Pew Punch-Up

Push them back against the wall!

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The front entrance of the Glasgow Cathedral

Glasgow Cathedral survives the Reformation - just

Although I was born in Glasgow and lived there most of my early life, I had never set foot inside the Cathedral until about two years ago. I’ve visited this great building on a few occasions since then.

Today I was inside the main hall, all spartan with the only colours being provided by the glass windows and faded flags. The interior colours were mostly light grey, dark grey and black. I was not feeling well and was unsteady on my feet. I was fine until I stepped inside the Cathedral. Usually, the incense that pervaded the air of churches and cathedrals make me feel this way, but in this part of the Cathedral the air was clear because there was no service being held.

My head was spinning, my vision grew dim, everything was becoming darker. The visitors’ footsteps sounded so far away. I knew this was a prelude to a blackout, and had to sit down. The darkness was almost complete and I felt a pain in my head. I must have fallen and struck my head on the cold stone floor and yet I was still conscious, but now I could not see.

“Push them back against the wall!”, I could hear.

I opened my eyes and was aware that I was laying between the wooden pews of the Cathedral. A familiar feeling came over me. I knew I was no longer in my own time and that I would be witnessing events first-hand. I knew who I was and what I was doing here.

Glasgow Cathedral was in great danger – it was the time of the Reformation. I had been employed with five other men to guard the Cathedral on behalf of the City Merchants, who had saved the Cathedral three years before from Reformers that came to destroy it. I must confess we were unprepared for what happened next.

The attack by the mob of students came suddenly and caught us off-guard. In the short but decisive battle that followed, I took a blow to the head. My men were kicked out of the Cathedral, but I was overlooked as I lay between the pews.

While the Reverend Howieson was ranting from the pulpit with the students as his congregation, I managed to crawl towards the main entrance. As I reached the great doors, I rolled over behind the door to the left before the Burger men marched in to drive the students out. I knew I was badly hurt and I had never felt so much pain.

And now the battle raged within the great hall. In the gloom and confusion it was difficult to distinguish friend from foe. The Burgers did not wear uniforms, and were in fact hired thugs. They cared little about the consequences of their actions, but their leaders had not taken into account that they would have to fight and fight in near darkness. The Cathedral’s own torches had not been lit when the students stormed its sanctum two hours earlier, there was still sufficient light from the large windows at that time.

“Push them back against the wall!”, the burgers’ leader shouted.

The superior numbers of the burger men and their lethal clubs soon changed the course of the battle. The students were forced into the other corner near the oak doors. The burgers formed a half-circle and brought their heavy clubs down on student heads, as if chopping wood. One or two students managed to break free from this ferocious attack, but were pounced on by one man whose job was to attack anyone who managed to stray from the main group. The burgers skill and ruthlessness soon brought the battle to an end and the students threw down their weapons. Two of the burgers did not show mercy and waded into the now defenceless young men.

After two unfortunate students were left nearly dead, the burger’s leader called a halt and commanded his men to drive the defeated students out of the Cathedral.

Archbishop Montgomery chose that moment to enter the Cathedral with his entourage, including Matthew Stewart of Minto, Provost of Glasgow. Stewart had a royal warrant to install Montgomery as Archbishop. As the entourage passed the fleeing students who were still being pursued by two vicious burger men, they cried out for mercy, but the Archbishop ignored their pleas and entered the great hall of the Cathedral.

The Reverend Howieson refused to move from the pulpit.

Archbishop Montgomery stood before the pulpit and said, “Step down sir, and go in peace from the place of God. Otherwise I will instruct Mr Stewart to remove you forcibly if need be.”

“I shall not move from this spot and claim this this church in the name of the Presbyterians!”, cried the Reverend Howieson.

On the Archbishop’s signal one of Stewart’s men climbed the stairs of the pulpit and grabbed Howieson’s arm. Howieson pulled away. Undeterred, the man grabbed Howieson’s long beard and dragged him down the spiralling stairs, but Howieson fell half way down and when he emerged from the bottom of the stairs, it was noticeable that his front teeth were missing. Stewart’s men laughed out loud at the unfortunate cleric.

Archbishop Montgomery motioned them to be quiet and then said to Howieson, “You will spend some time on reflection upon your deeds today.”

Then, turning to Stewart, he commanded him to take Howieson to the Tollbooth at Glasgow Cross.

With great pomp and ceremony, the remaining men formed two lines, as Archbishop Montomery ascended the stairs of the pulpit. From there, he gave a sermon to them, lasting well over and hour. Torches had been lit all over the Cathedral and the two torches below Archbishop Montgomery bathed him in an eerie light.

Still hiding behind the oak door, I watched the Archbishop and could see him flailing his arms about, but could not hear him. I was very cold, and grew very tired. The flickering flames in the Cathedral grew dim. I closed my eyes, slipping into unconsciousness.

I was awakened by a stern male voice.

“May I suggest you go home sir, and go to sleep in your own bed?”

I found myself sitting on one of the chairs that surround one of the great pillars and looking up a older gentleman who was wearing a security uniform.

Taking it easy at first, I stood up. I was ok, I didn’t hit my head, and I must have sat down before I passed out. Some American tourists were looking at me with amusement and one boy roughly age ten was making oink oink noises. Regrettably my snoring is very loud. In such a large entrance hall, the sound must have been greatly amplified. Muttering almost incoherent words of apology and realising my face was scarlet with embarrassment, I headed for the exit, closely followed by the security man.

Outside, I headed for a bench, sat down and tried to recall the events of the last few minutes. Eventually I got up, took one last look at Glasgow Cathedral and I wondered if what I saw had actually happened. I made a mental note not to visit the Cathedral again for a few months, in case the security man recognised me.

© Wishart Frankfield

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