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Glasgow Cathedral

Cathedral built on the site where St Mungo was thought to have been buried

Glasgow Cathedral

Head church of the diocese of Glasgow

Glasgow Cathedral stands majestically in the heart of Scotland’s largest city. It is the only medieval cathedral on the Scottish mainland to have survived the Protestant Reformation of 1560 virtually intact.

There used to be a chanonry around it – a precinct where the bishops (and later archbishops) and clergy lived. To its south and west, a thriving burgh sprang up, under the bishops’ patronage. That burgh has since expanded into the great metropolis of today.

The shrine of St Kentigern

This inspiring edifice dates mostly from the 1200s. It was dedicated to St Kentigern – also known as St Mungo. Kentigern was the first bishop within the ancient British kingdom of Strathclyde, whose political capital was at Dumbarton Rock. His influence spread widely, and it was later claimed he presided over a diocese reaching from Loch Lomond in the north to Cumbria in the south. He is believed to have been buried on the cathedral site in 612.

A beacon of prayer

Glasgow Cathedral is the finest building of the 1200s now surviving in mainland Scotland. But parts of it are even older.

There is fabric still standing from Bishop Jocelin’s time (1174–99). He is recorded as ‘gloriously enlarging’ his cathedral in 1181. Fragments from the previous cathedral have also been discovered.

A fire halted Jocelin’s work and it fell to his successors, notably Bishop William de Bondington (1233–58), to complete the building. The end result was a Gothic confection of pointed arcades, slender traceried windows and an unusual array of three vaulted aisles around the presbytery and choir. The intention was to house a shrine to St Kentigern at the main level, behind the high altar, to complement the saint’s tomb in the crypt beneath.

Reform and re-use

The Protestant Reformation of 1560 removed the need for bishops answerable to the Pope. Bishops did continue in the established church in Scotland until their final abolition in 1689, but their role was greatly reduced. Their cathedral was ‘cleansed’ of its Catholic trappings and put to use as a parish kirk – in fact, three parish kirks. The choir housed the Inner High Kirk, the west end of the nave the Outer High Kirk, and the crypt the Barony Kirk.

However, a growing appreciation of the qualities of medieval architecture led to another change. By 1835 both the Outer High Kirk and the Barony Kirk had vacated the premises. This left the great medieval cathedral to return to something approaching its former glory.

Events at Glasgow Cathedral

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28 November 2015

Weaving the Unicorn exhibition

Stirling Castle

Event information

The Other Mary Exhibition

Stirling Castle

Event information