🗓 Today, 18th July, is the Feast Day of St Thenue (spelled various different ways) or St Enoch. She was mother of the much more well known St Kentigern or Mungo, the patron Saint of Glasgow. For this day I thought I’d write a wee bit about her story & places dedicated to her, especially since many who regularly pass through places like St Enoch Square in Glasgow aren’t aware of the legends behind the name.
⚠️ Trigger Warning for sexual violence in story below ⬇️ Given these events are said to have taken place in the 6th century some details vary from source to source, so I’ve tried to make a basic summary based on the versions I’ve read & I’ll link them all at the end:
Thenue is thought to have been a 6th Century Brittonic princess, daughter of the King of the Goddodin in what’s now East Lothian, who converted to Christianity. After converting, she went against her father’s wishes by refusing to marry the son of the King of North Rheged (now Galloway) because he hadn’t converted & was still following the native pre-Christian religion, as was her father & most of those around her.
Thenue is then thought to have been exiled by her angry father to live as a poor animal herder, where she was later found & raped by the man she had refused to marry. She tried to keep the resulting pregnancy a secret but her father somehow found out, blamed her for the attack, & tried to have her executed by having her thrown from Traprain Law.
Miraculously she & her unborn child survived, making her father think she was some kind of witch. Even pre-Christian belief systems had a concept of “witch” being someone who used magic for selfish, evil ends to harm their community. (The Romans are another infamous example of a pre-Christian society that used to burn “witches” before the Christian Satanic ideas came into being). Despite Thenue obviously having done nothing wrong her father was convinced she was trying to bring shame upon her family & people, even refusing to be put to death, which in his mind would have been the “right” thing to do. Therefore it was decided that she should be set adrift in a coracle up the River Forth to eventually die at sea. However she was rescued by St Serf at Culross & survived, with some stories telling of her coracle being guided by a shoal of fish against the current in order for this to happen.
It was at Culross that Thenue gave birth to Kentigern, who she nicknamed Mungo, meaning “dear one”. When Mungo grew up he travelled around various places in Scotland, preaching & converting people, before ending up in Glasgow where he became a Bishop. Both he & Thenue are thought to have died in Glasgow, with Thenue’s grave thought to be near or even possibly under the present day St Enoch Shopping Centre.
As said at the beginning of this story, the purported events happened so long ago that there are many slightly different versions, none of which we can verify with any certainty. The people involved do seem to have existed at least. The events also fit in with the general early history of Christianity in Scotland – it was spread slowly by individual or small groups of monks, not by force, with people choosing to convert at various times for various reasons. It’s also known that, while not as misogynistic as Greek & Roman societies, pre-Christian “Celtic” societies weren’t exactly bastions of equality either sadly.
💧 St Enoch Shopping Centre, St Enoch Square & St Enoch subway station are well-known modern places in Glasgow city centre. The reason for them being named as such was mentioned above – Thenue’s grave is thought to have been in the vicinity. There are records from the 15th century indicating that there was a chapel housing her bones in the middle of a burial ground, later replaced on maps by a church in the 19th century, before that in turn was replaced by St Enoch Square as we know it today. There was also a street recorded as St Thenue’s Gait, now replaced by Argyll Street & the Trongate, & a St Tenue’s Well which has also sadly been lost. Records show some interesting traditions that were associated with this healing well when it was still in use:
“It was shaded by an old tree which drooped over the well, and which remained till the end of the last century. On this tree the devotees who frequented the well were accustomed to nail, as thank-offerings, small bits of tin-iron probably manufactured for that purpose by a craftsman in the neighbourhood representing the parts of the body supposed to have been cured by the virtues of the sacred spring such as eyes, hands, feet, ears, and others a practice still common in Roman Catholic countries.”
From Saints in Scottish Place Names – see links at end to read full info available
🎨 There are also 2 beautiful murals in Glasgow depicting St Thenue. One is on the corner of High Street & George Street, depicted by street artist Sam Bates as a modern woman with her baby. A wee robin perches on her arm in reference to St Mungo’s first miracle, said to have been bringing his pet robin back to life. The other mural was painted by Mark Worst for Thenue Housing association, just off London Road. This mural includes the fish that are said to have saved Thenue & also features 29 motifs on her shawl in memory of the Glasgow women who died in the 1889 Templeton’s factory disaster nearby. The Thenue Housing Association also has a mask of Thenue carved from stone from the now demolished St Enoch hotel in their office. See links at the end for photos & further details.
📜 According to Medieval Glasgow, St Enoch Shopping Centre unveiled a plaque in 2019 to display the various names Thenue has been known as over time. These are:
The variations in spelling are due to these stories having originally been told orally, spreading across various areas with slightly different pronunciation etc before finally being written down. Hopefully this along with the murals will help to make more people aware of Thenue’s story – even if it was too long ago to establish exactly what the facts are, these stories have cultural value & tell us a lot about what people believed over time. In addition, modern historical fiction writer Nigel Tranter wrote a novel based on these events – I’ll link to a description below for anyone interested in reading a fleshed-out & well-researched imagining of Thenue’s life.
📚 Links & further Reading:
📸 Featured Photo credit: Pexel