St Mungo comes to Cathures (Glasgow)
Old hospitals are dismal places and Glasgow’s Royal Infirmary is no exception. Although there’s a modern extension next to it, the old Victorian building is still extensively used. I was visiting a friend who was in a ward in the old wing.
I had no intention of hanging around the corridors of this old hospital. I shudder to think what tales would unfold about this place, and was vaguely aware that there were many souls wandering aimlessly here. I had the familiar feeling of dread and I felt very uncomfortable in this place.
After my visit, I left the hospital quickly. I had managed to park my car halfway down Wishart Street and there was no meter,, so I decided to stroll along to Glasgow Cathedral. The weather didn’t bother me – I was wearing a heavy coat and my trusty old bunnet (a cloth cap).
Ah, trust the Glasgow weather to shake off the feeling of dread. Fine rain carried by a strong wind hit my face as I strolled around the Cathedral graveyard and eventually ended up at the Bridge of Sighs, a pedestrian bridge that crosses over Wishart Street and under this street the Molendinar Burn runs unseen towards the River Clyde.
I was standing at the Cathedral end of the bridge; on the other side was the entrance to the Necropolis, a massive graveyard with beautiful mausoleums and the resting place of many industrious people who helped build this great city. I turned to look at the Cathedral again – but it had disappeared.
No buildings, no rain. Just bright sunshine and the sound of trickling water. I was wearing a dirty grey robe made of a harsh wool that made me want to scratch. A rather unpleasant smell emanated from me and I suspected that it was coming from this garment and my unwashed body. I was wearing wooden sandals with rough wool acting as the inner soles. I was walking alongside a wooden cart which was being pulled by two oxen, holding the horn of the ox on the right, trying to guide it. Another man was on the other side of the cart, guiding the other ox. We were walking near the banks of a burn and having difficulty steering the oxen away from the water, for they were thirsty.
The man sitting on the front of the cart was clothed in the plain coarse grey garment of a holy man, with long sleeves and a hood. He had not spoken to us for a few days; but we had become accustomed to his ways and knew that he would either be deep in meditation or silent prayer.
It was a warm summer’s day and the scent of wild flowers filled the air. The long grass swayed as a gentle breeze caressed the land, bringing a welcome coolness from the heat. Water noisily rippled between and over the stones in the burn, untainted, sparkled by the reflection of the clear sky.
The rumbling of the wooden wheels of the cart did not seem to disturb this tranquillity, nor did the smell of the rotting corpse laid out at the back of the cart distract us. We travelled down the dirt road running alongside the burn, heading for a place to cross. We finally reached shallow water and a gentle slope and guided the oxen across the burn, the cool water caressing our tired and dirty feet. We stopped to let the oxen quench their thirst. We also drank from the burn.
When we reached the other bank, the holy man broke his silence and called out to us.
“My brothers, there before you just beyond the bank of this burn is the burial place that Ninian himself has consecrated. It is here that we will bury our friend, Fergus.”
And so, on that sunny afternoon, Fergus was laid to rest by strangers who had befriended him during his last few days of life. We had no tools to dig, and used our bare hands. The soil was hard and dry, so we used sharp pointed stones and water to break up the earth.
The holy man said a prayer over the fresh grave of Fergus, then we left the burial ground and came to the burn. Stripping off, all three of us waded into the cold but pure water and cleansed ourselves of the soil. The holy man got dressed, but waded back into the water, then turned to us.
“Come my brothers. Let me baptise you in the name of Jesus, and prepare you to receive Him, pure of body, mind and soul.”
On that day, my companion and I were baptised by Kentigern, the holy man.
“Upon Ninian’s sacred ground”, announced Kentigern, “I will build my church to the glory of the Holy Trinity. Go you to yon village and tell the good people there to come and be baptised, so that they too can receive Our Lord.”
As I turned to head for the village, the scene changed. The cart, my companion and the holy man were gone. I was still at the burn, but many years had passed. I was on my knees, crying.
The year was 604, I know this because it was a time of great sadness for the village of Cathures – Kentigern was dead. A slow procession of people carrying flaming torches made their way along the bank of the Molendinar Burn. They followed the wooden plinth carried by four strong men, upon which the bones of Kentigern were carried. Kentigern was now fondly called Mungo, meaning ‘Dear One’ by these God-fearing people. The procession reached the little church that Mungo had built, and there, in the amber light of the flaming torches, Mungo was laid to rest.
“Are you all right sir?”
I was back at the Bridge of Sighs. I glanced up to see two burly policemen looking at me very strangely. Trust me to come back to reality in style – on my knees in a large puddle!
The policemen helped me up. I had a hard time convincing them that I wasn’t off my head; but they could see that I was not drunk and that I was reasonably sensible. I explained that I had bent down to take a closer look at some stonework, but I had fallen forward onto my knees. They seemed to buy that, and I guess they thought I looked harmless enough, so they went on their way, leaving me standing there with soaked trousers and shoes and two very sore knees.
I squelched back to my car.
© Wishart Frankfield
- History of Glasgow
- Saint Mungo
- Underground photos of the Molendinar Burn
- Another story: Pew Punch Up
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