The Dawn of Monasticism

Monasticism is considered to have been "founded" by St Martin of Tours (AD316-397) but one cannot accept this without first paying heed to his own teachers, particularly St Hilary. At the time when St Ninian was about to embark on his "instruction at Rome" three of the great masters or Doctors of the Church - St Ambrose (AD339-397), St Jerome (AD341-420), St Augustine (AD354-430)- were already in middle age. Also, in Gaul, St Martin's own master, St Hilary (AD315-368), was only recently dead. As a consequence the leadership of the Gallican Church had devolved on St Martin, abbot-bishop of Caesarodunum, which is Tours.

The long connection of Tourraine with Scotland goes back before either Scotland or France existed as discrete kingdoms. The cradle of Scots Christianity is St Martin's Abbey, by the Loire near Tours. The Church in Gaul derived from the East rather than from Italy. Potinus, apostle of Gaul, was a pupil of St Ploycarp of Smyrna, and St Hilary, who consolidtaed the Church in Gaul, had been for some time in Phrygia. Now, St Martin, a soldier (though probably a conscript) and son of a Roman officer, a great administrator as well as a saint, scholar, and founder of the first Christian hospital in the West, had brought into Gaul an institution new in the Western Church. Long before Christianity, men had withdrawn themselves to solitary contemplation of God. After Christianity came there had been Christian hermits. In the early fourth century St Pachomius had drawn many of these together to live in groups, under a rule of poverty, chastity, and obedience, combining organised prayer with study and manual labour.

St Martin brought this communal, ruled, way of living into the Western Church, in the country of the Pictones, Poitou, Poictou, or Pictavia. On Hilary's return from banishment to Poitiers in 360 he gave St Martin land at Ligugé where he then became a solitary monk. However, in time he attracted others and his community became famous, so much so that he was forced to leave this first small house at Ligugé to found another larger one, Magnum Monasterium, Mór Muinntir, Marmoutier, close to Tours, of which city, as we have said, be became bishop. It was to this community that St Ninian went to study, before coming back to his homeland, and there he became an enthusiastic disciple of St Martin.



St Ninian's foundation at Whithorn was at first to be known as Muinntir Mór, but he himself called it after Martin's first at Ligugé - Logotegiacum being the Latin form of Ligugé, coming from the Celtic leuk (Gaelic geal, shining white) and tigh, a house. From this then came the name Candida Casa, and its daughter house in Wales Ty Gwynn, the Bright House.

Scotland then was the recipient of Martinian monasticism at a very early time, very nearly it could be said from the very mouth of its "founder" St Martin. In this sense we can rightly argue a very ancient pedigree for the Church in Scotland and also then, for the Church in Pictland of Alba which was founded from Candida Cassa.

The route taken by Ninian on his return to his homeland is a matter of speculation but, I would suggest, it is possible that he came at least in part by sea. The link between the Church in Scotland and that in St Martin's Gaul then would bypass to a large extent, and certainly until later times, the church that may have existed in southern and central Britain. Monasticism came first to Scotland and Alba!


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