Iona has St Columba; Whithorn has St Ninian; St Andrews has … well, St Andrew. Major pilgrimage sites across Scotland are associated with saints. And during the Middle Ages each of these saints acquired a kind of dossier of stories, poetry, prayers and hymns in their honour.
In Cowal we have the church of Kilmun, Cill Mhunnu, ‘the church of St Munnu’. But who was he? What do we know about him? Why was he important or significant to medieval Gaelic Christianity? Why should we be interested in him? The only way to begin to answer these questions is to listen to what medieval Gaels said and wrote about him.
This becomes a lot easier with the publication last week of Brilliant Flame: St Munnu in medieval literature and his church at Kilmun in Cowal by Gilbert Márkus (University of Glasgow, Celtic & Gaelic). Published by Kilmartin Museum in Argyll, it offers English translations of all the medieval writings relating to St Munnu, aka Fintan. You will find his death-notice in AD 635 and a story told about him by Adomnán sixty years later; there is poetry and celebration of his memory from the ninth century and a complete medieval Life of St Munnu published in English translation for the first time in this little book.
Important themes emerge from the book: Munnu’s relationship to Colum Cille and Iona, his contempt for worldly wealth, his rejection of violence, his ascetic rejection of the securities of kinship, and his love of study and contemplation.
Brilliant Flame is at present available at Kilmartin Museum, at Historic Kilmun visitor centre, and at Bookpoint in Dunoon. Other bookshops will shortly be stocking it too. You can order it by post from:
2 Glenogle House
Edinburgh EH3 5HR
Please send a cheque for £3 per copy made out to Writing Scotland (this price includes p&p for UK orders. Add an extra £2 per copy for non-UK orders).
Profits from the sale of the book go to Historic Kilmun and to St Munn’s Church, Kilmun.