St. Mungo Festival

The Festival started in great style in the Mitchell Library on 9th January, when the City Council’s Department of Culture & Sport hosted a short, informal ecumenical event under the title “Celebrating the Life of Mungo in Words and Song”. There were, understandably, some concerns about whether it would proceed because of the severe weather but there was a good showing of determined participants and friends. In addition the Library was busy with visitors to its café and internet facilities.

The Mitchell event in fact predates the Festival, being in its third year, and centres round readings from the mediaeval life of St. Mungo written by Jocelyn, a monk of Jarrow, and commissioned by Bishop Jocelyn of Glasgow. A copy of the manuscript was discovered in Dublin and facsimiles were obtained, one of which is in the Mitchell Library and is on display during the Festival.

This year the programme began with children from St. Patrick’s Primary singing the St. Mungo Rhyme “This is the tree that never grew” which may have originated as an anti- Mungo jibe but now has become part of the positive Mungo legend and finds its expression in the City Coat of Arms.

This was followed by Bailie McMaster’s welcome to all present to the beginning of the Festival which is, in a sense, the birthday of the City. She explained that the Festival is intended to draw attention to the legends of how the city began. This year, St. Enoch (or Thenew), the mother of Mungo, is a major part of the focus of the celebrations, with a new ballet based on her story and a new song from Ian Davidson. Bailie McMaster also welcomed fellow-citizens from the Russian community to the celebration. They had commissioned a beautiful Icon of St. Mungo for their church community in Glasgow, and it too was on display for the event.

In concluding, Bailie McMaster invited people to see the “Life of St. Mungo” and the other books on Glasgow in the Mitchell Library as, in a way, the family albums of the citizens of Glasgow, which remind us all of where we had come from as a city.

The newly formed Russian choir, Russkaya Cappella, then sang a selection of Russian liturgical music in honour of St. Mungo. A selection of readings from the “Life of St. Mungo” in Latin and English followed, read by Archbishop Conti and Dr. Laurence Whitley. They described the story of St. Enoch and led naturally into the singing of the new song about the life of St. Enoch, by the children of St. Patrick’s.

The event finished with a blessing by Major Stephen Huyton, the Chair of Glasgow Churches Together, who invited everyone to join in celebrating our rich heritage, and the singing of the Glasgow anthem “Let Glasgow Flourish”, led by the St. Mungo Singers.

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The next celebration was the ecumenical St. Mungo’s Day liturgy held in St. Mungo’s (Glasgow) Cathedral on 10th January, organised by Glasgow Churches Together (GCT) and hosted by the Cathedral parish community and their minister Dr. Whitley.

The weather was still icily cold but there was a good turnout of participants/congregation. As well as church and civic representatives (including the Rev. Jayne Scott, Minister of Culross and Torryburn which have historic links to St. Mungo), there was musical support from the Rutherglen Salvation Army Band, Carissa Bovill on clarsach, the St. Mungo Singers and the newly formed Russkaya Cappella, and dance from the Visual Statement Dance Company.

The Salvation Army band played as the church representatives processed in, and then the service began with the proclamation by Bailie Alan Stewart of the invitation “Let Glasgow Flourish!” and the response of the congregation “By the preaching of His word – by the praising of His name”.

Rutherglen Salvation Army Band opening the service

Rutherglen Salvation Army Band opening the service

In welcoming the congregation to the service, Dr. Whitley described it as a service to celebrate the joy of being Glasgow and the vibrancy of the city’s life, and he reminded us that in the year ahead we would have the opportunity to mark a number of anniversaries – the 1100th anniversary of the Cluniac reforms, the 450th anniversary of the Scottish Reformation, the centenary of the Edinburgh Ecumenical Conference.

The Chair of GCT, Major Stephen Huyton, then read the opening prayer and Archbishop Conti proclaimed the scripture reading from Psalms 133 and 134, two of the Psalms of Ascent.

Russkaya Cappella now introduced the congregation to something quite different, as they sang à cappella a cycle of liturgical pieces in celebration of St. Mungo (Kentigern): a Troparion (or short hymn of praise), a Kontakion (the first stanza of a hymn of praise), a Magnification of St. Kentigern, and a Muscovite Alliluia. The Russian theme was continued in the congregational singing of a hymn by a Russian writer Bortnianski to the tune St. Petersburg, a suitable response to a beautiful and unique experience.

The next part of the service was also quite unusual. The Glasgow & District Burns Association had gifted Glasgow Cathedral a display case to house the copy of the Vita Kentigerni (the Life of Kentigern) in thanks for the Homecoming Service which had been held in the Cathedral on 25th January 2009. Their President, Mrs. Jane Jack now presented this to the Cathedral and it was dedicated by the Moderator of the Glasgow Presbytery, the Rev. Bill Ferguson. The congregation were then led by the St. Mungo Singers in the singing of the Glasgow anthem “Let Glasgow Flourish”.

We had another change of input as the Visual Statement Dance Company danced a scene from their new ballet “St. Thenue”, choreographed by Danny Dobbie. This was beautifully performed to music by Karl Jenkins, and this despite glitches with the sound equipment.

Following a reading from the Gospel of St. Luke by Fergus Ewing MSP, the Rev. Dr. John Miller gave an address which was by turns humorous and deeply insightful. He touched on the main events of the life of St. Mungo whose feast, he noted, falls between the celebrations of the Epiphany and Baptism of Our Lord on the one hand, and the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on the other. He invited the congregation to take three thoughts from Mungo’s life: the guiding principle of his life was to give witness to Christ; the difficulties, both of his early and his later life did not hold him back from his task; in expressing his love for God, his focus was on people.

After a short period of quiet reflection, to the sound of the clarsach played by Carissa Bovill, intercessions for the church, the community of Glasgow and the world were read. The congregation responded to each by singing the Taize “O Lord, hear my prayer” as a young member of the congregation went forward and lit a candle. The Lord’s Prayer was then sung, before the offering was taken up for the Lord Provost’s Fund for charity.

The service ended with the singing of the 7th Century hymn, the “Altus Prosator” (which is attributed to St. Columba who was a contemporary of St. Mungo), the sung blessing “God to enfold you” (by John Bell) and a spoken blessing by the church representatives. The City and Church representatives then made their way to the Tomb of St. Mungo to lay a wreath there, while the St. Mungo Singers sang “My Shepherd will supply my Needs”.

After the end of the service, the Cathedral community provided soft drinks and shortbread for everyone present, to fortify them for their return journeys and give them an opportunity to mingle.

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The St. Mungo Singers at the St. Mungo Mass

The St. Mungo Singers at the St. Mungo Mass (photo (c) Paul McSherrie)

The final service of the St. Mungo Festival was the Mass of St. Mungo held in St. Mungo’s, Townhead on the feastday, 13th January. The principal celebrant was Archbishop Conti, and the music was led by the St. Mungo Singers.

The beginning of the Mass had a distinctly Celtic air, with Dr. Noel Donnelly playing clarsach as the congregation assembled, and the opening hymn being a version of the St. Patrick’s Breastplate written by Br. Stephen Smyth, to music by David Harris. There were Celtic echoes again at the preparation of the gifts when the Hymn of Columba was sung, and later when Peter McGrail’s beautiful Peace Song formed the backdrop for the Communion procession.

In his homily, Archbishop Conti referred to the events of the Festival and congratulated the City Council on its sponsorship as well as the St. Mungo Singers and the St. Patrick’s children’s choir for their input. He also drew attention to the coming Week of Prayer for Christian Unity which this year had been prepared in Scotland with the theme “You will be my witnesses”.

The Mass ended with the singing of “Let Glasgow Flourish” before Fr. Dermot, the Rector of the Passionist Community, thanked everyone for coming to the celebration and invited them to join the Community in the church hall for refreshments and the opportunity to see a short video made by local young people on the hunt for the Molendinar Burn which had been the focus for the earliest settlement in Glasgow.