Canon Michael McMahon from the Diocese of Paisley explores the story and impact of St. Mirin.
There are Saints from our own beloved Scotland, whose names are familiar even in the modern age, about whom little is known and legends abound, St. Mirin is even more obscure than that – apart from his name little is known and legends are few! What can we determine with any degree of certainty, of events unfolding in the Central West of Scotland circa 580AD, for this is when the saga begins for Mirin and his connection to Paisley.
The more widely accepted legend by historians states that he was an Irish monk and Missionary from Bangor, Ireland, who founded a religious community at St Mirin’s Croft which grew to become Paisley Abbey. Of noble birth and educated under St Congal, at Bangor Monastery, he joined the brotherhood of monks eventually becoming Prior. Having met and been deeply impressed by St Finian, tutor of St Columba, he met the latter and began corresponding with him on a regular basis. Appointed Missionary to the West of Scotland he left Bangor, it is thought, in 580AD. Arriving in what is now the town of Paisley he preached and worked many miracles beside the banks of the Mirin burn, converting many to Christianity and set up his first church at Seedhill, to this day still a populous part of the town , in the Parish that bears his name. With the help of his 4 holy disciples, Barchanus, Malcomus, Petrus and Alanus, other churches were founded at Kilbarchan, Kilmacolm, Kilpeter and Kilallan (Houston). His preaching and great charisma attracted many people, including the prophet Merlin from Govan (Merlinford). After his death his shrine became a centre of pilgrimage and he is referred to as the glorious confessor in many charters and Papal Bulls.
When the Benedictines from Cluny arrived in Paisley from their Abbey in Shropshire they founded a Church and Parish Community in 1169, dedicated to the memory of the Holy Man who was held in such high esteem in the town, which flourished and grew in power and influence. That Community also grew and flourished and Paisley Abbey was founded by them and incorporated a shrine of St. Mirin – the whereabouts of his body being unknown. His image was engraved on the seal of the Abbey surrounded by the prayer “O Mirin pray for your servants.“ The Abbey itself was dedicated under the Patronage of St. Mirin, Our Lady, St James and St. Milburga, the Patron of Whenlock in Shropshire, from where the monks had journeyed North. Incidentally, the name Milburga also remained in the Paisley area with a Parish dedicated to the Saint in Inkerman, a mining settlement on the site of the now Glasgow Airport. That Chapel was transported in its entirety in 1906 to be the first Chapel in the settlement of ‘The Linn Wood’, now Linwood.
The 1488 Charter of King James IV raising Paisley to status of burgh of barony cites “the singular respect for the great confessor, St Mirin”. The Aberdeen Brieviary, written by Bishop Elphinstone and published in 1507, mentions this chapel of St. Mirin in the Abbey as being ’richly adorned with friezes’ of the life of St. Mirin. These depicted; Mirin being brought to Bangor by his mother,his investiture as a monk by Congal, his becoming Prior, petitioning an Irish king to preach to the Picts and being dismissed, the kings punishment (being made to suffer his Queen’s labour pains as she gave birth), the Queen then nursing the infant, the king begging the forgiveness of Mirin, the granting of the missionary permission, Mirin at prayer in his cell in Paisley, Mirin restoring a dead man to life. After the Reformation in 1560 these were badly defaced and much of the Abbey was vandalised, nonetheless, historical records of Paisley of early 1600 refer to Paisley as a ‘very nest of Papistry’ – the devotion to and memory of St. Mirin was not so easily suppressed!
The most significant memorial to St. Mirin in the present day is the Church of St. Mirin in the centre of the town. There was a large and growing Catholic population in Paisley, swelled by the possibilities of employment by the mills which surrounded the river Cart and this was further swelled by Catholic refugees fleeing the French Revolution and this resulted in the foundation of the Parish as one of the first post-reformation stone Catholic Churches in Scotland in 1808, before the repeal of the penal laws. A Catholic School was also established in 1818 – certainly among the first of the Post-Reformation period, incidentally founded by the Parish Priest and the Minister of the Abbey, together with some of the wealthier Burghers of the town, who recognised that a lack of education for poorer children was not a good investment for the future of the Town. The present Church of St. Mirin was opened in 1932, when the Diocese of Paisley was established in 1947, as part of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Glasgow, it became the Cathedral.
Other dedications in Paisley include a bronze statue by Norman Galbraith mounted on a sandstone pedestal designed by Daniel McKendry, bearing the inscription taken form the Aberdeen Breviary “At length and full of sanctity and miracles, Mirin slept in the Lord at Paisley”. His memory is further preserved in the present Mirin Chapel in Paisley Abbey containing a sculptured stone frieze depicting his life, the Cathedral and the Diocese of Paisley dedicated to his honour, St Mirren Street, St Mirren FC, and the St Mirin Burn which flows close to the town centre. Dedications outside Paisley include, St Mirin’s Primary, Croftfoot, Glasgow, Inchmurrin (Mirin’s Island), Loch Lomond, Knockmurran (Mirin’s Hill), Ayrshire and St Mirin’s Well, Kilsyth, Stirlingshire.
His Feast is celebrated on September 15th.
Prayer for the Intercession of St. Mirin
O, Mirin, great Apostle and Bishop of Christ and dearly beloved Patron, we thank you for bringing us the great gift of faith. Pray for us to God, our Father in Heaven, that we may increase His Holy Light in our souls and live truly Christian lives. Keep us daily in your loving care. Support, guide, encourage and help us with every challenge and temptation we face. By your powerful intercession with Jesus and Mary obtain for us a true repentance and forgiveness for our sins. Pray also, that through our worthy and frequent reception of the sacraments and our fidelity to the teaching of Christ, we may increase our love of God and like you, convert others by our good example.
Almighty God, we thank You for sending us St Mirin from his homeland to lead us in the ways of holiness and learning; grant that our emulating of his example and embracing the truth of the Gospel, we too may grow in knowledge of Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The image of St Mirin is from the staircase leading to the crypt chapel at the Scots College, Rome. The window was installed when the building opened in 1964 and was the work of János Hajnal. The Hungarian born artist was commissioned to complete the 8 windows that have inspired this series and two images relating to St Andrew immediately outside the main chapel. He returned to the college as his career came to an end to complete the window installed for the 400th anniversary and Jubilee Year, in 2000.