Ninian of Whithorn


Fr Ian writes:

I’ve been inspired by the life of Ninian (feast day 16th September) from my teens, when I spent a lovely holiday at Whithorn in Scotland. I experienced Whithorn as a ‘thin place.’

Ninian is one of those saints about whom very little is known. The basic facts seem to be he was a very 4th century saint of southern Scotland, who built a church at Whithorn, on the Machars of Galloway, and from there his influence grew. That’s about all we know for sure.

What is clear is that the inspiration and example of Ninian extended beyond Whithorn and lived on beyond his death. To this day Whithorn is a quiet and inspiring place. Ninian’s life wasn’t one of dramatic miracles, or huge conversions. Rather it appears Ninian was a faithful man who was based in one place, Whithorn, where he had a small church built and where he prayed and gave pastoral care and teaching for the people of the area, and formed a small community of committed christians. . In his day communication routes from that area were principally by sea, and so his influence extended around the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man,  Cumbria and Ireland – in all of which places there are churches dedicated in his honour.

Remains of St Ninian's Chapel, Whithorn

Remains of St Ninian’s Chapel, Whithorn

The Church today appears in some places to be rather frenetic, coming up with schemes, action plans and ideas to evangelise people, to build up numbers. Some of this is needed. However, this activity, a friend remarked to me, can seem like the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass who runs fast, expending huge energy, in order to stand still.

Ninian’s example is an inspiration for today’s church. Growth in faith is by many ways. Ninian encourages us to be quietly confident in the traditions and ways we have – to be zealous in regular, sustained prayer, pastoral care and teaching of those in our local communities and parishes. This holiness, the holiness found at Whithorn, will then influence others and travel.

O God, by the preaching of your blessed servant and bishop Ninian you caused the light of the Gospel to shine in the land of Britain: Grant, we pray, that having his life and labours in remembrance we may show our thankfulness by following the example of his zeal and patience; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


About stchrysostoms

St Chrysostom’s is an Anglican (Church of England) parish church in Manchester, UK. We’re an inclusive, diverse and welcoming faith community rejoicing in our Anglo Catholic tradition, where people of many differing backgrounds make friends. Find our Facebook group at
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