Located in the east end of Glasgow, Glasgow Cathedral is a must-visit when you visit the city. Glance at Glasgow Cathedral and it looks like just another medieval Gothic church. But what I love about it (and all other medieval Gothic churches) is that it is built upon centuries of history, dating back to the 6th century AD.
Glasgow Cathedral is one of the only medieval churches (and only cathedral) in Scotland to have survived the Scottish Reformation. As such, it is the oldest cathedral in mainland Scotland and the oldest building in Glasgow. You may also hear Glasgow Cathedral referred to as the High Kirk of Glasgow, St. Kentigern’s, and St. Mungo’s Cathedral. It served as the seat for the archbishop and bishop of Glasgow. Today, it is in the ownership of the Crown.
Glasgow Cathedral History
The first stone of Glasgow Cathedral was laid in 1136 on the site of St. Mungo’s tomb and dedicated in the presence of King David I. Unfortunately, the stone church built at the time was destroyed by a fire and its replacement was consecrated by Bishop Jocelin in 1197.
The oldest part of the cathedral, the nave, was built in the early 1200s. The rest of the cathedral came about in the mid-1200s. However, it wasn’t until the 1400s that the tower appeared at the crossing. Two towers were also built at the western corners of the nave. Unfortunately, during repairs in the 1800s, they were taken down before the church realized that there weren’t enough funds available to cover their rebuilding.
Glasgow Cathedral and the University of Glasgow
Bishop of Glasgow William Turnbull was primarily responsible for the foundation of the University of Glasgow in 1451. University classes were held in one of the cathedral chapter houses. Courses were taught in arts (a curriculum of classics, philosophy, math, logic, and natural science), theology, law, and medicine. The University of Glasgow is the fourth oldest in the English-speaking world behind Oxford, Cambridge, and St. Andrews.
Glasgow Cathedral During the Reformation
Not much is known about the history of Glasgow Cathedral from its construction until the Protestant Reformation (or, Scottish Reformation as it’s known in Scotland) in the mid-1500s. During the Scottish Reformation, the royal family in Scotland had ties with France, which was Catholic. As a result, the anti-Catholic sentiment did not come from the top-down, ordered by the Crown as it had been in England. Instead, it came from the bottom-up, with anti-Catholic mobs destroying churches and cathedrals throughout Scotland.
It is said that Glaswegians were so fond of their cathedral that they far outnumbered the iconoclasts who planned on destroying the cathedral, preventing it from being damaged during the Reformation.
However, in the wake of the Reformation, Glasgow Cathedral was split into three Protestant parish churches: the Inner High Kirk in the choir, the Outer High Kirk in the west end of the nave, and the Barony Kirk in the crypt.
In fact, as late as 1579, Protestants still wanted to destroy Glasgow Cathedral to use it as a quarry for smaller Protestant churches. They even got so far as hiring workmen to see to its destruction! Fortunately, “incorporations of the city” gathered arms and took possession of the cathedral to prevent its premature end. Repairs in the 1800s reversed the alterations that divided the building into three parish churches.
What to see at Glasgow Cathedral
Today, Glasgow Cathedral is a must-visit on any trip to Glasgow. With over 1,000 years of history, there is plenty on offer during a visit.
The Millennium Window
Glasgow Cathedral has one of the finest post-War stained-glass windows in Britain. On your left, as you enter the cathedral, you’ll notice a brilliant blue stained glass window called the Millennium Window. It was painted by John K. Clark and was unveiled on 3 June 1999. The theme decided upon for the window was “growth,” and so Clark worked to depict physical, mental, and spiritual growth in the artistry of the window.
St. Mungo’s Tomb
Head down to the lower church of Glasgow Cathedral and you’ll find St. Mungo’s tomb, believed to date back to his death in the 7th century. The cathedral holds a service every year on 13 January to commemorate his life.
The pulpitum, or quire screen, was built in the 15th century. It is the only screen of its kind left in a Scottish secular church that dates from before the Reformation.
The Blackadder Aisle
Robert Blackadder became the first Archbishop of Glasgow in 1491. He was responsible for the construction of a chapel, now named the Blackadder Aisle, around 1500. Its beautiful white ceiling is definitely worth a visit!
Practical information for visiting Glasgow Cathedral[Note: These opening times and details are for “normal” non-pandemic times. Please refer to Glasgow Cathedral’s website for up-to-date information.]
Glasgow Cathedral is located in the East End of Glasgow, an easy walking distance from the city center. From April to September, the cathedral is open Monday-Saturday from 9:30 am to 5 pm and Sunday from 1 pm to 4:30 pm. From October to March, the cathedral is open Monday-Saturday from 10 am to 3:30 pm and Sunday from 1 pm to 3:30 pm. The cathedral is free to enter and explore.
Guided tours are offered most weekdays at 11 am and 2 pm. Tours are free but a small donation to the cathedral is appreciated.
Things to do near Glasgow Cathedral
While near Glasgow Cathedral, I highly recommend visiting:
- Glasgow Necropolis: For amazing views of the cathedral and the surrounding area, walk from Glasgow Cathedral to the Glasgow Necropolis. The Necropolis opened in 1833 as Britain’s answer to Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. 50,000 individuals are buried in this Victorian cemetery but only about 3,500 monuments exist. We spent about 45 minutes walking up to the top of the Necropolis and looking at the Victorian headstones and monuments. Learn more >
- St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art: Built on the site of a medieval Bishop’s Castle, this museum explores the importance of religion in peoples’ lives and seeks to promote inter-religious understanding. Learn more >
- Provand’s Lordship: Provand’s Lordship, constructed in 1471, is one of two surviving medieval houses in Glasgow. Today, it’s a museum that features 17th-century furniture and historical information about the house. Learn more >