St Kentigern – Protector of the Bullied

A few days ago, I posted an icon and a few words about St Thaney, the mother of St Kentigern. A young woman, a child really, who was raped by a man in power, she was then rejected by her family who tried to kill her by pushing her from a cliff. For that time and that space, for that society and its values, she was a reject – not only a failure, but a damaging element. Not only someone who had fallen, but someone who had to be destroyed, pushed down and drowned.

We – in our parts of the world, at least – no longer have to worry about being thrown from a cliff into a river. But one can be pushed down from emotional cliffs, and one can drown in many other ways than physically. Values do change, but evil does not disappear, it merely finds new forms to tear us away from Life.

Because, when you draw the line under the life stories of St Thaney and her abusers, the real victims are not the young mother and her child. They found a way to keep unharmed from the poison thrown at them. They both found Christ, and in Christ, they found Life. The weak, the fragile, the abused were shown to be stronger than those who had served evil, because Sts Thaney and her son founded their strength on Christ, not on their human wealth or status.

Today we celebrate St Kentigern, St Thaney’s son – the still unborn child who was pushed off the cliff and into the cold waters with his mother. The saint was raised by his single mother, under the guidance of St Serf who had offered them protection. St Kentigern’s gentleness and kindness made him so loved by everyone that to this day, he is better known as St Mungo, which translates as ‘my dear one’.

There are many stories about St Mungo’s life and his miracles, but I like this little poem remembering four of them:

‘Here is the bird that never flew

Here is the tree that never grew

Here is the bell that never rang

Here is the fish that never swam’ (this last verse inspired our icon).

Each line refers to a particular miracle, but what touches me is the overwhelming silence and peacefulness that builds from one verse to the next. It reveals a human being who found his roots somewhere else, not in this world. A human being whose ‘flight’ was not dependant on this world, whose growth and song are free from the evil thrown at him by this world.

For, according to this world, St Mungo should not have even been born. The world had condemned him to death a long time ago, while he was still in his mother’s womb. The world had greeted this new life with hatred before it even saw the light of day. So Kentigern had to learn to fly despite his wings having been cut. He had to learn to sing despite having been shut down before he was even born.

There is a lot to learn from him. Today, St Kentigern is recognised as the protector of those who are bullied, oppressed and abused, and God only knows how much we need his prayers in a world increasingly run by bullies. Happy Feast, everyone. May we all be blessed, may we all be kept safe.

St Thaney – Protector of the Abused

St Thaney became pregnant after being raped when she was very much still a child. She was so innocent in her youth that her abuser was able to make her believe that he was in fact a woman and that his act of violence was normal behaviour among women. When the pregnancy became visible, her family rejected the young mother and threw her from a cliff to die. By God’s care, Thaney survived the fall and she sailed in a coracle across the Firth of Forth to St Serf’s community in Culross, where she gave birth to a little boy, the future St Mungo (Kentigern).

In this icon, the saint is in her small coracle, her arms protecting the innocent new life she carries in her womb. Christ’s presence is not marked in any way, as a symbol of how abuse is actually experienced – when the world hits us with its hatred, we project its violence unto Christ, and that builds a wall between us and our only Source of Healing. The experience of abuse is like blinding darkness; there is no light in that death, no hope, no shimmer of life. Only later, looking back, we see that the God we hated was the very hand that kept us afloat and lead us back to life.

My grandmother used to say that God is like earth because, like earth, He has the ability to turn the most revolting things into beautiful flowers and nourishing fruit. Like earth, God receives our sinfulness and gives us in return His love and forgiveness. Like earth, God receives our deformed selves, butchered by the abuse of the world; like earth, he returns to us our true selves, healed and more beautiful than ever before. The same way in which we bury a rotten apple in the ground, and the earth gives us back a beautiful new apple tree.

The world buried in Him a young girl who had been raped and her child. Christ received them both and gave them back to that violent world as two wonderful saints, willing to sacrifice their lives for the salvation of the very world that had abused them. Today, St Thaney and St Mungo are among the most beloved Celtic Saints, and the holy protectors of the very places from where she was once rejected and pushed off a cliff to die.

There is so much out-of-this-world hope in the life of St Thaney. No other icon seems more appropriate for the end of a year and the beginning of a new one. May Christ grant us the strength and the love to bury in Him all that was dark, all that was evil this past year, and may we step forward in the new year with ease and light, without the burden of hatred, without the poison of holding on to any darkness.

Let us bury all that is evil in Christ, and let us trust Him to give us in return the fruits of His forgiveness and His love.

This icon is available for sale from the Monastery Bookstore: