St. Mungo’s Well, Glasgow Cathedral, Lanarkshire

Holy Well:  OS Grid Reference – NS 6025 6558

Archaeology & History

St Mungos Well, Glasgow cathedral
St Mungos Well, Glasgow cathedral

Not to be confused with the sacred well of the same name found along Gallowgate a short distance to the south, the waters of this ancient well have sadly fallen back to Earth.  The structure built above it, however, is thankfully still preserved inside the Cathedral, as visitors will see.

Folklore and history accounts tell its dedication to be very early – and the tale behind the erection of the cathedral is closely associated with the waters themselves.  Indeed, if the folklore is accepted, we find merely a transference of early animistic ideas about the death of an ancestor placed onto this early Saint, with a simple association in the formula of:  tomb, holy site and architectural form.  It could almost be Bronze Age in nature!

The lengthiest (and best) description of St Mungo’s Well was by Mr Brotchie (1920) in a lecture he gave on the city’s holy wells in April 1920, which was thankfully transcribed by the local history society.  He told us:

“It seems to me that Glasgow in a very particular degree is a case that illustrates emphatically the existence of the early cult of the sacred fountain (sketch attached)… How came it to be there? In itself it represents the very beginning of Glasgow.  It was to the little spring on the hillside overlooking the Molendinar that there came the earliest of christian missionaries, Ninian. All that we know of Ninian is from the account of Jocelin, the monk of Furness, who tells us that “ane holy man Ninian cam to Gleschu or Glasgow in the third century”, and made his cell on the banks of the Molendinar. When Kentigern or Mungo came to Glasgow in the sixth century, he made his settlement near a certain cemetery, which had long before been consecrated by St. Ninian, and which at the time when Jocelin wrote (twelfth century), was “encircled by a delicious density of overshadowing trees.”  The crypt of the Cathedral—in reality an under church of extraordinary beauty of design and magnificence of mason work—is the shrine of St. Mungo, who is buried there, and the whole design of the lower church shows that the architect who in 1230 planned the building…built his scheme up with the idea of providing a shrine for the saint’s tomb and his holy well.

“The well is in the lower eastern corner of the church just opposite to the chapter house.  John Hardying, the chronicler, who visited Scotland in 1413, states that St. Mungo’s shrine was then the centre of the life of Glasgow.  In 1475 James III, on account of his great devotion to St. Kentigern, granted three stones of wax yearly for the lights at the tomb of the saint in the cathedral, near his holy well.

“St. Mungo adopted this well from the pagans of the district and changed its purpose from evil to good.  Beside it he erected in 560 his little wattle hut where he died.  He was buried inside it, and when the great cathedral was built the holy well was included within its walls…

“St. Mungo’s Well was a place of pilgrimage to the early christian fathers, and we find it described as “an idolatrous well” in 1614.  In 1579 we have a public statute prohibiting pilgrimages to wells, and in 1629 the Privy Council denounced these pilgrimages in the strongest terms, it being declared that for the purpose of “restraining the superstitious resort of pilgrimage to chapels and wells, which is so frequent and common in this kingdom, to the great offence of God, scandall of the kirk, and disgrace of his majesties government,” that commissioners cause diligent search in “all such pairts and places where this idolatrous superstition is used, and to take and apprehend all such persons of whatever rank and qualitie whom thay sall apprehend going on pilgrimage to chapels and wells.”  That decree was issued under the Dora of 1629.  But all in vain.  The custom of visiting chapels and wells had become a habit – and habits, as we all know, though easily formed are difficult to break.  The wells continued to be visited by stealth if need be.”

References:

  1. Bennett, Paul, Ancient and Holy Wells of Glasgow, TNA 2017.
  2. Brotchie, T.C.F., “Holy Wells in and Around Glasgow,” in Old Glasgow Club Transactions, volume 4, 1920.
  3. Davidson, Nevile, The Cathedral Church of St. Mungo, Bell & Bain: Glasgow 1957.
  4. Walker, J.R., ‘”Holy Wells” in Scotland”, in Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries, Scotland, volume17, 1883.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  55.862983, -4.234473 St Mungo’s Well

Dunblane Cathedral, Stirlingshire

Cists: OS Grid Reference – NN 7811 0141

Archaeology & History

Dunblane Cathedral

Although this great and legendary cathedral is today a christian centre, it seems that the site had been deemed as sacred by a much earlier, indigenous culture — though on a scale much more humbling than the grand edifice we see standing here today!  For in the northwest corner of the church grounds in 1928, a small burial cist was located.  Years later, on October 2, 1975, following work here by the North of Scotland Hydro-electric Board to uncover the main supply “in an area adjacent to the north wall of the Lady Chapel,” they found a slab of stone which, when they lifted it up, covered what appeared to be a burial cist.  Messrs Gordon & Gourlay (1976) narrated:

“The stone slab which the workmen had removed proved to be the western section of a larger slab which at some period had been fractured and the eastern section lost.  As the interior of the cist was filled with soil similar to that surrounding it and containing a considerable quantity of dispersed human bone fragments, it was suggested that the eastern section of the covering slab had been lost when the drainage and/or electricity services were being installed.  The upper surface of the slabs western section was c.35cms below ground surface.  The dispersed bones in the cist were at first considered intrusive — possibly from old burials when the public services were installed — and an undisturbed deposition of bones at the base of the cist seemed to confirm this.  However, an examination of the bones by Dr A. Young…and Dr D. Lunt…showed that the deposit contained remains of two adults and one child and that many of the dispersed bones could be matched with those in the undisturbed group.  In fact, the deposition suggested a re-use of the cist.

“The cist measured internally 1.20m by 0.44m by 0.28m.  It lay 8.4m east of the door of the Lady Chapel and 1.44m from the wall of the same.  The cist was constructed from ten irregularly-shaped sandstone slabs, with one fractured slab forming the floor.  On the south side, two smaller slabs had been placed on the inside of the wall to support the covering slab which only just fitted the cist, and to give extra strength to the wall since they overlapped the vertical joins of the three slabs of the south wall.  The north wall slanted to meet the west-end slab 12cm from its edge, giving the cist a coffin-like appearance.  The north wall was still vertical; the narrowing was probably intentional as the covering slab was only 33cm wide at that point and the bones lay apparently undisturbed, parallel to the north and south walls.  It proved impossible to examine the old ground surface because of the public installations, but it did appear that the ground sloped to the west as the cist certainly did.”

Although the remains found here were not dated, it was initially thought that the cist may have been made around the period when the Lady Chapel was erected around 1250 AD.

“However, Mr J. Stevenson of the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments pointed out that the dimensions and construction of the cist accord well with cists of known prehistoric dates in the area; the cist (therefore) would seem to be placed early in the sequences of cist development, assuming it to be prehistoric.”

References:

  1. Cockburn, James H., The Celtic Church in Dunblane, Society of Friends of Dunblane Cathedral: Dunblane 1954.
  2. Gordon, Alistair R. & Gourlay, Robert B., “A Cist Burial, Dunblane Cathedral, Perthshire,” in Glasgow Archaeological Society Bulletin, No.2, 1976.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

 

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  56.189662, -3.965658 Dunblane cathedral