The City of Glasgow, in association with Glasgow Churches Together, marked the 14th Centenary of the death of St. Mungo and the foundation of the city with a Civic Dinner in the City Chambers on 29 March. The invited guests, from churches and organisations across Glasgow, gathered in the beautiful setting of the Banqueting Hall as musicians John Allan, Carissa Bovill and Clare O’Neill played traditional music for them.
Then children from St. Paul’s Primary, Whiteinch, stunned the guests with a brilliant and very professional performance of two songs about Glasgow, one a fun tale of Martian visitors to the city’s sights and the other a new song for the city- the Glasgow Song which won the school the Molendinar Award this year. The children were a credit to the city and their school.
They were followed by a formal welcome by the Lord Provost, Rt. Hon. Cllr Bob Winter, to what he described as a “once in a century” event to honour Glasgow’s deep-rooted shared identity – an identity which was outlined in the murals of the Banqueting Hall. Unfortunately Archbishop Conti had been unable to be present, as he was in Rome, but he had sent his best wishes for the success of the dinner and had arranged for the Liber Ruber (the Red Book of Glasgow), a mediaeval cartulary to be brought through on loan from the Scottish Catholic Heritage Collections (Blairs Museum) Trust for the evening.
The formal toast to the City was presented by Professor Tom Devine. He wryly acknowledged the particular honour in being asked to make the toast as he was not a Glaswegian, he worked in Edinburgh and came from Motherwell- he also suggested that he might need 3 hours to do the subject justice! He asked firstly why had St. Mungo’s name and fame survived 1400 years. The reality was unclear after so long but clearly Mungo had been inspirational, an evangelist of great courage not only for Glasgow but for SW Scotland, Northern England and Wales.
Reflecting on Glasgow’s history, he touched on its religious traditions, its cosmopolitan nature and, finally, its resilience. Glasgow’s religious tradition was Christian in origin, although later immigrants have brought their own religions to the mix. Christianity had deeply impacted secular society. The Bishops of Glasgow had fought for the city and its people. They had impacted education – Glasgow University, Glasgow Grammar School etc.- and influenced music, art and literature. With the Reformation, the attention was on scripture. In the later Scottish Enlightenment, much of the influence in science and politics came from sons of the manse or ministers.
The cosmopolitan nature of Glasgow was reflected in its commercial and trading history, from the Tobacco Lords who dealt in what could be described as the first global trade in Europe, to engineering, shipbuilding and the like. Glasgow also exported people – most of the Scottish emigrants came in fact from the Central Lowlands – but also received many immigrants: Irish, Polish, Jewish, Italian, Asian and also English!
Its trading success in turn led to great pressures. It was the fastest growing city in Europe in the mid 18-19th Century and had to face crises caused by the growth in population – disease, lack of public utilities, housing. In the 20th Century, the challenges were those arising from loss of its major industries. Yet in facing its challenges, it had shown resilience and the ability to regenerate. The current regeneration was not yet complete. However it would be great if Glasgow could pioneer solutions to those problems which all major cities in Europe were currently facing. In conclusion, he drew everyone’s attention to the lovely prayer on the commemorative bookmark which they had been given, and wished this as the toast for the future of Glasgow.
The Rev. Dr Laurence Whitley, minister of Glasgow Cahedral, then said the Grace before a beautiful meal was served, and the guests had the opportunity to chat at leisure. The Grace at the end of the meal was said by Fr. Willie Slavin, in place of Fr. James Berrie, parish priest of St. Mungo’s , Townhead, who was unable to attend through illness.
The evening finished with a vote of thanks, given by Mgr. Gerry Fitzpatrick, Chair of Glasgow Churches Together, a lovely medley of songs presented by some of the Glasgow Youth Choir (who had ensured audience participation by circulating the words of “The Song of the Clyde”), and a very well-earned and popular presentation by the Lord Provost to Baillie Cathy McMaster who retires from the City Council this year and who has done so much in the recovery and celebration of the early history of Glasgow and its Patron Saint.