Glasgow Cathedral is also known as Kentigern’s or St. Mungo’s Cathedral. There is a long standing tradition dating from the fourth century that a holy man named Nynia was born among the British people. This tradition is confirmed by the writings of the Venerable Bede who tells us Nynia was trained in Rome and introduced the Christian faith in what is now Scotland. This same saint, sometimes called Ninian, came from his community in Whithorn to a place called Cathures, now Glasgow, in the Kingdom of Strathclyde and dedicated a Christian burial ground there in the early fifth century.
To this same spot, Kentigern, also called St. Mungo, came in the late sixth century as a missionary. The “Life of Saint Mungo” was written by the monastic hagiographer Jocelin of Furness in about 1185. Jocelin states for thirteen years Kentigern labored in Strathclyde, living an austere life in a small cell and making many converts to Christianity by his holy example and his preaching. He was chosen by the king, clergy and people to be their bishop, the first in the Kingdom of Sthrathclyde, and he built a monastic community and a church on the spot dedicated by Ninian. After his death in the early seventh century he was buried near his church and he became the patron saint of Glasgow.
Little is known about the churches on the site before the medieval cathedral was constructed but Kentigern’s first church was probably made of wood and expanded over the next five hundred years. Prince David, younger brother and heir apparent of King Alexander I established or restored the See of Glasgow in 1115. The first known stone church was consecrated in 1136 in the presence of King David I. This church suffered great damage in a fire but in 1181, Bishop Jocelin, the same biographer of Saint Kentigern began building an enlarged new church which he consecrated in 1197. Jocelin’s successors beginning in the mid-thirteenth century started a new round of construction in the Gothic style which ended up with what we largely see today.
The Quire and the Lower Church were added. The doors of the Upper Chapter House and the Lower Chapter House date from this time. A crypt to house the tomb of Saint Kentigern was built. Indeed the whole church was most likely completed by the end of the thirteenth century. In the early fourteenth century the Nave was extended and finished as well as the southwest door and the entrance to the Blacader Aisle and the walls of the nave up to the level of the window sills. The West Window as added later in the fourteenth century and the Pulpitum, a richly carved stone screen separating the choir from the nave, along with the Blacader Aisle were added in the fifteenth century. The wooden steeple was destroyed by lightening in the early 1400’s and it was replaced by a tower above the crossing as well as towers over the two western corners of the nave. An octagonal spire was added later to the crossing tower.
On December 10, 1502, King James IV ratified the treaty of Perpetual Peace with England at the high altar of the Cathedral. At the height of the Reformation, during 1560, the cathedral was attacked by reforming mobs. The ordinary people of the city had so much affection for their church they took up arms to fight, thereby saving the ancient building. On April 21, 1581, King James VI gave income from lands to Glasgow for the maintenance of the cathedral. In 1583, Glasgow’s town council took on the responsibility of repairing the church. The building survives because of this commitment.
After the Reformation, a wall was built across the nave so that the western portion could be used for worship by a congregation known as the Outer High. They worshiped here from 1647 until 1835. The Lower Church was used by a congregation known as the Barony from 1596 to 1801 when they built a new church across from the Cathedral. After their new church was finished, the Barony brought in soil to a depth of five feet and used this area of the Cathedral as a burial ground for Barony members.
The rest of the congregation used the Quire for worship and this was called the Inner High. In the nineteenth century, major repairs were completed. These included the removal of the two western corner towers. It was then realized there were no funds to replace them. At the same time, all traces of the Inner High, Outer High and Barony places of worship were cleared away, leaving the building as it was in medieval times. In the storms of 2011, the spire suffered damage which has now been repaired. It is the only medieval cathedral on the Scottish mainland to survive the Reformation intact and the most outstanding example of a building from the thirteenth century to remain standing in Scotland.