The Life of Kentigern

Chapter 1 - Here begins the life of Saint Kentigern, Bishop and Confessor

   The beginning of the written life of Kentigern, the most famous and beloved by God and men, a Nazarite8 of the Nazarene, our Jesus Christ, is consecrated by that divine oracle in which the Lord, anticipating the blessing of his sweetness,9 declared that the prophet Jeremiah would become a chosen vessel sanctified to the work of his ministry, by such praise as this: Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.10 In truth the blessed Kentigern, who was a friend of God before he was born into the world, being anointed by the grace of election pouring forth before he came from the maternal womb, was exalted by wonders before he became great in either his limbs or good works. The Holy of Holies Himself ordered him, who was sanctified in the womb and was as yet to be more sanctified, to shine at the very beginning of his virtue when he was still covered by the cloister of the maternal womb, so that He could establish that the special gift of the holy spirit is not bound fast by the chains of original sin. This man, I say, famous by descent and appearance and endowed with various signs and marvels and foretellings, was a prophet indeed, and by His decree, he was destined to be a teacher and chief ruler to many nations and a redeemer of the heathen.
   And so here the most holy man, although he drew his original part from a royal tree, nevertheless came forth just as a rose from a thorn, or as a fragrant tree from the dirt of the ground, because his mother was a daughter of a certain king, of a most pagan family, in the North land of the Britons.11 However, when the sound of the preaching of the Christian faith went out in the land of his region, and the words of the holy preachers went out into the territory of the north wind, from where every evil used to be spread, she heard with her listening ears how the radiance of eternal light, the son of justice having appeared through the star of virginity, enlightened the world with his beams of knowledge and pure love. And announcing salvation to those who are near and far away, He led his own into the fullness of all truth more effectively by the evidence of manifest signs. Immediately her heart burned within her, and in her meditation that fire kindled within her which the Lord sent into the land, and she vehemently wished to be inflamed. Her thirsty soul came to the knowledge of the truth and she received the ingrafted word that was able to preserve her soul from death. And although she was not yet washed in the health-giving water of baptism, nevertheless she was running with a wide open and cheerful heart in the way of the commands of God. She pursued continually in learning the ecclesiastical faith with frequent and devout prayers and in practicing its discipline as much as she was able to on account of her fear of her pagan father. Yet, in doing these things, the girl had a special devotion to the Virgin Mother and admired her fruitful purity. And by admiring she venerated, and by venerating and esteeming her highly she desired to imitate her, and with a certain presumption of female rashness, she labored diligently to entreat the Lord that she might imitate her in conceiving and giving birth.
   With the unfolding of some time, she discovered herself to be with child, and her soul magnified the Lord,12 trusting purely that her desire had been fulfilled. However, that which was born in her womb she received from a human embrace, but as she asserted by many oaths binding her, from who or when or rather in what manner she conceived, she did not have in her conscious mind.13 But although it is allowed that this secret was concealed from her, or went away from her memory, nevertheless the truth of the matter by no means ought to be lost from the soul of anyone who is discerning, nor should any scruple be attached to that time. So that for the present we may bury in silence those things we found inserted in poetic songs, or in histories not canonical,14 we read from the approved sacred books, in the book of Genesis, that the daughters of Lot not only secretly took by stealth for themselves their father’s embraces, but also the same daughters both conceived when he was drunk and entirely ignorant of the matter.15 It exists just the same for us - many have taken the drink of oblivion which physicians call "Letargion" in order to sleep, and have endured incisions in their limbs, and sometimes burning and abrasions in their vital parts, and felt it not at all, and after being awakened they did not know of the physician’s actions. We hear frequently of fortune-telling illusions overthrowing a young girl’s purity and of the one deflowered little knowing her deflowerer. It is possible that something of this kind took place with this girl by the secret judgment of God that she might not feel the mingling of the sexes, so that now she perceived herself to be unblemished although impregnated.16
   We do not by any means think this was unnecessary to be introduced here, because the foolish and unwise people living in the diocese of Saint Kentigern still do not fear to say that he himself was conceived and born of a virgin. But why do we linger over these things? Truly we think the matter absurd to inquire further as to who the sower was and in what manner he ploughed or even planted the earth, when by the Lord’s goodness, this earth produced good and abundant fruit - I say, the fruit of this earth, which received a benediction from the Lord, through whom many generations have been blessed by the Lord, and partake the fruits of perpetual salvation with the Lord.
   Meanwhile the woman went out, and her womb swelled up as a distinctive sign of her seduction displayed to all the prophets. And now with her face pale, with her heart lodged in her throat, and with milk erupting in her breasts, her pregnancy denounced her. When her condition was poured by drops into the ears of her father the king, and he had seen and touched, he himself would have the matter established by a more certain inquiry in the following way: he earnestly questioned her, now urging her with dread, now soothing her with fawning, as to who had made her pregnant. But she, introducing an oath in the name of Christ, proclaimed that she was innocent of all virile consorting. However upon hearing this, the king became filled with a more furious anger, both because of the name of Christ which had sounded from her mouth, and because he was not able to discover the violator of his daughter. And he took an oath and resolved to guard his righteous judgment, and he would not in any respect break the law of his elders set for such matters either on account of love or the life of his child.

8 A Nazarite is a person who separated himself or herself by taking a vow to do God’s special work. This included a promise not to cut his or her hair and not to drink wine. Samson was a Nazarite. See Judges 13:5, – "For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines." From the first line of the Life, Jocelyn depicts Kentigern as a prophet chosen by God from birth to bring the gospel to the heathen.
9 beatus – title given to saints in heaven and to some whose veneration is approved by the Holy See.
10 Jer. 1:5
11 Jocelyn does not mention the name of the king, and only names Kentigern’s mother once (Ch. 4). The fragmentary life of Saint Kentigern gives the name of the northern king as Leudonus, and calls his daughter Thaney (Ch. 1). However, in the first of the lections devoted to Kentigern in the Aberdeen Breviary, Kentigern is said to be the son of "Eugenius, King of Cumbria," and "Thennew, daughter of Loth, King of Lothian" is his mother. This legend would place Kentigern in the margins of the King Arthur legends as Lot is said to be the father of Gawain and Mordred, according to Geoffrey of Monmouth.
12 Luke 1:45 – opening words of the Song of Mary; used at Vespers.
13 Jocelyn’s commentary on Kentigern’s conception goes to great lengths to dispel the legendary material. And yet, as Forbes notes, the idea of a "virgin" birth has authority in other sources. In the life of Saint Dewi, Rex ceretice regionis Demeciam que nunc Northwallia dicitur pergens, invenit sanctimonialem sibi obviam nomine Nonnitam virginem pulchram nimis. Quam concupiscens et vim inferens oppressit. Que filium concepit et nec ante nec post virum agnovit: sed in castitate mentis et corporis perseverans felicem vitam duxit (Capgrave, Nova Legenda, 68).
14 A possible reference to Geoffrey of Monmouth’s tale of the conception of Arthur, which was brought about by the enchantments of Merlin (206-207).
15 Gen. 19:30-38
16 The fragmentary life of Kentigern gives a slightly different twist on the story of Kentigern’s conception. Theneu (or Thaney) was courted by Ewen, son of Erwegende (in the Gestes of the Histories he is called Ewen, son of King Ulien), but Theneu wished to remain a virgin. Ewen dresses himself in female attire and impregnates her by stealth – Noli flere, soror mea, quoniam non novi te ut homo virginem nosse solet. Nonne mulier sum ego sicut et tu? (Forbes 247).