The annual St. Mungo Festival always starts with a warm, friendly and fairly informal event in the Mitchell Library to mark the beginning of the official civic celebrations when the copy of the 12th century manuscript, the “Vita Kentigerni” (Life of St. Kentigern) is displayed and the opportunity is taken to remind people of the beginnings of the city of Glasgow.
The service (which is jointly organised by the Mitchell and Glasgow Churches Together) began with a taste of mediaeval Glasgow as Dr. Noel Donnelly played the clarsach and then Archbishop Emeritus Conti and the St. Mungo Singers chanted the beginning of the Latin Vespers for the Feast of St. Mungo which would have been familiar to the citizens of Glasgow in those days.
Mrs Cathy McMaster, former Baillie of the City Council and a prime mover in promoting the Festival, then invited everyone present to spend the next half hour connecting to 12th Century Glasgow when Bishop Jocelyn had the inspiration to commission the Vita Kentigerni as part of his project to establish Glasgow economically.
The Life of Mungo – Mungo being the affectionate name for Kentigern – was written in flowery and artistic language to highlight the holiness of the saint who had founded Glasgow and dedicated it to the service of God. In that way it would raise the profile of the city and attract pilgrims and trade to it. So in a way, when we celebrate the birthday of St. Mungo, we also celebrate the birthday of Glasgow, the city he founded.
Children from the Children’s Singing Studio at the Glasgow Russian Orthodox School, under their director Svetlana Zverevska, opened the next part of the service with a Russian chant in honour of St. Kentigern, followed by a 17th century setting of the Our Father, and finishing with a lively carol which reminded us that the Russian Orthodox Christmas had been celebrated only three days previously.
The centrepiece of the celebration was a reading from the Vita Kentigerni in English by Dr. Laurence Whitley, minister of Glasgow Cathedral, and in the original Latin by Archbishop Conti. This was introduced by Dr. Irene O’Brien, Glasgow City Archivist.
The episode this year was the well-known one of the Queen’s ring which was recovered from the mouth of a salmon taken from the River Clyde. As Archbishop Conti explained, however legendary this story, it has found its way into the coats of arms of both the city and the Archdiocese, maintaining the link with the city’s history.
The short service ended with the singing of the Glasgow anthem “Let Glasgow Flourish” and some traditional hospitality for those taking part.