Glasgow Doors Open Day, 2015
The annual "Doors Open Day" in Glasgow has been running for 26 years now. Organised by the Glasgow Buildings Preservation Trust it aims to celebrate the architecture, history and people of the city by public talks, walks and open access to many buildings normal closed to the public. This year, endeavouring to see some buildings which I haven't previously visited I seem to have ended up going to several religious buildings for a change. Despite these buildings being such prominent parts of the city skyline I had never before been inside the Glasgow Central Mosque, the 'Greek' Thomson designed St Vincent Street Church or the Catholic St Andrew's Cathedral down by the Clyde. So this is what I saw, arranged for no particular reason chronologically by their religion's origins. Religious bigotry and sectarianism has an ugly history in the west of Scotland, and I have avoided taking any interest in religion, so I apologise in advance for any wild factual inaccuracies in what follows.
|Tallits, Jewish prayer shawls|
|Garnethill Synagogue, Glasgow|
The words carved in Hebrew above the door are from Deuteronomy and translate as "God alone let him, and there was no strange God with him". I am not sure how the calculation works, but apparently the numerical value of the Hebrew letters used in this verse adds up to the date of the foundation of the building.
|Inside the Garnethill Synagogue, Glasgow|
|Saint Andrew's Cathedral, Glasgow|
|Interior of Saint Andrew's Cathedral, Glasgow|
As well as St Mungo establishing his church on Castle Street in Glasgow of the 7th century, St Constantine had arrived maybe 100 years earlier, about 500AD, and established a wooden church at Govan. With Glasgow only a small town at this time, Govan was a completely separate hamlet for centuries. The first Govan church was built beside a ceremonial hill and sacred well. The people here were Britons, different from their neighbouring Picts and Scots and Govan means "little hill" in their language. Ironically the hill in Govan no longer exists, as it was flattened in making the industrial Govan we know from the 20th century, to make space for the sheds of the Harland and Wolff shipbuilding company. The kingdom of the Clyde Britons was controlled from Dumbarton (Dun Breatann meaning "fort of the Britons") and was a powerful kingdom in the British Isles after defeating the Scots of Dalraida. In 756 the combined Picts and Nothumbrians ford the Clyde at Govan and defeat the Britons at Dumbarton. The early church in Govan is at the site of what is now called Govan Old Parish Church. Although I have previously read about the Govan Stones, I had never gone to see them before. The church is home to many famous early medieval stones, carved between the 9th and 11th century. One of the earliest is a beautiful stone sarcophagus from around 850AD, carved from a single block of stone.
|Carving on the Govan Sarcophagus|
After a four month siege in 870AD Vikings destroyed the fortress at Dumbarton. The king of the Britons is killed. A new king is appointed and moves up river, becoming based at Govan and a new name appears for the kingdom, "king of the Britons of Srath Clúade (Strathclyde)". The other stones found in Govan Old Parish Church come from the period 900-1100AD.
|Five carved Norse "Hogback" stones in Old Gorbals Parish Church|
|The 'sun stone'|
|Gravestone in Govan churchyard. Date looks like 1690|
|Current Old Govan Parish Church|
|Former fitting out basin of Harland and Wolff, |
across the Clyde from the current Museum of Transport
Muslims follow the Islamic faith, a monotheistic Abrahamic faith which originated in Arabia. The Qur'an is the holy book for Muslims, which was revealed to the prophet Muhammed over 23 years by the angel Gabriel. Muhammed lived from about 570AD - 632AD.
Although many more may have been undocumented, the first Muslim known to live in Scotland was a medical student from Bombay, Wazir Beg, in Edinburgh in 1858. Manufacturing and trade in Glasgow meant that many Muslims arrived in the city working as lascars or sailors. Records from the Glasgow Sailors Home on the Broomielaw from 1903 show that at that time nearly a third of the 5500 boarders were Muslim lascars. Immigrants from South East Asia, particularly Pakistan, in the late 20th century increased the Scottish Muslim population to about 1.4% of the population by 2011. More recent immigrants from Africa, Afghanistan and the Balkans have added to the diversity of this population. The first purpose built mosque in Glasgow opened its doors in 1984.
|Glasgow Central Mosque|
|Inside Glasgow Central Mosque|
Taken on a tour of the building, with its adjacent community centre, our Malcolm X quoting guide was at pains repeatedly to clarify misconceptions about Islam. It is clear that some Muslims can feel at times there are constant media reports of their perceived role in all the problems round the world, causing misunderstanding and fear. When he talked about the un-Islamic actions of those fighting their fellow Muslims in Syria just now, it was hard not to see echoes of this in accusations down through the centuries within several other religions. It seems to me that most wars and battles fought in the name of a religion tend to be about power, resources and land once you break it down rather than a battle of ideals. This is the same whether talking about ISIS in the Middle East, the Christian Crusades, the Rough Wooing of Mary Queen of Scots, King Billy and the Battle of The Boyne, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Troubles in Northern Ireland... Take your pick.
Not remembered in the current portrayal of Islam are the contributions Muslim thinkers have given to the world, particularly in science, medicine and mathematics. You only need to think about the origins of the words algorithm, algebra and alchemy to see where they originated.
The Christian church in Scotland means many different things to different people. The Church of Scotland website has an "Historical Directory To Glasgow Presbytery" listing the changes in parishes and churches over the years in the city and it runs to 360 pages if you have an interest in this. The roots of the Church of Scotland date back to the Scottish Reformation of 1560, led amongst others by John Knox, whose statue looks out over Glasgow from a pillar atop the Necropolis behind Glasgow Catherdral. He established a Protestant church on Calvinist principles.
|St Vincent Street Church, Glasgow|
|Interior of St Vincent Street Church, Glasgow|
Another church that I visited on the Doors Open Day was also commissioned by the Free Church using an innovative Glasgow architect. In 1896 the Free Church of St Matthew, Glasgow commissioned a new church and hall from architects Honeyman and Keppie. The job was allocated to their young, talented, trainee architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
|Architectural drawings for the Queens Cross Church|
|The nave of the Queens Cross Church, Glasgow|
|Mackintosh designed pulpit in Queens Cross Church|
Topped with their golden domes, there have been two distinctive new additions to the Glasgow skyline in recent years. The first purpose-build Sikh Gurdwara in Scotland opened its doors in 2013, in Polloksheilds beside the Tramway. Another new Gurdwara will also soon be opening soon in Glasgow on Berkeley Street, opposite the Henry Wood Halls.
|Glasgow Gurdwara on Albert Drive, behind the Tramway's 'Hidden Garden'|
Sikhism was founded in the Punjab region of India in the 15th century. It is based on the teachings of Guru Nanak (the first Guru) and the ten successive Sikh Gurus. Now the book of Sikh scripture is the Guru and is treated with great respect. The first documented Sikhs living in Scotland are from 1854 in Perthshire. Sikhs date the first Glaswegian Sikhs to the 1920s when a Gurdwara was established in South Portland Street. Further immigration in the later 20th century means that Sikhs now make up 0.2% of the Scottish population, with the largest population being in Glasgow. In the synagogue I had my head covered, in the mosque I had taken my shoes off to enter the prayer hall. Here my head was covered and shoes off to enter the Gurdwara. Our young guide told us with obvious enthusiasm about Sikhism and the Gurdwara and encouraged us to visit the free food kitchen, or Langar, an important part of any Gurdwara.
Although their place of celebration was not open during the Doors Open Day, it seems only fair to also mention the Glasgow Hindu Mandir. Hinduism contains a broad range of philosophies and religious cultures and has many deities. It dates to the 6th century BCE and is the religion followed by the majority of people in India and Nepal. The majority of Hindus in Scotland arrived in the second half of the 20th century, many escaping Idi Amin's Uganda in the 1970s. Hindus now make up 0.3% of the Scottish population. I have previously been in the Hindu Mandir Glasgow building at Belle Place, near Kelvingrove Park, for a wedding which was a very laid back, friendly and colourful event. Unfortunately you will have to make do with a photo of the outside which I took when I passed it on my bike today.
|Hindu Mandir Glasgow|
In Glasgow I think we are now getting away from the days when the first question a stranger (or someone interviewing you for a job) asked was "what school did you go to?" to work out if you were a Catholic or a Protestant. However we are far from being a city that can preach to anyone about religious tolerance. I sadly think that we are defining people more and more by religion. There is talk of the Muslim population or Jewish community. Religion is only one aspect of a people's culture. I am not a great fan of defining people or a population by their religious views and each religion has a spectrum of differing perspectives and beliefs. Scottish Christians can be a member of the Roman Catholic, Scottish Episcopal, Free Church, United Free Church, Church of Scotland, Free Presbyterian Church, Associated Free Presbyterian Church or the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Scotland. That's just our local ones. People living in the same street, or working in the same factory have much more in common with each other than do a businessman and a shop worker of the same religion.
A lot of people, particularly immigrants, feel a cultural link and connection with a religion. The rituals and celebrations their parents and grandparents enjoyed. I am an atheist but still enjoy rolling eggs down a hill with my children at Easter. I understand the symbolism of it and remember doing it as a child with my own parents, but I don't define myself as a Christian. The diversity of religious institutions in Glasgow that I have visited this weekend just reflects the diversity of Glasgow's immigrants over centuries. From Norsemen to Lithuanians, people from the Punjab and Sri Lanka, Scottish Highlanders, Italians and Irish.
I know it sounds corny to end this way but I agree with the city's current slogan that "People Make Glasgow" and I religion is a small part of the culture of those people, if they wish. So I finished my day in Dowanhill Church, built in 1865. I admired the work of the artist Daniel Cottier who designed its interior, the craftsmen that erected the building and those restoring it. I then had a nice pint of beer and some lunch and wondered if the day will come when all the places I saw today will become museums, theatres, community centres, restaurants and bars.
|Cottiers Bar and Theatre, Glasgow|