St Ninian was the first Scottish saint, and there are a number of Scottish churches dedicated to him, including one in the diocese of Aberdeen.
In the fourth century, the Roman Empire had a well-run province in Cumbria, including at that time the current Dumfries and Galloway area and Hadrian’s Wall. It was into this region that St Ninian was born, about 360 AD, the son of a local Christian King or Rex. In the year of his birth the area was overrun by invaders but in 369 the Romans repelled them and set about important local changes. They encouraged local chiefs to defend themselves and gave them greater local power. The area was inhabited by both Christians and Pagans. St Ninian was able to travel freely because of his “royal” and “Christian” status.
In 378 St Ninian moved to Rome, studying for the priesthood under the guidance of St Jerome. He spent many years there and was ordained a bishop in 394, probably by Pope Siricius. St Ninian was assigned back to Cumbria to convert the Pagans and preach the Gospel in Scotland.
St Ninian settled on the Isle of Whithorn, in Dumfries and Galloway, in 397, where he built a small stone church reportedly the first of its kind. It was covered with white plaster giving it the name of “Candida Casa” or Shining White House. St Ninian dedicated this church to St Martin de Tours, whom he had met before his death in 397, and for whom he had great respect. He journeyed from Whithorn to areas such as Angus, Aberdeenshire, Cromarty and Easter Ross to preach the word of God.
Venerable Bede in the 8th century wrote that St Ninian “began to lay the foundations of faith; building with the gold of wisdom, silver of knowledge and stones of good works, he taught by word and by example”.
There are several stories of miracles: St Ninian asked why there were no vegetables with his meal and he was told that the leeks and vegetables were not ripe to eat. He advised the cook to go out and look again and when he did so there were plenty of vegetables ripe for cooking. Another story relates to St Ninian blessing the sheep and cattle to protect them overnight from harm. That night thieves tried to steal the animals, one thief was killed and the others found they could not leave the animal pen. St Ninian prayed over the dead thief and restored him to life and he also forgave the other thieves who were then able to leave the area unharmed. Other stories relate to lepers, blind and sick people being cured.
St Ninian died in 431AD. For over 1,000 years many pilgrims came to Whithorn to St Ninian’s shrine hoping for a miracle. St Ninian’s feast day is celebrated on 16th September.