05 Sep St. Mungo: The Saint Who Evangelized Glasgow
Son of a Princess Raped By a Prince
The ‘Dear One’ Who Brought Christianity to Glasgow
By Michael Durnan
Glasgow today is a sprawling, post-industrial city; ugly post-war architecture occupies former Luftwaffe bomb craters like so many broken teeth. But it was not always so.
Deep in Glasgow’s ancient, green heart lies the formerly-Catholic Cathedral of St. Mungo, which after the Reformation became the High Kirk of the Church of Scotland.
In the bowels of the 800 year old cathedral, in a crypt under the High Altar, lies the tomb of St. Mungo, Glasgow’s patron. But who was St. Mungo, actually?
Son of a Princess Raped By a Prince
Mungo — or Kentigern — was the illegitimate son of a Princess Thenew (later St. Enoch), daughter of the King of Lothian. She became pregnant after being raped by Prince Urien of Cumbria.
When her father, King Lleudden, learned of her pregnancy, he was so enraged that he threw her from the heights of the summit of a local hill, Traprain Law. Miraculously, she survived and managed to cross the River Forth in a small boat to Culross in Fife.
It was here that her son, Kentigern was born and raised by St. Serf, an abbot who was ministering to the Celtic Picts; it was St. Serf who gave Kentigern the nickname of ‘Mungo’ (‘Dear One’ in ancient Celtic).
Mungo’s Early Days
At the age of twenty-five, Mungo began his own Christian missionary work around the River Clyde at modern-day Glasgow. Mungo built a church on the site of the present day cathedral that bears his name and for some thirteen years he lived and worked there amongst the local people. Like his mentor, Mungo following a simple and austere life, dwelling in a small cell and winning many converts by his holy example and the power of his persuasive preaching.
However, a strong anti-Christian sentiment arose in the Kingdom of Strathclyde, headed by King Morken and Mungo was compelled to leave. He retired to Wales, via Cumbria in northwest England, and stayed for a time with St. David (Patron of Wales) at the city of St. Davids in West Wales.
Later, Mungo moved to the kingdom of Gwynedd in North Wales and founded a cathedral there, which was his seat as bishop, and from there he even undertook a pilgrimage to Rome.
Return to Scotland
On being crowned the new King of Strathclyde, Riderch Hael invited Mungo to return and he established his seat as bishop in present day Dumfries.
Later, he returned to Glasgow where a community grew up around him, becoming known as Clas-Gu, (‘Dear Family’). During this time, Mungo visited with St. Columba of Iona and the two engaged in long conversations, finally exchanging their pastoral staves.
In old age, Mungo became very weak and his chin had to be kept in place with a bandage. When he eventually passed away, on the 13th January 603 AD, he was buried on the spot where the cathedral now stands.
Up until the Reformation in Scotland, St Mungo’s shrine was a centre of pilgrimage. The Saint’s remains are still believed to be entombed within the crypt under the high altar.
Can You Find Mungo’s Miracles?
St. Mungo is said to have performed four miracles whilst in Glasgow. Though most Glaswegians may have long forgotten, their city’s coat of arms is all about Saint Mungo and his miracles.
Here is the bird that never flew: This refers to a bird that Mungo restored to life after it had been killed by some of his classmates.
Here is the tree that never grew: When Mungo was left in charge of the fire at St. Serf’s monastery but it died out when he fell asleep. On awakening, he took a hazel branch and restarted the fire.
Here is the bell that never rang: Refers to a bell which Mungo brought back from Rome which was then used at Mass and to mourn the deceased.
Here is the fish that never swam: Refers to the story about Queen Languoreth of Strathclyde who was suspected of infidelity by her husband. King Riderch demanded to see her ring, which he claimed she had given to her lover. (In reality the King had thrown it into the River Clyde.) Faced with execution, the helpless Queen appealed for help to Mungo, who ordered a messenger to catch a fish in the river. On opening the fish, the ring was miraculously found inside, which allowed the Queen to clear her name.
PHOTO OF CATHEDRAL BY Fr Lawrence Lew, OP.