingly out of the infant body a manly voice was heard; the untaught tongue found rational words. Stretching out his hand, and pointing out the real father among the people,--'This' said he, 'is my father. He begat me. He committed the crime laid upon the priest. Verily, O bishop, thy priest is innocent of this guilt, and there is naught between him and me but the community of nature.' This was enough. The child thereupon became silent, to speak again by and bye according to the law of nature and the changes of advancing years. Thanksgiving sounded in the mouth of all, and the voice of praise, and all the people exulted with joy, understanding that a great prophet had risen among them, and that God had visited His people.
Meanwhile the most blessed man, being pained that the devil, driven forth from the earth within the ocean, should find rest for himself in a corner of this island in the hearts of the Picts, girded himself as a strong wrestler to cast out his tyranny; taking, moreover, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the breastplate of charity, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Fortified by such arms, and surrounded by the society of his holy brethren as by a heavenly host, he invaded the empire of the strong man armed, with the purpose or rescuing from his power innumerable victims of his captivity: wherefore, attacking the Southern Picts, whom still the Gentile error which clung to them induced to reverence and worship deaf and dumb idols, he taught them the truth of the Gospel and the purity of the Christian faith, God working with him, and confirming the word with signs following. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, those oppressed of the devil are set free. A door is opened for the Word of God by the grace of the Holy Spirit: the faith is received, error renounced, temples cast down, churches erected. To the font of the saving laver run rich and poor, young and old, young men and maidens, mothers with their children, and, renouncing Satan with all his works and pomps, they are joined to the body of the believers by faith, by confession, and by the sacraments. They give thanks to the most merciful God, who had revealed His Name in the islands that are afar off, sending to them a preacher of truth, the lamp of their salvation, calling them His people which were not His people, and them beloved which were not beloved, and them as having found mercy who had not found mercy. Then the holy bishop began to ordain presbyters, consecrate bishops, distribute the other dignities of the ecclesiastical ranks, and divide the whole land into certain parishes. Finally, having confirmed the sons whom he had begotten in Christ in faith and good works, and having set in order all the things that referred to the honour of God and the welfare of souls, bidding his brethren farewell, he returned to his own church, where, in great tranquillity of soul, he spent a life perfect in all sanctity and glorious for miracles.
It happened on a day that the holy man with his brethren entered the refectory to dine, and seeing no pot-herbs or vegetables on the table, he called the brother to whom the care of the garden had been committed, and asked the reason why upon that day no leeks or herbs had been placed before the brethren. Then he said, "Verily, O father, whatever remained of the leeks and such like I this day committed to the ground, and the garden has not yet produced anything fit for eating." Then said the saint, "Go, and whatsoever thy hand findeth, gather andbring to me." Wondering, he stood trembling, hesitating what to do; but knowing that Ninian could order nothing in vain, he slowly entered the garden. Then followed a wonder, incredible to all save those who knew that to him that believeth all things are possible. He beheld leeks and other kinds of herbs not only grown, but bearing seed. He was astonished, and, as if in a trance, thought that he saw a vision. Finally, returning to himself, and calling to mind the power of the holy man, he gave thanks unto God, and culling as much as seemed sufficient, placed it on the table before the bishop. The guests looked at each other, and with heart and voice magnified God working in his saints; and so retired much better refreshed in mind than in body.
It sometimes pleased the most holy Ninian to visit his flocks and the huts of his shepherds, wishing that the flocks, which he had gathered together for the use of the brethren, the poor and the pilgrims, should be partakers of the episcopal blessing. Therefore, all the animals being gathered into one place, when the servant of the Lord had looked upon them, he lifted up his hand and commended all that he had to the Divine protection. Going, therefore, round them all, and drawing as it were a little circle with the staff on which he leant, he enclosed the cattle, commanding that all within that space should that night remain under the protection of God. Having done all this, the man of God turned aside to rest for the night at the house of a certain honourable matron. When, after refreshing their bodies with food and their minds with the word of God, all had gone to sleep, certain thieves appeared, and seeing that the cattle were neither enclosed by walls, nor protected by hedges, nor kept in by a ditch, they looked to see if anyone was watching, or if anything else resisted their attempt. And when they saw that all was silent, and that nothing was present that by voice or movement or barking might frighten them, they rushed in and crossed the bounds which the saint had fixed for the cattle, wishing to carry them all off. But the Divine power was present resisting the ungodly, nay, casting them down, using against those, who, as brute beasts, minded their bellies and not their reason, the instrumentality of an irrational animal. For the bull of the herd rushed upon the men in fury, and striking at the leader of the thieves, threw him down, pierced his belly with his horns, sending forth his life and his entrails together. Then tearing up the earth with his hoofs, he smote with mighty strength a stone which happened to be under his foot, and in a wonderful way, in testimony of the miracle, the foot sunk into it as if into soft wax, leaving a footmark in the rock, and by the footmark giving a name to the place. For to this day the place in the English tongue is named Farres Last, that is, the Footprint of the Bull. Meanwhile, the most blessed father having finished the solemn service of prayer, went aside, and finding the man disembowelled and lying dead among the feet of the cattle, and seeing the others rushing about hither and thither as if possessed by furies, moved with compassion, and turning earnestly to God, besought Him to raise the dead. Nor did he cease from tears and entreaties till the same power which had slain him restored him not merely to life, but made him safe and sound. For, verily, the power of Christ, for the merit of the saint, smote him and healed him, killed and restored him to life, cast him down to hell and raised him again. Meanwhile the others, whom, running about the whole night, a certain madness had enclosed within the circle which the saint had made, seeing the servant of God, cast themselves with fear and trembling at his knees imploring pardon. And he, benignantly chiding them and impressing upon them the fear of God and the judgement prepared for the rapacious, giving them his benediction, granted them permission to depart.
As I reflect on the devout conversation of this most holy man, I am ashamed of our sloth, and of the laziness of this miserable generation. Which of us, I ask, even among servants, does not more frequently utter jestings than things serious, idle things than things useful, carnal things rather than things spiritual, in common conversation and intercourse. The mouths that Divine grace consecrated for the praise of God, and for the celebration of the holy mysteries, are daily polluted by back-biting and secular words, and they weary of the Psalms, the Gospel, and the Prophets. They all the day busy themselves with the vain and base works of man. How do they conduct themselves when journeying? Is not the body like the mind, all day in motion while the tongue is idle? Rumours and the doings of wicked men are in men's mouths; religious gravity is relaxed by mirth and idle tales; the affairs of kings the duties of bishops, the ministries of clerics, the quarrels of princes, above all, the lives and morals of all are discussed. We judge every one but ourselves, and, what is more to be deplored we bite and devour one another, that we may be consumed one of another. Not so the most blessed Ninian, not so, whose repose no crowd disturbed, whose meditation no journey hindered, whose prayer never grew lukewarm through fatigue. For whithersoever he went forth he raised his soul to heavenly things, either by prayer or by contemplation. But so often as turning aside from his journey he indulged in rest, either for himself or for the beast on which he rode, bringing out a book which he carried about with him for the very purpose, he delighted in reading or singing something, for he felt with the prophet, " O how sweet are thy words unto my throat! yea, sweeter than honey unto my mouth." Whence the Divine power bestowed such grace upon him, that even when resting in the open air, when reading in the heaviest rain, no moisture ever touched the book on which he was intent. When all around him was everywhere wet with water running upon it, he alone sat with his little book under the waters as if he were protected by the roof of a house. Now it happened that the most reverend man was making a journey with one of his brethren then alive, also a most holy person, by name Plebia, and as his custom was he solaced the weariness of his journey with the Psalms of David. And when, after certain portion of the journey, they turned aside from the public road, that they might rest a little, having opened their Psalters, they proceeded to refresh their souls with sacred reading. Presently the pleasant serenity of the weather, becoming obscured by black clouds, poured down from on high to earth those waters which it had naturally drawn upwards. What shall I more say? The light air, like a chamber arching itself around the servants of God, resisted as an impenetrable wall the descending waters. But during the singing, the most blessed Ninian turned off his eyes from the book, affected a little by an unlawful thought, even with some desire he was tickled by a suggestion of the devil. Whereupon at once the shower, invading him and his book, betrayed what was hidden. Then the brother, who was sitting by him, knowing what had taken place, with gentle reproof reminded him of his order and age, and showed him how unbecoming such things were in such as he. Straightway the man of God, coming to himself, blushed that he had been overtaken by a vain thought, and in the same moment of time drove away the thought and stayed the shower.
Meanwhile many, both nobles and men of the middle rank, intrusted their sons to the blessed Pontiff to be trained in sacred learning. He indoctrinated these by his knowledge, he formed them by his example, curbing by a salutary discipline the vices to which their age was prone, and persuasively inculcating the virtues whereby they might live soberly, righteously, and piously. Once upon a time one of these young men committed a fault which could not escape the saint, and, because it was not right that discipline should be withheld from the offender, the rods, the severest torments of boys, were made ready. The lad in terror fled, but not being ignorant of the power of the holy man, was careful to carry away with him staff on which he used to lean, thinking that he had procured the best comfort for the journey, if he took with him anything that belonged to the saint. Flying therefore from the face of the man, he sought diligently for a ship which might transport him to Scotia. It is the custom in that neighbourhood to frame of twigs a certain vessel in the form of a cup, of such a size that it can contain three men sitting close together. By stretching an ox-hide over it, they render it not only buoyant, but actually impenetrable by the water. Possibly at that time vessels of immense size were built in the same way. The young man stumbled on one of these lying at the shore, but not covered with leather, into which, when he had incautiously entered, by Divine providence, I know not whether by its natural lightness (for on a slight touch these float far out into the waves), straightway the ship was carried out to sea. As the water poured in, the unhappy sailor stood in ignorance what he should do, whither he should turn, what course he should pursue. If he abandon the vessel, his life is in danger; certain death awaiteth him if he continue. Then at length the unhappy boy, repenting his flight, beheld with pale countenance the waves ready to avenge the injury done to the father. At length, coming to himself, and thinking that S. Ninian was present in his staff, he confessed his fault, as if in his presence, in a lamentable voice, besought pardon, and prayed that by his most holy merits the divine aid might be vouchsafed him. Then trusting in the known kindness as well as power of the bishop, he stuck the staff in one of the holes, that posterity might not be ignorant of what Ninian could do even on the sea. At once, at the touch of the staff, the element trembled and, as if kept back by a Divine influence, ventured not to enter further by the open holes. These are Thy works, O Christ, who speaking to Thy disciples, hast endowed Thy faithful ones with thy promise--"He that believeth in me, the works that I do, he shall do also. Thou didst imprint Thy sacred Footsteps on the waves of the sea: the power of Ninian controlled the natural power of the sea. Thy sacred Hand held up the doubting disciple on that account in danger among the waves: the staff of Ninian protected the fugitive disciple from being swallowed up by the billows. Thou didst command the winds and the waves, that the fear of Thy disciples might be dispelled: the power of Ninian subdued the winds and the sea, that the young man might reach safely the shore where he would be.
For a wind rising from the easterly quarter impelled the vessel gently. The staff, acting for sail, caught the wind; the staff as helm directed the vessel; the staff as anchor stayed it.. "The people stand on the western shore, and seeing a little vessel like a bird resting on the waters, neither propelled by sail, nor moved by oar, nor guided by helm, wondered what this miracle might mean. Meanwhile the young man landed, and that he might make the merits of the man of God more widely known, animated by faith he planted his staff on the shore, praying God, that in testimony of so great a miracle, sending forth roots and receiving sap contrary to nature, it might produce branches and leaves, and bring forth flowers and fruit. The divine propitiousness was not wanting to the prayer of the suppliant, and straightway the dry wood, sending forth roots, covering itself with new bark, put forth leaves and branches and, growing into a considerable tree, made known the power of Ninian to the beholders there. Miracle is added to miracle. At the root of the tree a most limpid fountain springing up, sent forth a crystal stream, winding along with gentle murmur, with lengthened course, delightful to the eye, sweet to the taste, and useful and health-giving to the sick, for the merits of the saint.
Wherefore the most blessed Ninian, wondrously shining with such miracles as these, and powerful in the highest virtues, advanced with prosperous course to the day of his summons. That day was a day of exultation and joy to the blessed man, but of tribulation and misery to the people. He rejoiced, to whom heaven was opened; the people mourned, who were bereaved of such a father. He rejoiced, for whom an eternal crown was laid up; they were in sorrow, whose salvation was endangered. But even his own joy was dashed with sorrow, since both leaving them seemed heavy to bear, yet to be longer separate from Christ intolerable. But Christ, thus consoling the hesitating soul, said, ‘Arise, hasten, my friend, my dove, and come. Arise," saith He, "my friend, arise, my dove, arise through the mind, hasten by desire, come by love." Verily this word suited the most holy man, as the friend of the Bridegroom, to whom that heavenly Bridegroom had consigned His bride; to whom He had revealed His secrets; to whom He had opened His treasures. Rightly was that soul termed friend to whom all was love. nothing fear. He saith, my friend, Arise, hasten, my friend, my dove, and come; for the winter is now past the rain is over and gone. Then verily, O blessed man, the winter was past to thee, when thou wert deemed meet with joyful eye to contemplate that heavenly fatherland, which the Sun of righteousness doth illumine with the light of His glory, which love enkindleth, with a wondrous calm, as of a genial springtime, tempereth with an unspeakable uniformity of climate. Then to thee that wintry storm which unsettleth all things here below, which hardeneth the cold hearts of men by the inroads of vice, in which neither doth the truth shine fully nor doth charity burn, hath passed away, and the showers of temptation and the hailstorms of persecution have ceased. That holy soul, perfectly triumphant, hath departed into the glory of perpetual freshness. The flowers, saith he, appear on the earth. The celestial odour of the flowers of paradise breathed upon thee, O blessed Ninian, when the company of the martyrs clad in red, and the confessors clothed in white, with placid countenance, smiled on thee as their most familiar friend, and welcomed to their society, thee, whom chastity had made white, and love had made red as the rose. For although opportunity granted not the sign of actual martyrdom in the body, it denied him not that merit of martyrdom, without which martyrdom is nothing. For how often did he for righteousness' sake expose himself to the sword of the enemy, how often to the arms of tyrants, prepared to lay down his life for truth, to die for righteousness? Rightly therefore to the flowers of the roses and the lilies of the valleys is this empurpled and radiant one summoned, ascending from Libanus, that he may be crowned among the hosts of heaven. For the time of engrafting had come; for the ripened cluster was to be cut off from the stem of the body, or from the vineyard of the Church here below, to be melted by love and laid up in the heavenly cellars.
Wherefore blessed Ninian, perfect in life and full of years, passed from this world in happiness, and was carried into heaven, accompanied by the angelic spirits, to receive an eternal reward, where, associated with the company of the apostles, joined to the ranks of the martyrs, enlisted in the hosts of the holy confessors, adorned also with the flowers of the virgins, he faileth not to succour those who hope in him, who cry to him, who praise him. But he was buried in the Church of Blessed Martin, which he had built from the foundations, and he was placed in a stone sarcophagus near the altar, the clergy and people present, with their voices and hearts sounding forth celestial hymns, to the accompaniment of sighs and tears; where the power which had shone in the living saint ceaseth not to make itself manifest about the body of the departed one, that the faithful may acknowledge that he is dwelling in heaven, and ceaseth not to work on earth. For at his most sacred tomb the sick are cured, the lepers are cleansed, the wicked are terrified, the blind receive their sight; by all which things the faith of believers is confirmed, to the praise and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, world without end. Amen.
Wherefore when the most blessed Ninian had been translated into the heavens, the faithful people who had loved him in life, frequented with the greatest devotion that which seemed to them to be left of him, namely, his most sacred relics; and the Divine Power, approving this reverence and faith, gave evidence by frequent miracles that he whom the common lot had removed from earth was living in heaven. There was born to one of the people by his own wife, a wretched son, the grief of both his parents, the horror of those who beheld him, whom nature had formed contrary to nature, all his members being turned the wrong way. for the joints of his feet being twisted, his heels projected forward, his back adhered to his face, his breast was near the hinder part of his head, with twisted arms his hands rested on his elbows. What more shall I say? There lay that dusky figure, to whom had been given useless members, a fruitless life, to whom, amid the wreck of his other members, the tongue alone remained to bewail his misery, and to move to tears and sorrow those who beheld and heard him. The sorrow of his parents was incessant. Their grief increased day by day. At length the power of the most blessed Ninian, so often experienced, came into their minds, and, full of faith, they take up that wretched body, and approaching the relics of the holy man, they offer the sacrifice of a contrite heart with floods of tears, and continue instant in devout prayer till the hour of vespers. Then laying that unshapely form before the tomb of the saint, they said, "Receive, O blessed Ninian, that which we offer to thee, a gift hateful indeed, but well fitted to prove thy power. We, of a truth, worn out., fatigued, borne down with sorrow, overcome by weariness, expose it to thy pity. Verily, if it be a gift, favour is due to those who offer it; if it be a burden, thou art fitter to bear it, who hast more power to lighten it. Here therefore let him die or live, let him be cured or let him perish. Having continued to say these and such things with tears, they left the sick child before the sacred relics and went their way. And behold in the silence of the midnight hour, the poor wretch saw a man come to him, shining, with celestial light, and glittering in the ornaments of the episcopate, who, touching his head, told him to arise and be whole, and give thanks to God his Saviour. And when he had departed, the wretched being, as if awaking from a deep sleep, by an easy motion twisted each member into its natural place, and having recovered the power of all of them, returned to his home safe and sound. After this he gave himself wholly up to the church and to ecclesiastical discipline, and after being first shorn for the clericate, and then ordained presbyter he ended his life in the service of his father.
On the fame of the miracle being made known, many ran together, each one laying his own trouble before the sacred relics among these, a simple man, poor in fortune, but rich in faith and good-will, approached, whose whole body an extraordinary scab had attacked, and so beset all his members that the skin hardening in marvellous fashion closed the course of the veins, and on every side bound up the arteries, so that nothing but death awaited the patient. The unhappy man therefore, approaching the body of the saint, offered up most devout prayers to altar, faith, and Lord. His tears flow, sobs burst forth, the breast is beaten, the very bowels tremble. To such faith, to such contrition, neither the merit of the saint nor the pity of Christ were lacking, who therein glorified His saint and mercifully saved the poor man. Why should I delay longer? The poor Adefridus, for that was his name, did not cease from prayer, until in a few days he was restored to his former health
There was moreover among the people a certain girl. Deisuit by name, who was so tormented with a pain in her eyes that the violence of the disease took away all power of sight, and darkness creeping around her, even the light of the Sun was hidden from her. It was painful to the patient and grievous to her sympathising relations. The skill of the physicians turned to despair; Ninian, the only hope that remained, is applied to. She was led by the hand before that most sacred spot. She is left weeping and wailing; she asketh earnestly; she seeketh ansiously; she knocketh importunately. The compassionate Jesus is faithful to His Gospel promise "Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and the door shall be opened unto you." Therefore to that girl before mentioned the grace which she sought appeared; the door of pity at which she knocked was opened; the health which she sought was vouchsafed; for the darkness was taken away and light was restored. All pain disappeared, and she who had come, led by another to the sacred tomb, returned home guided by her own sight, with great joy of her parents.
Moreover there were seen to come into the city two men that were lepers, who deeming it presumptuous to touch with the contact of leprosy the holy thing, from some distance implored the help of the saint. But coming to the fountain and holding that to be holy whatever Ninian had touched, they thought to be washed in that laver. O new miracle of the prophet Eliseus! O new cleansing, not of one, but of two Naamans! Naaman came in the spirit of presumption, they in that of humility. He came in doubt, they in faith The king of Syria doubted, the king of Israel doubted, Naaman doubted The king of Syria doubted: he doubted and was proud, who sent his leper to be cleansed, not to the prophet but to the king. The king of Israel doubted, who, on hearing the letter read, rent his clothes, and said, "Am I God, that I can kill and make alive" Naaman doubted, who, when he heard the advice of the prophet, went away in a rage. Naaman stood in the chariot of pride at the door of Eliseus. These men in faith and humility cry aloud to the mercy of Ninian. Rightly then is that fountain turned into a Jordan, Ninian into a prophet The lepers are cleansed alike by the touch of the laver, and by the merits of Ninian; and their flesh is restored like the flesh of a little child, and they return to their own healed, to the glory of Ninian, in praise of God, Who worketh thus marvellously in His saints.
But now this is the end of this book, though not the end of the miracles of S. Ninian, which do not cease to shine forth even unto our own times to the laud and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ, who with the Father and the Holy Ghost liveth and reigneth for ever and ever. Amen.
Forbes, Alexander Penrose. Lives of S. Ninnian and S. Kentigern. Historians of Scotland, vol. V. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1874
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