A Presbyterian Cathedral…

… sounds like an oxymoron but Glasgow Cathedral is Presbyterian.  It started as Catholic, a dark early Gothic building. The first cathedral on this site was dedicated in 1136.  It was destroyed in a fire in 1197 and the current cathedral was started around 1200.  It was finished in 1500.  Just 60 years later, in 1560 during the reformation, it became Calvinist and Presbyterian.  I don’t know if Presbyterian’s have Bishops in the UK, they certainly do not in the States, but the building still bears the title “Cathedral,” bishop or no.  Perhaps what makes it a cathedral is that in many ways it is a “state” institution, displaying regimental colors and depicting heroic national campaigns as part of God’s work.

During the reformation most of the elaborate decorations, including some of the carved altars were ripped out of the building and, of course, the stained glass smashed.  Glasgow tradesmen defended the building itself from the “Calvinist Taliban” so it was not destroyed.  Beginning in the mid-20th  century the church started installing stained glass windows.  Two recent ones are stunning, especially the most recent, the “Tree of Jesse” window depicting the lineage of Jesus through the Prophets, David and Solomon by artist Emma Butler-Cole Aiken.  The second most current window is the Millennium Window depicting “Growth.”

While the tourist maps just mark this as “Glasgow Cathedral” it is formally St. Mungo’s. St Mungo, also known as St. Kentigern, is the patron saint of Glasgow.  He died in 603.  He’s buried in the cathedral.  John Knox, the leader of the Scottish Reformation is buried in the necropolis on the hill just above St. Mungo’s

As interesting as the church is, the most exciting thing on the cathedral campus is the St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art.  It has several galleries, including one of Scottish Religious History from Pagan through different Christian eras, Catholic and Reformation to today’s mix of faiths practiced by Scotts, native born and immigrant.  A second gallery features religious art from different faiths, including a Chilkat blanket with an explanation that totemic art was more historical than religious but that there was sacredness connected with all the earth.  The gallery of Religious life tracks a human life from conception, through childhood, coming of age, marriage, adulthood, elderhood and death, showing items from different religions dealing with the different stages of life and interpreting different customs.  Finally, there is a Zen garden as well as the inevitable gift shop an tea room.

The museum is not a comprehensive view of any faith but an introduction and sampler designed to build understanding, tolerance and, hopefully, acceptance.     


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