August 16, 2018

History of St Mungo

St Mungo’s History

St Mungo is the Patron Saint and Founder of the City of Glasgow.

He lived from 528 to 13 January 614, being born in Fife on the banks of the River Forth near Culross and named “Kentigern”.which means “big chief”  Mungo’s mother was Princess Thenog (Tannog) sometimes called Enoch whose father Loth, King of the Votadini or Gododdin (modern day East Lothian). She was thrown out for being pregnant with Mungo after an illicit encounter with her cousin, King Owain of North Rheged (now part of Galloway).  Her furious father had her tied to a chariot and launched off Traprain Law.  Amazingly she and the unborn baby survived and her father, now believing she was a witch, set her adrift in a coracle without oars up the River Forth.

His early life was shaped by St Serf who was abbot of monastery at Culross and rescued his mother and cared for her and the young boy who he affectionately called Mungo, meaning “dear one”.

Aged 25 Mungo began his missionary work on the banks of the River Clyde and built his church close to where the Clyde and the Molendinar Burn merge – this later became Glasgow Cathedral.

He was exiled during AD565 when pagan King Morken of Strathclyde conquered the Kingdom from Ryderrick – he travelled through Cumbria and settled for some time in Wales before completing a pilgrimage to Rome.  By the 570s a new king, Rhydderch Hael of Strathclyde, overthrew King Morken and invited St Mungo back to become Bishop of Strathclyde.  His church on the Moledinar became the focus of a large community that became known as Eglais-Cu or “dear family”, now recognised as Glasgow.

He died on Sunday 13 January 614. He was buried close by his church, and today his tomb lies in the centre of the Lower Church of Glasgow Cathedral.

Bishop Jocelyn(1174-1199) commissioned a book to be written to promote the canonisation of MUNGO as a saint. The Vita Kentigerni was necessary to prove that the candidate had led a life with miracles as a sign of holiness. Folk memories of Kentigern in 1174 had been told in little stories which are known today by school children:

Here is the bird that never flew
Here is the tree that never grew
Here is the bell that never rang
Here is the fish that never swam

Here is the Bird That Never Flew ~ tells the story of a wild robin that was tamed by Saint Serf, Mungo’s teacher. It was accidentally killed by some of his students who blamed it on Mungo. He took the dead bird in his hands and prayed, bringing it back to life, whereupon it flew back to its master.

Here is the Tree That Never Grew ~ As a boy in the monastery Mungo was left in charge of the holy fire in the refectory. He fell asleep and some of the other boys, being jealous of him, put out the fire. When he woke and found what had happened, Mungo broke off some frozen branches from a hazel tree and caused them to burst into flames by praying over them.

Here is the Bell That Never Rang ~ This part of the poem is about a special bell Saint Mungo is said to have brought back with him from Rome from the Pope. By the fifteenth century, St Mungo’s handbell had become a notable Glasgow symbol. Handbells were common in the Celtic church and were used to call the people to worship.

Here is the Fish That Never Swam ~ The King of Strathclyde had given his wife a ring as a present. But the Queen gave it to a knight who promptly lost it. Some versions of the story say that the King took the ring while the knight was asleep and threw it in the river. The King then demanded to see the ring – threatening death to the Queen if she could not produce it. The knight confessed to Saint Mungo who sent a monk to catch a fish in the River Clyde. When this was brought back, Saint Mungo cut open the fish and found the ring.

Today the bird, the tree, the bell and the fish form the four elements of the crest of Glasgow City Council.  St Mungo continues to influence Glasgow life today such as the mural seen on High St Glasgow by Australian born artist, Smug, depicting a modern-day St Mungo and referencing the story of The Bird That Never Flew near to St Mungo’s final resting place at Glasgow Cathedral:

St Mungo Mural


Each year Glasgow celebrates its Patron Saint by holding a Festival of St Mungo in the second week of January. Discover for yourself this story of Glasgow and MUNGO

Twitter: @StMungoFestival