Located on the River Clyde, Glasgow has been transformed from an industrial city to Scotland's cultural center, with its excellent museums, art galleries, concert venues, and festivals. Its Gaelic name-meaning "lovely green place"-is apt, given its 70 parks and open spaces. Music lovers of all kinds will find plenty of things to do in Glasgow, known as Scotland's music capital, with venues that include the Theatre Royal (home of the Scottish Opera) and the Concert Hall (home of the Royal Scottish Orchestra).
At first glance, the Glasgow coat of arms appears to be a fairly classic medley of images, brought together to represent the city.
However, ask most people what it stands for or where the individual components come from and you'll tend to draw a blank.
The coat of arms itself did not materialise until the 19th century. It was first introduced when Lord Lyon granted the city its patent in 1866. That year, Glasgow was able to bring together symbols from its very beginning and create something to represent the city to this day.
All four of the symbols depicted in the coat of arms are attributed to legends regarding Saint Mungo, the patron saint of Glasgow. St Mungo, who founded the monastery which is now Glasgow Cathedral, died in the year 603 and his feast day was set to the January 13.
Given how far in the past St Mungo lived his life, the stories and legends of his time can vary. Most people remember the symbols depicting his relationship with Glasgow by the following short poem:
There's the tree that never grew,
There's the bird that never flew,
There's the fish that never swam,
There's the bell that never rang.
Taking the symbols one by one, each refers to a legend during St Mungo's life in Glasgow or his education before he came to found the monastery. St Mungo is thought to have been born at Culross on the north side of the Forth River at the beginning of the 6th century. He was educated at St Serf's in Fife.
Originally called Kentigern, or High Lord, his mentor at St Serf renamed him Mungo, or dear friend, due to how fond he was of the soon to be saint. In 550 Mungo finished his training and came to what we now know as Glasgow.
The tree is the first symbol in the rhyme and references a story from St Mungo's early days. Legend has it that St Mungo was tasked with watching over a fire at the refectory in the monastery, while still a young boy. Mungo, though, fell asleep and some other boys, who were jealous of him, decided to put the fire out. When he woke up and found the fire extinguished, Mungo broke off some frozen branches from a hazel tree and prayed over them until they burst into flames, restoring his fire.
Interestingly, the tree is represented in the coat of arms in the form of a strong, tall oak, despite the fact that popular versions of the tale reference a hazel branch.
The bird that never flew also refers to a legend from St Mungo's youth. It commemorates a wild robin, who was tamed by St Serf while Mungo was still in Fife. Sadly, the robin died, something which some legends attribute to the cruel actions of one of St Mungo's young peers, who were jealous of him. Desperate to make his friend and mentor, St Serf, happy again, Mungo took the dead bird and prayed over its body and was able to bring it back to life.
The third element, the fish that never swam, is one of the longest and most convoluted stories of St Mungo's life. It involves the King of Strathclyde, Rydderach Hael, his wife Queen Langeoreth and a knight.
In the story, the King of Strathclyde gave his wife a ring as a gift. She, in turn, gave it to a knight - perhaps her lover - who almost instantly lost the artefact. King Hael demanded soon after to see the ring, threatening to kill the queen if she could not present him it.
The knight confessed what had happened to St Mungo, who sent a monk into the Clyde to catch a fish. When the monk returned, the fish was cut open and inside the ring was found. Some versions of the story go on to specify that this was the moment after which the King and Queen lived happily ever after.
The image of the fish which appears today is based on the seal of the Bishop of Glasgow, designed around 1271, which shows a salmon with a ring in its mouth.
Finally, the bell that never rang, is one story less explicitly linked to the saint. It is thought that the bell in question may have been given to St Mungo by the Pope. By the 15th century, the hand bell had become symbol synonymous with the city of Glasgow. Following this legend, in 1450, John Stewart, known as the first provost of Glasgow, left a bell ring out for his soul. The replacement bell, purchased in 1641, remains on display in the city.
So there you have it, the history of the symbols represented in Glasgow's coat of arms. All are associated with the life of St Mungo, the patron saint of the city, covering moments from his early life through to the legacy of his handbell.
Next time you're watching over a fire at a monastery, visit a friend with a pet robin or find yourself fishing for salmon in the Clyde, remember St Mungo's legacy.
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