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How did Mungo Bonham become a Saint?


I just added a bit of historical background to the character entry for Mungo Bonham. It turns out that there was a real St. Mungo who was an early Bishop of Scotland (also called St. Kentigern) who evangelized pagans c. 600 in the Glasgow area. One local tradition even holds that he baptised a bard named Merlin.
According to Jo, the founder of St. Mungo’s was a wizard named Mungo Bonham (1560 – 1659). Neither Jo’s site nor the Wizard card give us much information on Bonham. I now find myself wondering how a wizard becomes a saint!

By the way, thank you to Potter blogger Muggle Matters for posting about this.


Pensieve (Comments)

  • Reader2

    St. Mungo is not the only wizard with an unlikely title.

    Just look at the House Ghosts.
    We’ve got a knight, a lady, a baron and a frier. Those are all very muggle titles, even though it was repeatedly stated in the HBP that there are no titles in the wizarding world.

    The only way to explain how these wizards got their titles, is to assume that at some point in their lives they had lived among muggles and earned themselves the titles in the muggle world.

  • Lisa

    Unlikely. I like the way you put that. When I wrote that it had just struck me that a “Saint” is in a different category (grin). Perhaps his miracles were medical?

  • Deborah Hubbard

    Medieval medicine resembles both Charms and Potions … a practitioner who could add magic to what his colleagues were achieving with nonmagical herbs and incantations would be highly successful. As for becoming a saint, it seems that the Muggle St Mungo was an ordained clergyman … which means that he was one of the very few educated, literate men of his day. The Church at the time was a magnet for intelligent, ambitious, compassionate people (as well as for those too fond of power) – there were few career opportunities otherwise. And there have always been more Muggles than magical people, so if you could keep your secret life a secret, you could do great good to humanity. And what’s Occlumency for?

    As for beliefs, I know many Christian clergy who willingly accept every word of the Bible, and some who regard it as human in origin and useful as a metaphor, a comfort and a crutch. Both lots do good work among their congregants!

  • Naneferkaptah

    There are two possible solutions to that. One is simply that St Mungo’s is named after the name patron of the founder, the real St Mungo/Kentigern. So Mungo Bonham would not have himself been a saint. Such would have been in line with common practice in his time. If his name had been Peter Smith, he would have called it St Peter’s and so on.
    The practice in those days was to name a child after the saint who had his feast day (usually the day of his death/martyrdom) on the child’s birthday. That particular saint would then also be the patron to whom that person would feel a special lifelong devotion (including to name any foundations after him, to place it under his tutelage, too).
    For Mungo Bonham to have St Mungo as a patron saint, it would be interesting to explore the legend of that saint further, as indeed there is some magical connection.

    The HP books never speak of religion, but Hogwarts does respect for example Christmas holidays, so just because the Muggle church resents magic does not mean that wizards are necessarily completely opposed to Christianity.

    This ties seemlessly in with the second possible explanation, which would be that there is indeed a separate wizard church (not necessarily meaning a non- or anti-christian one, just a separate one to keep clear of Muggles) with wizard saints, and Mungo Bonham could have been one.

    To this one could add, that at least in the Middle Ages, some monks (think of people like the friar!) held a high interest in magic and kept things of that sort in their libraries. Of course, they had to not make too big a show of it, unless they wanted to be killed as heretics.
    Even more interesting is the Renaissance, when there were even rather open discussions on using a good white magic as a sort of science for good purposes and great scholars like Giordano Bruno engaged in that (and often enough had to die for it, like Bruno). Of course, that is exactly the period Mungo Bonham lived in!

    For anybody interested in this latter aspect, the classic study is Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, which I can only highly recommand.

  • ACB

    Readers may also be interested to learn that St Mungo’s exists as a charity in Muggle London. They do very valuable work with some of the most vulnerable homeless people in the city. More info here: http://www.mungos.org/about.shtml

  • Here’s the exact post by our own “Merlin” at Muggle Matters. This all started with my buying a bottle of Merlin’s Ale for him as a joke. (Fact: Merlin’s real name is actually “Merle”.)

    St. Mungo appears to be a Muggle but is famous in the wizarding community for baptizing Merlin the Wizard and there is even a stained glass window in a North Scotland church commemorating this event.

  • I’m not a huge fan of MZB’s MOA (and those hwo know these contemporary works will be able to recognize the works from that) but in a panel discussion at Lumos one of the panelists noted that in MOA MZB uses the character of Merlin, and calls him “THE Merlin” as a sort of title, kind of like “Rabbi” in Judaism … it sounded like he might be a sort of wizardly master-teacher/guru type, or that that is what the name might mean as a title.

    The brew was pretty decent too … but definitely a bitter sort of darker ale – seemed pretty Scottish to me 🙂

  • Lisa

    Naneferkaptah, your analysis is very convincing, and ACB, that news is really interesting!

    Merlin, It’s great to hear from you after reading your blog, but please resist the temptation to abbreviate. Even long names like Marion Zimmer Bradley =).

  • Naneferkaptah

    Thank you for the flowers, Lisa! 🙂
    And by the way, thank you and your collegues also so much for this wonderful Lexicon!

  • Die Zimtzicke

    There was probably much more interaction between muggles and wizards at that time. It is a fact that in most civilized societies of antiquity every king and emperor had professors of astrology, or even soothsayers on their payroll. (King Stephen of Poland spent a fortune on a pair of court sorcerers he had in the late 16th Century, until he was finally forced to send them away from the court.) And kings often had some influence on the Chruch. So it wouldn’t surprise me if a wizard became well-connected with muggles and became a saint, but I guess we’ll never be sure.