|Murals of a mother and child, and a man contemplating a bird...or is it St Enoch and St Mungo?|
Saint Mungo, Patron Saint of Glasgow.
|Glasgow bus shelter|
The Glasgow coat of arms in one form or another is dotted about all over the city - from adorning the sides of Victorian bridges to modern bus shelters. The salmon with a ring in its mouth, the tree, the bell and the bird all tell stories of the city's patron saint, Saint Mungo. Almost 1500 years ago he established his church just north of the River Clyde, and over time the city of Glasgow built up around this site. The words of Glasgow's motto "Let Glasgow Flourish" come from one of his early sermons, more fully rendered as "Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the word."Here is the bird that never flew,here is the tree that never grew,here is the bell that never rang,here is the fish that never swam.
|Glasgow coat of arms in a stained glass window at Glasgow Cathedral|
Also known as Kentigern, Mungo was the nickname he was given as a child when under the tutelage of Saint Serf, in Fife. "Mungo" derives from the Gaelic Mo Choë, taken to mean "My Dear". I think you would agree that this is a more affectionate name than Kentigern, which means "high lord".
|Glasgow coat of arms adorning a bin|
More recently we have a contemporary imagining of Saint Mungo, in a mural painted on the side of a tenement on High Street in Glasgow, facing up towards the cathedral where his tomb lies. This tells us how we want to imagine the legendary founding father of the city, with Mungo seen as an ordinary man, a bit bedraggled, maybe even a homeless man, benignly smiling down on the robin from one of his stories. The discrete halo behind his head tells us of his saintly nature.
There are different stories of her life, but a recurrent tale is that of her rape by Welsh prince Owain. When she discovers that she is pregnant, her father punishes her, the victim of this crime, and sentences her to death. She is hurled down the cliffs at Traprain Law, the hill fort in East Lothian where they lived.
Miraculously she is found to have survived, and is exiled, cast adrift in a coracle upon the River Forth. She washes up in Fife, where she is taken in by the community of Saint Serf at Culross. It is here that her son Kentigern was born, and given the nickname of Mungo, my dear one or beloved one, by Saint Serf.
Serf lived in the first half of the 6th century, and stories of his life stretch from his being the pope for seven years, to him killing a dragon with his staff in the town of Dunning. He is widely credited with establishing the religious community in Culross (pronounced Coo-riss), a picturesque town still made up of many 17th and 18th century buildings with their distinctive crow-step gables.
Teneu and Kentigern grew up here, with Kentigern studying under Serf, and some of the miracles that feature in the Glasgow coat of arms took place during his childhood here.
|St Enoch's church beside St Enoch's hotel and station, early 20th century|
|St Enoch shopping centre|
The mural of St Enoch, in modern garb, which has now been painted on the side of a tenement on George Street has won a lot of love. She is feeding or comforting young Kentigern, whilst a robin looks on. Robins have a lot of tales told about them in folklore, and early Christian beliefs. Some tales tell of the robin getting its red breast from drops of blood spilled from Jesus as the bird tried to remove the thorns from his crown from harming him. The robin was seen as a storm-cloud bird in Norse times, associated with Thor. In Celtic folklore, harming a robin was bad luck, and any injury to a robin, would soon befall the one committing it. Robins also feature in the miracles performed by Saint Mungo.
|Mural of St Enoch, by Smug|
|Mural of Saint Mungo on High Street, Glasgow|
By the age of 25 Kentigern/Mungo had finished his training with Serf in Culross. Christianity was a new religion for the people of Scotland, with early missionaries Saint Ninian and Columba spreading the word. He set out on his missionary work along the banks of the River Clyde. The story of his life goes that his first task was to go to the house of Fergus, a holy man who lived at Kernach. Fergus died the night that Mungo arrived, and respecting the man's last wishes he took his body by a cart hitched to two wild bulls, to be buried at a place called Cathures that had previously been consecrated by Ninian.
|The hearse of Fergus, on the roof of the Blacader Aisle in Glasgow Cathedral, which once housed a shrine to Fergus|
Here in about 550AD, in a green place beside the Molendinar Burn, which Mungo referred to as "glas cau" or green valley he established his church. The site today is where Glasgow Cathedral still stands, and the burn is also still there, though culverted underneath Wishart Street, behind the cathedral.
Mungo preached here for 13 years, before being driven out by the pagan King Morken of Strathclyde. He then traveled to Cumbria and Wales. When King Morken was overthrown by King Rhydderch Hael of Strathclyde, Mungo was invited back to Glasgow and appointed Archbishop of Strathclyde. His church became the centre of a growing community that would eventually become the city of Glasgow.
|Tomb of St Mungo in the crypt of Glasgow Cathedral|
To be declared a saint, miracles have to be uncovered in your life. Later bishops keen to declare the sanctity of their founding father told the stories of Mungo that we know from the city's coat of arms.
The bird that never flew - St Serf had tamed a pet robin, and it was killed by some of Mungo's classmates who tried to blame its demise on him. As he took it in his hands, and prayed over the robin, it came back to life and flew to St Serf. As Karine Polwart put it, robins are symbolically "the birds that mind hearth and family" so I am glad that we've a wee robin as part of our city's story.
The tree that never grew - One night Mungo was left in charge of the holy fire in the monastery at Culross. Once he had fallen asleep, his jealous fellow students put out the fire to get him into trouble. On waking, he broke off some cold branches of a hazel tree, and praying over them they burst into flame.
The bell that never rang - The bell was one used by Mungo, possibly given to him by the pope. A handbell was commonly used in Celtic churches to call people to prayer. In 1450 John Stewart, the first Lord Provost of Glasgow left an endowment for a "St Mungo's bell" to be purchased, and rung through the city for people to pray for him. This bell was rung out for over 100 years afterwards, and although it no longer exists, a replacement bought in 1641 can be seen in the city's People's Palace.
The fish that never swam - If you could accept the burning hazel branch and the robin resuscitation, you will like this one. The ring in the fish's mouth was a gift from King Rhydderch Hael to his wife Queen Languoreth. She gave it to a knight, and the king suspecteded she was being unfaithful. On a hunting party he took the ring from the knight whilst he slept and threw it into the River Clyde. Returning home the king demanded the ring from his wife, threatening her with execution if she could not produce it. The queen sought it from the knight, who did not know where it was. She then confessed all to Mungo. Mungo sent one of his monks to fish in the Clyde, and the first salmon pulled out of the river was found to have the ring in its mouth, which was returned to the queen. It's a good story, so good in fact that it has been recycled in the life of Saint Asaph. It also bears a lot of similarities to the plot used by Alexander Dumas, where he has his Three Musketeers rush to London to retrieve the diamond studs which Queen Anne of France has given to her lover the Duke of Buckingham, to show her king that she still has them.
|Mural of Saint Mungo by Smug on High Street, Glasgow|
Versions of Mungo
In the early days of the church in Glasgow, the tomb of Saint Mungo and associated relics attracted many pilgrims. They were seeking salvation and cures, and in return they provided funds for the growing church. Glasgow Cathedral was one of very few medieval cathedrals in Scotland to survive the Reformation, and it has continued as a Protestant church to this day. This means that the Catholic saints and relics are not part of the worship in the cathedral. The tomb of Saint Mungo is therefore rather downplayed in the cathedral today, a modern tapestry thrown over it and a plain cross on top. Also a slightly dour information board beside it avoids glorifying any fake prophets.
"...many pilgrims followed a stage-managed route to get here....Their offerings helped to swell church funds and the cathedral developed around the tomb. Stories about St Mungo are largely the creation of enthusiastic biographers in the 1100s. Important saints were promoted by the church to bolster the faith of believers. Mungo's legendary deeds were exploited during the early days of Alba, the unified Scottish kingdom in th elate 9th century. This was repeated, 500 years later, to reinforce the identity of the Scottish church after the Wars of Independence."
So within the cathedral we are cautioned to be wary of religion being used for political or economic purposes. As if!
In fairness Mungo's miracles, do seem slightly mundane in the grand scheme of things, more like conjurers tricks. Not for him the glory of curing the blind and infirm. Although the deeds of St Mungo and St Enoch are generally only vaguely known about, the coat of arms of the city has been used for centuries. The thrusting, modern, industrial Glasgow could show outsiders its coat of arms, linking it back to an origin story many centuries before.
|Coat of arms on Glasgow Royal Concert Hall|
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall opened in 1990, and has one of the largest of Glasgow's many coats of arms for public consumption. The tree, the fish and the bird link Glasgow to a green and leafy past. The motto, "Let Glasgow Flourish" seems to have a slightly different meaning when clipped of its "...by the preaching of the word." Instead of requiring religious duty to grow the city, it becomes a more declamatory. Stop holding us back, let Glasgow flourish.
|A version of the coat of arms used by the University of Glasgow|
The University of Glasgow was established in 1451 as part of the cathedral complex on High Street, and uses a version of the city's coat of arms. The university mace and an open book compliment the tree, the bird, the bell and the fish.
The new murals of Enoch and Mungo are a surprise as they do not show the old history, but give us a modern day mother and child, a modern day middle-aged, and bearded man. The robin and the halos give clues as to who they are, but these founders of Glasgow are average, ordinary people. I quite like this version of the Glasgow story.