St Ninian of Whithorn

by Hilary Horn

Today we celebrate, St Ninian of Whithorn with this wonderful post by Rowan Wyatt

What’s it like to feel like you don’t exist?

Many years ago, I mislaid my passport. At the same time my driver’s license was being updated as it became invalid and by happenstance I needed to prove my identity to my new employers, demonstrating my right to live and work in the UK. Because my documentation was either away, lost or just non-existent I found I couldn’t prove who I was, and for that moment in time it seemed like I just didn’t exist.

According to the venerable Bede in AD731, Saint Ninian of Whithorn was “a most reverend bishop and holy man of the nation of Britons” In AD397 he was named the very first Saint of Scotland, and Whithorn became a serious place of pilgrimage from the seventh century, a place where illnesses were cured, and miracles performed. Kings and commoners alike would make the pilgrimage to his shrine there.

Yet today there is debate that Saint Ninian ever existed at all. We have Bede’s account which was written a few hundred years after Ninian’s death and some other written references, all post mortem, but nothing has been found to reference him during his lifetime. This of course has given a springboard to smug academics to bleat that Saint Ninian never existed other than an idea, or as in one badly written article I read, that his name was misspelled and that he was just a simple monk with no claims of sainthood at all. How unpleasant that so many would clamour to take the name from someone in order to boost their own.

Yet this is the world that we now live in. Identity has become a major issue worldwide. Shadowy criminals try to steal our identity every day, inventing new and varied tricks and traps to get our information. Government bodies try to monitor and track us using our identities against us, and in some cases as I mentioned with my experience we can lose our identity altogether and not be able to prove we exist, as has happened to Saint Ninian.

All around the globe displaced people lose their identity, homes and belongings and become nothing more than numbers and statistics, unable to prove they exist. Our identity is who we are, to lose that makes one feel powerless and vulnerable indeed.

In Luke 4: 16-30 we see the first time that Jesus’ identity was questioned. Outraged at his ‘falsehoods’ the members of the synagogue wanted to kill him. Indeed, throughout his ministry Jesus tried to confirm his identity as the son of God. Many believed him, many more didn’t and even one of his closest friends still doubted him until a shocking moment convinced him so.

So, did Saint Ninian actually exist? I believe so, maybe there is some embroidery around his name and life, but I am not so quick to scoff and sneer like a few ego-centric academics, for my life is built on faith. I choose to believe he existed, there is enough evidence for me and, well, it makes the world a brighter place to have him in it. It shows too how important our identity is to us and to take it away is to take away a fundamental part of who we are. When you can’t prove your existence you simply cease to be, and everyone deserves that right to exist and be recognised. Don’t we?


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1 comment

Leathea Drello August 26, 2018 - 11:18 am

How sad that we have come to a place where pieces of paper certify our person hood. Yet in faith, we must hold to higher and deeper sources of identification. Of course, we should secure and protect these pieces of paper for official identification. But we must remember that God told Jeremiah ““Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5 We are prophets in our own communities where we can bring hope and love to those who may feel disenfranchised, forgotten, useless, voiceless. We need no piece of paper to relate person to person. God bless all who have no papers to “prove” their person hood.

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