Faith & The British: Pt 10 – St Mungo’s, Glasgow

Far north in the city of Glasgow, stands St Mungo’s Cathedral, a stunning example of Gothic Architecture from Scotland, and a rare intact example, so we couldn’t resist the temptation to visit and explore…

St Mungo’s:

Location: Glasgow, Glasgow City Council Area (historically Lanarkshire), Scotland

Status: Cathedral

Faith: Church of Scotland

Constructed: 12th Century

Architect: N/A

Mung 1

The Cathedral is supposedly built on the area that its namesake, Saint Mungo, built his original Church. Mungo is also buried inside the Cathedral, in the crypt. There are no traces of his original Church that I am aware of, and the present Cathedral was built around the 12th century, with the Bishop of Glasgow having his seat here.

The Scottish Reformation, a break with Catholic Church in Rome headed by the Pope, occurred in 1560, leading to the destruction of various Church buildings. St Mungo’s was one of a few to survive intact, and remains in fantastic condition to this day. In Scotland, many Cathedrals are technically a High Kirk (Church in Scottish), and this includes St Giles in Edinburgh, and St Mungo’s here. There has not been a Bishop based here since 1690, so the title is more honorific today, and it is still the main Cathedral in the city of Glasgow.

It was also in the Cathedral that the UG (University of Glasgow) was created, as classes were once held in the Cathedral Precinct, around 1451. The University came about after the idea was put forwards by King James II (1430 – 1460), and subsequently granted permission by Pope Nicholas V (1397 – 1455). The Bishop at the time, William Turnbull (died 1454), took charge, and he, along with his successors over the next 2 centuries, served as the University Chancellors. By 1460 the University had moved to new premises over the road, and then to its present location in 1870.

Slightly off topic, but the UG presented a number of firsts, and it also happens to be the 4th oldest University in the English speaking world. Notable students include Donald Dewar (1937 – 2000) Scotlands 1st First Minister. Firsts include the first ultrasound of a foetus in the womb, and the first University in Scotland to have a female medical graduate (1894) and the first computer (1957).

Mung 2

Moving inside, it instantly hits you the sheer scale of the building, and considering its age its a marvel of engineering for that era. The entrance that was open on the day we visited was down the side of the building, on the side facing the camera on the previous picture. This led into the Nave, where there was a choice of turning left, or right.

Moving left, you will reach the West End of the building, which contains the West Door at the bottom of the picture, with the clock above it. Above that, is the West Window, a stunning creation with a rose window at the top. It’s official name is “The Creation” and depicts the creation of the Earth by God, with Adam and Eve respectively shown on the two centre panes, just above the clock. The rest of the panes show the various creatures and environments also created by God during the 7 day period.

Mung 3

Turning to look back up the Cathedral, this is the view you would see if you walk in through the side door and turn right. 105 feet above us, long wooden beams criss crossed the ceiling, holding the roof up, and much of it is medieval timber, as during the Reformation it remained untouched, unlike many other buildings.

The Nave here is a grand space, and an impressive 63 feet wide. As I have mentioned in a few other posts, there are no pews here, but rows of chairs can be put out as needed. The tall columns hold up the roof, with an aisle separating them from the main windows of the building. At the far end of the Nave is one of my favourite features of the building, and separates the Nave from the Chancel/Choir behind it. I refer of course to the towering stone screen which has a stone entrance at the bottom, and a window shaped hole at the top so that not only can light shine between the two sections, but the sound of the Organ can also pass through as well.

The screen is officially called the Pulpitum, and dates back to the 1400’s. On either side of the entrance are two altar platforms, which were installed a century later, in 1503 by Archbishop Blackadder (who also built the Blackadder aisle on the crypt level beneath us). If you look past the Pulpitum, you can see a large Organ on either side, at the top of the wall of the Choir, but more on them in a moment.

As we visited in January, there were still a number of Christmas items up around the city, including the trees in the Cathedral, and these partially obscure a wooden chair just behind each of them. These are memorial chairs, with the right one dedicated to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR), which existed from 1903 until 1958 when it was merged with the Royal Naval Reserve to create a new force. The left chair is a memorial to a similar service, the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) which was formed in 1936. Unfortunately there was either a service or some sort of event happening in the Choir so we weren’t allowed to go any further into the building, so we just marvelled at the Nave and its many features.

Mung 5

On this picture you can see the left Altar platform in front of the screen, and next to that is one of the entrances to the Crypt level, although sadly it was closed that day. The RAFVR chair is also shown in the centre of the picture. The two chairs contain the emblem of their force at the top, and the RAFVR has a blue circle with an eagle in the centre.

In the large window shaped space at the top of the Pulpitum, you can see one of the two Organs that sit high above the Choir on the other side. The twin Organs were built in 1879 by Henry Willis & Sons from London, who have created Organs for Cathedrals throughout the UK from St Pauls to Liverpool Anglican. There had been an Organ in place before the Reformation, but it was removed during it, so this was the first permanent Organ to be installed since. The same company enlarged it in 1903, and 1931, and another company, J. W. Walker & Sons, founded by Joseph William Walker in 1828, took over for the 3rd enlargement in 1971. In 1996 the whole thing was rebuilt, but the original pipes were kept so it has original pipes by Henry Willis.

As the Crypt was closed, there were a few well known features of the Cathedral that we didn’t get to see, although we shall certainly revisit sometime in the future to explore the Crypt. These features include:

The Tomb of St Kentigern, another name for St Mungo. The Crypt was built in the 13th century to house his tomb, and it is fitting he was returned to the city and Cathedral that he founded. I mentioned earlier the Blackadder Aisle, this was built around 1500 by its namesake, and contains some interesting stonework. There is also an effigy of a man named Bishop Robert Wishart (died 1316). He was bishop during the wars of Scottish Independence, and was a support of both William Wallace (1270 – 1305, Scottish Independence Leader) and Robert the Bruce (1274 – 1329, the Scottish King until his death in 1329). All three men were instrumental in securing victory against the English King Edward I (1239 – 1307, who repeatedly tried to conquer Scotland in the 14th century. Edward died of Dysentery near the Scottish Border during a campaign heading North to meet Robert the Bruce, and his son, Edward II (1284 – 1327) took over as King.

Glasgow Cathedral is one of my favourite Cathedrals, its stunning both inside and outside and contains some of the finest stonework we have seen in a long time. The city itself is the 3rd largest in the UK, and the largest in Scotland, and has much to offer visitors. You can read all about the city in my dedicated post here. Glasgow is hosting the Commonwealth Games 2014 as I write this, so at a time when the world is watching Glasgow, let it take you on an adventure too.


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