Cathedral City

Continuing with my occasional theme of Glasgow landmarks, I’d like to tell you a bit about the Cathedral which sits north of High Street and east of Cathedral Street, beside the Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

Built before the Reformation from the late 12th century onwards and serving as the seat of the Bishop and later the Archbishop of Glasgow, the building is a superb example of Scottish Gothic architecture. It is also one of the few Scottish medieval churches (and the only medieval cathedral on the Scottish mainland) to have survived the Reformation not unroofed. On 22 April 1581, James VI gifted the income from a number of lands to Glasgow town for its upkeep. He traced the ownership of these lands to money left by Archbishop Gavin Dunbar as a legacy for repairing the cathedral. The town council agreed on 27 February 1583 to take responsibility for repairing the kirk while recording they had no obligation to do so. The church survives because of this resolution.

Technically, the building is no longer a cathedral, since it has not been the seat of a bishop since 1690. However, like other pre-Reformation cathedrals in Scotland, it is still a place of active Christian worship, hosting a Church of Scotland congregation.

On a lampost outside the Cathedral you can see an example of Glasgow’s official Coat of Arms.  Somewhat surprisingly, the City of Glasgow did not have a coat of arms until the middle of the 19th century. In 1866, the Lord Lyon King at Arms gave approval for one which incorporated a number of symbols and emblems which had been used on official seals up until then – all of which were associated with St Mungo.  St Mungo (who was originally named Kentigern) is said to have preached the sermon containing the words “Lord, let Glasgow Flourish by the preaching of the word.” This was subsequently truncated in Victorian times into the more secular “Let Glasgow Flourish” which is still in use today.

Many people, including Glaswegians themselves, are only vaguely aware of the stories and legends associated with the coat of arms. So here is the background to:

There’s the tree that never grew,
There’s the bird that never flew,
There’s the fish that never swam,
There’s the bell that never rang.

The Tree That Never Grew

The tree in the coat of arms is a now sturdy oak tree, but it started out as a branch of a hazel tree. The legend says that St Mungo was in charge of a holy fire in St Serf’s Monastery and fell asleep. Some boys who were envious of his favoured position with St Serf put out the fire. But St Mungo broke off some frozen branches from a hazel tree and, by praying over them, caused them to burst into flames.

The Bird That Never Flew

This commemorates a wild robin which was tamed by St Serf and which was accidentally killed. St Mungo was blamed for the death but he is said to have taken the dead bird, prayed over it and it was restored to life.

The Fish That Never Swam

The coat of arms always shows the fish with a ring held in its mouth. This is because a King of Strathclyde had given his wife a ring as a present. But the Queen gave it to a knight who promptly lost it. Some versions of the story say that the King took the ring while the knight was asleep and threw it in the river. The King then demanded to see the ring – threatening death to the Queen if she could not do so. The knight confessed to St Mungo who sent a monk to catch a fish in the river Clyde. When this was brought back (presumably catching salmon in the Clyde in those days was a lot easier then!) St Mungo cut open the fish and found the ring. When the Bishop of Glasgow was designing his own seal around 1271, he used the illustration of a salmon with a ring in its mouth and this has come down to us in today’s coat of arms.

The Bell That Never Rang

 In 1450, John Stewart, the first Lord Provost of Glasgow, left an endowment so that a “St Mungo’s Bell” could be made and tolled throughout the city so that the citizens would pray for his soul. The bell was still ringing out in 1578, as there is an entry in the City Treasurer’s accounts two shillings (10p) “for one tong to St Mungowis Bell.” A new bell was purchased by the magistrates in 1641 and that bell is on display in the People’s Palace museum near Glasgow Green.

In 1631, another bell was made, this time for the Tron Church on which was inscribed the words “Lord, let Glasgow Flourish by the preaching of the word.” Whether Glasgow flourished with spiritual assistance or the hard work of its people (or both), there is no doubt that Glasgow, now the largest city in Scotland, (twice the size of the capital, Edinburgh) has certainly prospered.

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Posted on September 14, 2011, in bell, bird, cathedral, fish, Glasgow, tree and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thank you for these kinds of a fantastic blog. Where else could one get such info written in this kind of an insightful way? I have a presentation that I am just now working on, and I was seeking this kind of information.

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