After I visited Glasgow, I started to research its history. Little did I know that I’d end up in a Google rabbit hole for several hours researching the lives of the 6th-century Saints Mungo and Enoch and the founding of Glasgow itself. This article shares the fascinating origins of Glasgow and the traces of its founders that you can see in the city today.
The area surrounding Glasgow has played host to settlers for thousands of years, but Glasgow itself traces its roots back to the 6th century AD and a saint called Kentigern or Mungo and his mom, Theneva or Enoch.
The story of St. Enoch
Princess Theneva (later, Saint Theneva, Denw, Teneu, Thanea, or Enoch) (ca. 510-570) was born to King Loth of Gododdin around 510 AD. According to one account, she was devoted to the Virgin Mary and prayed to conceive a child as a virgin like Mary. Unfortunately, this proved to be impossible.
In 528, King Owain of North Rheged, her cousin and suitor, raped her while he was dressed as a woman. He reassured her that she remained a virgin because he “technically” had not been a man when he violated her. She became pregnant, and, confused by the encounter, she asserted her innocence and chastity and refused to name Owain as the offender.
Interestingly, during my research, many religious sources would not acknowledge this act as a rape and instead referred to it as an “extramarital encounter.” Theneva is known as Scotland’s first recorded rape victim and unmarried mother.
Her father, upset with her out-of-wedlock pregnancy, tied her to a chariot and launched her off the cliffs of Traprain Law, the capital of Gododdin. She landed surprisingly unscathed. As a result, her father, thinking she was now a witch because she survived, cast her adrift on a small boat with no oars on the River Forth. She came ashore in Culross and was taken in by St. Serf (also Serb or Servanus) and gave birth to her son, Kentigern.
The life of St. Mungo
We owe the detailed history of St. Mungo to Jocelyn of Furness, a French monk at Furness Abbey, who wrote his hagiography around 1185 using Glasgow legend and an old Irish document. This webpage has the original translated account from Jocelyn if you’re as history-obsessed as I am!
Kentigern was born in 518 AD to Princess Theneva. The two were taken in by St. Serf, who ran a monastery in Culross. St. Serf nicknamed Kentigern “Mungo,” meaning, “Dear One.” (I will refer to him as St. Mungo or Mungo for the rest of this post).
At age 25, Mungo began missionary work in what is now Glasgow. He built a church close to the River Clyde, next to the Molendinar Burn, near to where Glasgow Cathedral now stands. He worked there for 13 years, preaching and converting local people to Christianity.
King Morken, an anti-Christian, drove Mungo out of the area around 565 AD. Subsequently, Mungo made his way to Wales where he spent time with St. David and possibly founded a cathedral at Llanelwy (St. Asaph). In addition, he took a pilgrimage to Rome.
In around 570 AD, King Rhydderch of Strathclyde defeated King Morken and invited Mungo back to the area. Mungo’s church then became the center of a large community called “Glas-gu” or “green place/hollow”, from which emerged Glasgow.
Mungo died on Sunday 13 January 614 in a bath (or during a baptismal service, depending on the interpretation). He was buried near his church and his tomb lies in the crypt or lower choir of Glasgow Cathedral today. Each year on 13 January, the city of Glasgow celebrates Mungo.
(A funny note, but I did look this up to make sure: this St. Mungo shouldn’t be confused with the St. Mungo in the Harry Potter series, who was a famous healer from the 1600s.)
To be sainted, one has to perform recorded miracles during his/her lifetime. Mungo performed four and the poem below lists them:
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
First, Mungo brought a robin back to life that had been killed by his classmates. Second, he used a branch from a tree to restart a fire at the monastery that went out because he had fallen asleep on watch.
The bell in the third line is said to be a miraculous bell that Mungo brought back from his pilgrimage to Rome that he used in services to mourn the dead.
Finally, Mungo proved the innocence of Queen Languoreth whose husband accused her of cheating. In an effort to catch her in a lie, the king threw his wife’s wedding ring in the river, accusing her of giving it to her lover. She appealed to Mungo for help and he sent a messenger to catch a fish in the river. When he opened the fish, the ring was inside, proving the queen’s innocence.
Mungo and Enoch in Glasgow today
You can still find traces of St. Mungo and St. Enoch in Glasgow today if you know where to look. Perhaps most prominent is the famous mural by Australian artist Smug depicting a modern-day St. Mungo and a robin, alluding to his miracle with the bird. Smug has also painted a mural of St. Enoch holding a baby Mungo that can be found on George Street.
You can also visit the tomb of St. Mungo in the crypt of Glasgow Cathedral (pictured at the beginning of this post).
St. Enoch is remembered in St. Enoch Square in the center of Glasgow, adjacent to the city’s busiest shopping streets. St. Enoch Square stands on the site of the burial place and medieval church dedicated to St. Enoch.
The elements of Mungo’s four miracles (the bird, the tree, the bell, and the fish), along with an image of St. Mungo himself, make up the crest of Glasgow.
In addition, Mungo’s prayer, “Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the Word” formed the basis of Glasgow’s original motto, “Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of His Word and the Praising of His Name.” Today, a shorter version is used (“Let Glasgow Flourish”) and it also appears on the Glasgow city crest.
Next time you visit Glasgow, keep an eye out for these connections to the past.