I was talking about St Ninian at the All Age service today (yes, I know his feast is 16 September, but we are looking at saints of Scotland with the young people, and preparing for a Ninian-fest-display at the Doors Open weekend next month). Anyway, I tried hard to steer between history, legend and homily, but couldn’t resist one or two tales.
The one I like best is that when Ninian walked along in the rain singing psalms from his breviary, God kept him dry when all around was getting drenched. One day, some naughty thoughts came into his mind and he began to get wet, but quickly banished them and God replaced his spiritual umbrella.
I can remember as a child learning that God knew all our inmost thoughts, and was terrified that mine might be broadcast like the words in a cartoon speech bubble. Perhaps this story about St Ninian is a warning like that. But I got more worried today about the manuscript book he would have been singing from. The Bible copied in the nomnastery of Wearmouth and Jarrow in the C8th took the skins of 1550 calves to make, and even a little psalm-book would have have been a rich treasure. Not something you get wet, anyway – with ink running all over the place.
But surely Ninian would have known the psalms by heart and not needed a book?
By now you can see the perils of trying to meditate on improving stories when you are an historian … Probably why Ignatian methods of prayer, where you place yourself in a gospel story, always set me off on pedantic musings about life in Palestine.
Anwyay, this modern icon on St Ninian clearly shows him trying to decide whether it’s started raining yet: