If I said St Mungo, most of you would probably jump right into Harry Potter mode. As it turns out, there is an actual St Mungo, and his origins predate Harry Potter by a few centuries.
In the 6th century AD, a man Kentigern was born in the Kingdom of Fife in Scotland. The resident holy man, St Serf, helped his mother to raise him. She was a single mother, cut off from her family, so she needed all the help she could get. While helping out, St Serf gave Kentigern a cutesy little nickname: mo choe, meaning dear one.
When Kentigern grew up, became very popular in Wales. The Welsh translated his Scots Gaelic pet name into the Welsh language: fy nghu. (Don’t even ask me how to pronounce that.) It’s from the Welsh that Kentigern got his popular name, the one that has come down through the centuries: Mungo.
Mungo did an awful lot of what we would now call missionary work in the Kingdom of Strathclyde. Most of his work was done in and around a small fishing town that was largely ignored by the rich and powerful. That town grew to become the modern city of Glasgow.
Mungo’s work made him very popular in Glasgow. One of his biggest tasks was establishing a monastery in the city, which was important for educational, charitable, and religious reasons. The modern cathedral sits on the sit of the original monastery. His remains are entombed in the crypt of the cathedral.
Since his death, Mungo has also been canonized, making him a saint. He’s now the patron saint of Glasgow.
Raising the Cathedral in Glasgow
There’s evidence that there was a church on the site of the monastery in St Mungo’s day. However, it’s unclear when the monastery changed its function and became a parish church. We do know that in the 12th century, the Catholic Church granted Glasgow a bishop, and this particular church was his seat. That raised its status from a parish church to a cathedral.
The church remained a cathedral until the Reformation, when Presbyterianism became the prominent religion in the Scottish Lowlands. While many Catholic churches were destroyed during that time, St Mungo’s Cathedral remained largely unscathed. This was probably due in part to the locals’ devotion to the saint. Some of the more lavish ‘popish’ decorations were removed, but the church is still generally in the same good shape as it was pre-Reformation. It is now the High Kirk of the Church of Scotland in Glasgow.
Although its name and title have changed, people still call it the cathedral.
And in Today’s Day and Age…
In addition to its religious functions, St Mungo’s Cathedral has featured in several pop-culture sensations.
- Rob Roy Perhaps the first was the novel Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott. Scott earned rockstar status in Scotland for novels like this one. People loved his use of the Scots dialect in his writing, as well as his use of actual Scottish landmarks. This inspired a Scottish cultural revival in the 19th century.
- Harry Potter As mentioned earlier, the hospital for all magical kind in the Harry Potter series takes its name from St Mungo. In the story, the hospital has many of the same properties as the church. (Despite looking like a department store to muggles, obvi.)
- Outlander Most recently, one of the chapels in the church also served as L’Hôpital des Anges in season 2 of Outlander. In the novel, the hospital is actually in Paris, but the series does its filming around Scotland.
Visiting St Mungo’s Cathedral
Getting there: You can easily walk to St Mungo’s Cathedral from downtown Glasgow in 15-20 minutes. Alternatively, you can use Glasgow’s public transit: Bus 38 will drop off right outside. The hop-on-hop-off bus also makes a stop at the cathedral.
- April to September: Monday to Saturday from 9:30 AM to 5:30 PM and Sundays from 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM
- October to March: Monday to Saturday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM and Sundays from 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM
Admission: Entry is free to St Mungo’s Cathedral!
Good to know:
- St Mungo’s Cathedral is managed by Historic Environment Scotland. If you’d like to visit other sites under their management, consider a membership. It could save you a ton of money on admission fees and souvenirs!
- This is an old, stone church. A sweater is advised.
- It’s just a quick walk from here to the Necropolis. You might want to visit both in one go!