Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Who Was First?

Was it Saint Columba of Iona or Saint Ninian of Whithorn who first brought Christianity to Scotland? The Scottish Parliament revisited the debate today, which is the feast day of St. Ninian.

South of Scotland MSP Alasdair Morgan brought the motion up for debate today, and it had already been backed by 18 MSPs, calling on Whithorn to be recognised as Scotland's "earliest known centre of Christianity... largely forgotten by a modern generation."

In 563, Columba, also known as Colm Cille, was exiled from his native Ireland as a result of his involvement in the Battle of Cul Dreimhne and founded a monastery on Iona, an island off the coast of Mull. From there, he and his twelve companions set about the conversion of Scotland and much of northern England to Christianity. Scroll, first-hand accounts, second-hand scholarly writings, relics, and artefacts form the anthropological evidence to Colomba's existence in Scotland.

In the 8th century, Bede wrote the first account of Ninian as an early Christian missionary among the Pictish peoples in what is now Scotland. For this reason he is known as the Apostle to the Southern Picts, throughout the Scottish Lowlands, and in parts of Northern England with a Northumbrian heritage. Lacking direct documentation, circumstancial evidence puts Ninian in Scotland in 397, well before Colomba.

However, Colomba claims that southern Scotland was pagan when he started preaching to them. So the case very well could be Ninian came, saw, preached but didn't conquer, whereas Colomba did. For the better part of the following millenium, scholars wrangled over "Who was first?" Now, politicians are getting into it.

But as with most things, the true reason behind the debate is not validity for the apostles, but rather tourist pounds and dollars.