Glasgow, Scotland! Experience the Spirit (part one)
By Renée S. Gordon
An old Scottish proverb states, “Twelve highlanders and a bagpipe make a rebellion.” While this is not entirely accurate it is a huge indication of the character of the people. Their independence has shaped their character and pride in their shared culture, history and institutions, is visible everywhere and it is all laced with an ability to embrace life and laugh at it all. Glasgow, the largest city in Scotland, is the ideal place to learn about and experience the real Scotland in all its manifestations.
Glasgow’s origins are entwined with the life of St. Kertigern. Legend has it that he was given to the monastery of St. Serf in Culross, to receive religious instruction for the priesthood, where he was known as Mungo or “dear friend.” Upon completion of his training, around 550, he set out for the home of Fergus, a holy man who lived in Kernach. Fergus died on the night he arrived and Mungo placed his body in an ox-cart planning to bury him where the oxen stopped at a place ordained by God. The animals stopped at Cathures on the Molendinar Burn, a stream in central Scotland. Mungo buried Fergus in the “beloved green place,” “Glasgu,” and established a wooden church on the spot. He died in on January 13, 603, was canonized and made the patron saint of the city. His four miracles are depicted on Glasgow’s coat of arms and on signposts throughout the city.
The centerpieces of Glasgow history are located in the Cathedral Square area. A stone church replaced the wooden structure in 1132 and was consecrated in 1136. A fire necessitated another reconstruction and consecration 61-years later. This church serves as the foundation of the current Gothic Glasgow Cathedral. In the 13th-century the upper and lower choirs were added as well as a tower in the 1400s. In the 1600s men came to destroy the church and citizens belonging to the 14 trade guilds rallied to save it. The cathedral is 285-ft long, 63-ft wide, and 105-ft high and is the only mainland Scottish medieval cathedral to remain after the 1560 Protestant Reformation. Tours of the interior can be self-guided but it is best to obtain a guide because there are many nooks and crannies that you will otherwise miss.
Begin in the vaulted lower church beneath the choir. St. Mungo’s tomb is here, covered with a drape crafted from 2,400 pieces of silk. Located on the right side of the church are the former pilgrimage entrance and St. Mungo’s Well. Pilgrim’s arrived here in huge numbers because a visit to Glasgow Cathedral was equal to one to Rome. A series of chapels are dedicated to various individuals and of particular note are the embroidered chairs in the Nurses’ Chapel and designs depicting medicinal herbs used throughout the ages. The stained glass windows are detailed, beautiful and each one tells a story. There are display cases showcasing the Munich Glass Windows that once graced the upper church but were removed because of anti-German sentiments.
In 1999 Princess Anne dedicated the three-lancet Millennium Window in the cathedral on the nave’s north wall. It was created using traditional techniques, symbolizing the Trinity, taking “Growth” as its theme. There are numerous additional windows and memorials throughout the upper church on the tour route. Admission is free. www.glasgowcathedral.org.uk
Once a chanonry, a residential area for the clergy, surrounded the cathedral. In the 1170s Glasgow was granted a charter and the church in Glasgow established a hospital for the sick. Provand’s Lordship, the oldest house in Glasgow, was constructed in 1471 for the Lord of Provan as part of the hospital. It was one of 42 such houses built in the Scottish domestic architectural style. This three-floor gem is located one-block from the cathedral.
Tours begin with an 8-minute orientation film. The first two floors are furnished with 17th-century Scottish furniture and portraits. One of the most intriguing portraits is that of Mary Queen of Scots. It is believed that she spent time in the house nursing her husband. Just outside is the cloistered St. Nicholas Garden. The garden is divided into two sections, a medicinal herbal garden and a 15th-century parterre replicating a Celtic design. A significant feature of the garden is a 1737 group of carved grotesque faces known as the Tontine Heads. www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums/our-museums/provands-lordship
St Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art, adjacent to the cathedral, was constructed in Scottish baronial-style to reflect the area’s history though it was built in 1989. The museum interprets the world’s major religions thematically using artifacts and dioramas. The collection includes a replica of the reliquary containing St. Patrick’s hand. The focal point of the museum’s displays is “Crucifixion 2010” by Peter Howson. St. Mungo’s also features Britain’s first Zen Garden. www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums/our-museums/st-mungo-museum
The 1833 “Bridge of Sighs,” originally built over the Molendinar Burn, connects the Cathedral with the Victorian Glasgow Necropolis. More than 50,000 people are interred there in nearly 4,000 elaborate tombs and mausoleums. John Knox rests there and it is the site of famed architect Charles R. Mackintosh’s Celtic cross on the grave of Alexander McCall. Organized tours are available when booked in advance. www.glasgownecropolis.org
The first documented international trade occurred in 1450 when William Elphinstone traded with France. 1601 the first wharf was built in Glasgow and within the few years it emerged as an important port. The first shipment of tobacco entered the port in 1674 establishing a lucrative trade with the American colonies and the West Indies and by 1740 Glasgow was the dominant player in the tobacco trade. This was largely due to the fact that the voyage from Glasgow to Virginia was 20 days shorter than to London. Scottish merchants operated tobacco storage facilities in North America, using slave labor to work in the stores as well as on farms that grew food for the workers. Such extensive fortunes were made that many of the palatial homes in Glasgow’s Merchant Square area were built with these profits and several streets have retained their names. The American Revolution ended this era.
During this time there was illegal slave trading but the Royal African Company’s loss of its monopoly in 1698 and the 1707 Act of Union allowed Scotland to enter the trade. Only 70 slaves are documented as being held in Scotland in the 1700s and in 1778 private ownership of slaves was declared illegal. In 1807 Parliament abolished the slave trade. Slavery was not fully abolished until 1838.
As early as the 1600s a number of merchants owned island plantations and by the 1700s 33 percent of Jamaica’s plantations were Scottish owned and it is estimated that the trade was generating $75-million annually by 1800. Robert Allason and his brothers were active participants in the triangle trade. His estate, Greenbank House, can be toured. The United Kingdom emancipated their slaves and made the trade in slaves illegal in 1833.
From August 1845 until April 1847 Frederick Douglass toured the U.K. and spent a substantial amount of time in Scotland seeking support for American abolition of slavery. He was particularly fond of Scotland and Glasgow in particular because several radical abolition groups were based there and the Glasgow Emancipation Society was more than 10-years old. He had chosen his last name because of his admiration for the Scottish protagonist in Scott’s “Lady of the Lake.” Douglass drew crowds as large as 2,000 in some of the same buildings in which the business of slavery had been conducted.
In a city renowned for its architecture it is no easy task to stun the onlooker but Architect Zaha Hadid has managed with her outstanding Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel. Showcased on the north bank of the River Clyde its roofline, a metallic spiky line, seems to represent the heartbeat of the city. The $119-million museum is destined to become a Glasgow icon.
Inside there are thousands of exhibits, from prams to trams, and 150 interactive story kiosks on two-levels. Highlights of the tour are the world’s oldest bicycle, a recreated main street from 1895-1930 with period shop interiors and exteriors, and recreated subway stations. www.glasgowlife.org.uk
Adjacent to the Riverside Museum on the Pointhouse Quay is the Tall Ship SV Glenlee, one of only five still in existence. Tours are available. www.thetallship.com
The People’s Palace Social History Museum is situated in one of the U.K.’s oldest parks, Glasgow Green, and the oldest public space in the city. The museum interprets the social history of Glasgow and Glaswegians from 1750 to the present in galleries on two floors. The display areas are thematic and are comprised of antiques, memorabilia, paintings, videos and storyboards. The entire museum is delightful but, as always, there are galleries that must not be missed.
The first section is devoted to Glasgow’s early tobacco history and here you will find a painting of the Glassford Family circa 1760. Note the empty space on the left side of the work. Evidence points to there having been an African slave in that spot. The slave was later painted out.
“Crime and Punishment” introduces visitors to the “Cell Experience.” Seated in a cell or looking through the bars you watch a 6-minute video tracing criminal history through the ages and ending with a detailed description of capital punishment as it was carried out prior to its abolition in 1965.
Additional galleries allow you to walk into a tenement, see an authentic drunk barrow used to remove drunks from city streets, and follow the timeline of Scottish protest movements including a speech in George Square by Nelson Mandela in the 1980s. www.glasgowlife.org.uk/museums/our-museums/peoples-palace
You can enter the 1898 Winter Gardens directly from the museum. Tropical plants and a café are housed inside a Victorian glasshouse that is open year round.
In front of the museum stands the 1887, five-tier, Doulton Fountain, the world’s largest terracotta fountain. It stands 46-ft. high and 70-ft. wide. Queen Victoria stands regally atop the fountain while figures representative of her empire, Australia, Canada, India and South Africa, surround the base.
One of the most beautiful buildings in Glasgow, the Templeton Carpet Factory, can be viewed from the vantage point of the museum. The city kept denying permission to build the factory because all submitted designs were not appealing. Finally William Leiper designed a building reminiscent of the Palazzo Ducale, the Doge’s Palace in Venice. The façade is colorful and makes extensive use of polychromatic bricks, enamel tiles and terracotta.
The best way to orient yourself in Glasgow is to take the narrated City Sightseeing Tour. Your ticket entitles you to hop on and off and is good for two days. There are 24 stops and we have only covered six of them. Needless to say we will cover the rest in part two. Next week we’ll discuss great places to dine, accommodations, architecture and the Philadelphia connection. www.citysightseeingglasgow.co.uk
TripAdvisor named Glasgow the “#1 destination in the U.K.” and all the tools you need to “Experience Glasgow” can be found online. www.seeglasgow.com
I wish you smooth travels!
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