The history of Glasgow in four bishops


Famously, the Church in Glasgow is as old as the city itself, as the community that sprouted from Kentigern’s efforts of evangelisation.

His adopted name, Mungo, may be derived from the Cumbrian equivalent of the Welsh ‘fy nghu’ (my dear one) – however, this is disputed.

The grandson of Briton King Leudonus, from whom we get the name Lothian, he was brought up by St Serf, evangelist to the Picts. At 25, he made his journey to what would become Glasgow and founded his church.

There he would perform four miracles: restoring life to a dead robin, killed by his classmates who wished to frame him for it; restarting a fire with a hazel branch; a miraculous bell he had brought from Rome; and catching a fish to find a discarded ring in order to save Queen Langoureth from false charges of adultery. The four miracles are today found on Glasgow’s coat of arms.


By the 1100s it is estimated the Diocese of Glasgow (not an Archdiocese until 1492) stretched from Lennox to Teviotdale – the second largest diocese in the Kingdom of Scotland.

In the late 1170s King William the Lion granted to Bishop Jocelin the status of a burgh. A couple of decades later, this would lead to the annual Glasgow Fair, which survives to this day.

Perhaps no other medieval churchman is as noteworthy as Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow and Guardian of Scotland. Key to the failed mediations between rival claimants of the Scottish throne and the looming English king, he was also central to supporting King Robert Bruce’s rebellion.

He repelled England’s claims, stating that ‘the Kingdom of Scotland is not held in tribute or homage to anyone save God alone.’

Following Robert’s murder of John Comyn in Greyfriars Church, Dumfries, and the illegitimacy it brought, the success of the Scottish rebellion rested upon the support of the Scottish Church.

“In the Scottish chronicles they called him the Good Bishop or the Holy Bishop and the English chronicles called him the Bloody Bishop,” former First Minister Alex Salmond told The Scottish Catholic.

“Without Bishop Wishart as Bishop of Glasgow, Robert the Bruce’s attempt on the throne would have failed before it had event started. Without Bishop Wishart and the Scottish Catholic Church standing firm, there wouldn’t be a Scotland.”


The Archdiocese of Glasgow, once central to Scotland’s existence, had been extin- guished following the Reformation.

In fact, by the time Fr Andrew Scott arrived in Glasgow in 1805, it counted just 450 parishioners – up from 50 in 1677. Many of them would have trekked miles, in groups for safety, to receive the Sacraments.

The influx of Highlanders, victims of the Clearances, and later Irish immigrations would drastically change this.

Andrew Scott was born in Banffshire, which gave eight bishops to the Church in Scotland. One such Banffshire bishop and Vicar Apostolic of Scotland, James Gordon, was called ‘one of the greatest bishops of the Christian world’ by Pope Benedict XIV.

Bishop Ranald Macdonald of Clan MacDonald of Keppoch preceded him as Vicar Apostolic of the Western District of Scotland.

Bishop Scott set to building the Cathedral. As with the construction of Catholic churches across the west coast, night-time saboteurs necessitated patrols, but it also received donations from various Protestant denominations.

You may notice that no spire nor bell-tower sits atop the Cathedral, a product of the restrictions placed on Catholic places of worship at the time. These would not be lifted until 1829, 13 years after it finished construction.

By the end of Bishop Scott’s time in Glasgow, the Catholic population swelled to 70,000, a more-than 15,000% increase. His legacy was the re-establishment of the Archdiocese of Glasgow, dormant since the death of Archbishop James Beaton almost 400 years before.


By the turn on the millennium the Cathedral was rather the worse for wear. Then Archbishop Mario Conti oversaw an ambitious fundraising drive for a full restoration.

Among the new features were a marble altar, baptismal font and a painting of St John Ogilvie by Peter Howson. The Cathedral was closed from 2009 to 2011, with the work costing £4.5 million.

The redecoration of the cathedral involved the use of more than 3,000 books of gold leaf.

Upon its reopening Archbishop Conti said he was ‘delighted that the cathedral will once more be a source of pride to the Catholic community and to the people of Glasgow.’

“It is a fine building which needed careful restoration,” he said.

“It is a much used and much-loved building which I am delighted to see restored to the worship of God after its transformation.”

Today the Cathedral remains home to a busy city centre parish, as well as being the Mother Church of the Archdiocese.

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