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Glasgow Cathedral

Glasgow Cathedral

Legend has it that St Mungo came to what is now the High Street in the East End of Glasgow in the 6th century to bury a monk at a cemetery dedicated a century earlier to St Ninian, on the banks of the Molendinar Burn, a tributary of the River Clyde. A church associated with St Mungo was established by the cemetery, around which the city of Glasgow began to grow. Little is known about the initial structures. A stone building was built on the spot in 1136 and after a fire the present cathedral began to take shape in 1197. Over the following centuries the building was extended with the Lower Church, the Quire, the Nave and by the 14th century the cathedral was completed. The Blackadder Aisle (also spelled Blacader) was added in the 15th century. The timber roof dates from the 14th century.

Due to the location of the cathedral on a steep slope on the banks of the former Molendinar Burn ravine, the (285 feet) long building has a weird floorplan, with the nave and the choir on one floor, and the crypt, chapterhouse and the Blackadder Aisle on a lower level. The spire of the cathedral rises to 67m (220 feet) above floor level. Originally the spire was made out of wood, which burned down after being struck by lightning in the 15th century, and its stone replacement was likewise damaged by lightning in the 18th century. The cathedral used to have two tower in addition to the spire, which were demolished in 1846 and 1848.

The cathedral was the seat of the Bishop and later the Archbishop of Glasgow, and is a fantastic example of Scottish Gothic architecture. It’s the only medieval cathedral left in Scotland, having survived the Reformation unroofed. During the Reformation, many ecclesiastical buildings were destroyed in Scotland but Glasgow Cathedral survived, probably due to the fact that three congregations shared the cathedral during the time. Currently the building, within which over 800 years of worship has been carried out, is property of the Crown and is cared for by Historic Scotland, while still being an active place of Christian worship. Technically, the building is no longer a cathedral, since it has not been the seat of a bishop since 1690.

The “Bridge of Sighs”, just to the left of this photo, which connects Cathedral Square to the Necropolis, was built in 1833. The name is said to derive from that of the Ponte dei Sospiri in Venice, or more likely it refers to the funeral processions crossing from the Cathedral to the Necropolis. The bridge crosses Wishart Street, which was built in 1877 over the Molendinar Burn. If you’ve ever crossed the bridge and though to yourself that the street below looked a bit like a river, you weren’t wrong. The street follows the course of the former ravine. The name Molendinar is probably derived from the Latin molendinarius, meaning “belonging to a mill”, as it once provided the water power for a couple mills along its course.

Glasgow Cathedral is also where the University of Glasgow spent its first years, from 1451 to 1460 when the University moved down the street to its Old College campus on High Street. William Turnbull, who founded the University, was Bishop of Glasgow at the time. The Bishops of Glasgow subsequently served as Chancellors of the University for around two hundred years, until the Civil War.

Glasgow Trivia #26: Close to the Cathedral, at the corner of High Street and Castle Street, is the third “TARDIS” in Glasgow. Quite close to this is a bronze statue of King William III (Prince of Orange) on horseback, sword drawn, erected in 1735. Legend says that when the statue was moved up from Trongate to its current location in the last years of the 19th century, the movers knocked off a part of the horse’s tail. Instead of fixing it like it was before, they affixed the tail back on a ball and socket joint. So, on a really windy day the tail may actually swing in the wind. Another version of this story says that the tail was originally built this way. I prefer to think that the story went like this: “Whoops, we broke it. Oh well, let’s fix it so it’ll swing in the wind and say that that’s the way it’s always been. Genious.”

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