Not often you can say that you crossed a country in less than hour, but in November I did exactly that when I jumped on a train from Edinburgh to spend a few hours with the fabulous Glasgow Gallivanter. It felt like I had only just messaged Anabel to explain I was on an earlier train than planned, when I found myself with her at Queen Street. The weather was even more dreich than Edinburgh, but her welcome so lovely I didn’t really notice the weather. Plus I had a great big rain hat!
Our morning began with art, green tea and coffee in the library, and as you might expect also lots of chat. Eventually though it was time for me to discover what else Glasgow had to offer, and where better than City Chambers.
It was here that I first learnt about Glasgow’s city crest and the story behind its founder – St Mungo.
St Mungo was the son of Thenew, daughter of the King of Lothian, and trained as a priest. Around 550AD he founded a monastery on the banks of Molendinar Burn, a tributary of the Clyde. He named the place, Glasgui which translates as ‘dear green place’ and Glasgow Cathedral lies on the site of the church he founded. He lived an austere and holy life, but there were some unusual episodes which led to the crest above and the poem below;
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 is a reminder of a day during St Mungo’s religious training when he apparently he fell asleep whilst in charge of the holy fire.
The fire, aided by some of his fellow trainees, went out. However St Mungo broke off the branches of the tree above, prayed on them and they burst into flames. The bird is a robin which was a pet of Mungo’s and brought back to life by him after it had accidentally been killed by some of his fellow trainees. Not sure I like of the sound of Mungo’s classmates!
The next symbol, the fish has a very unusual tale to go with it. The King of Strathclyde had given his wife, the Queen, a ring but she gave it to a knight whom she apparently was having an affair with. There are then various versions as to what happened to the ring. What we do know though is that the ring ended up in a river and the King was aware the Queen had ‘mislaid’ it.
The King demanded his Queen show his the ring he had given her – threatening death if she could not do so. Fortunately Mungo heard of the tale, and sent a monk to catch a fish in the river. When the fish was returned to him, St Mungo cut it open and found the ring which he then managed to get to the Queen before she was executed. 600 years or so later the Bishop of Glasgow used the illustration of a salmon with a ring in its mouth for his own seal and this depiction of the story is now part of Glasgow’s coat of arms.
The final symbol is the bell. It is apparently St Mungo’s bell and the rumour is that it was given to him by the pope. For centuries it tolled in the city, and there is even an entry in the city financial accounts “for one tong to Sanct Mungowis Bell”. However within 75years of that entry it had been lost, and only a 17th century replacement exists today. I am not sure if it is this replacement bell, or another which is inscribed with the Mungo’s sermon that includes the words ‘Let Glasgow Flourish”. Isn’t that a great motto and unusually for a British one it is not in Latin and it is secular! Maybe that is why St Mungo is still very much part of Glaswegian life with the crest appearing on lampposts, and modern day depictions of Mungo on sides of buildings.
Our gallivanting didn’t stop here but I think I will keep part two of our stroll for another day. Thank you again so much to Anabel for being such a marvellous host. I will definitely be returning to Glasgow for another visit.