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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 had their residences. To its south, a thriving burgh sprang up, under episcopal patronage. That burgh has since expanded into the great metropolis we now see.

The shrine of St Kentigern

The inspiring edifice dates mostly from the 13th century. However, it was dedicated to St Kentigern – or Mungo, as he is more affectionately known. Kentigern was the first bishop within the ancient British kingdom of Strathclyde, whose political capital was at Dumbarton Rock. His diocese was vast, 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

Quite simply, Glasgow Cathedral is the finest building surviving in Scotland from the 13th century. Indeed, it is widely regarded as the high point of cathedral building in Europe.

The oldest part actually dates from Bishop Jocelin’s time (1174–99). He is recorded as ‘gloriously enlarging’ his cathedral in 1181. A fire halted work and it fell to his successors, notably Bishop William de Bondington (1233–58), to complete the work. The end result was a wonderful 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 pilgrim 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 did away with the need for bishops answerable to the Pope. Although bishops did continue in the established church in Scotland until their final abolition in 1689, 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, leaving the great medieval cathedral to return once more to something approaching its former glory.

Events at Glasgow Cathedral

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6 March 2015

The Nation // Live

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