The Vita Kentigerni

The annual St. Mungo Festival in Glasgow goes from strength to strength. This year there is the added incentive of celebrating the 1400th anniversary of St. Mungo’s death.

St. Mungo's Bairns

The Festival began with a short event in the Mitchell Library, where the life of St. Mungo was celebrated in word and song. The celebration began with Carissa Bovill playing an introductory air on clarsach, and the St. Mungo Singers singing the opening of the Latin Vespers of St. Mungo.

Then Bailie Cathy McMaster, in her welcome on behalf of the City Council, explained that the 12th century Life of St. Kentigern by Jocelin of Furness (the ” Vita Kentigerni”), was written not only as a life of the saint who founded Glasgow but also as a political document which aimed to raise the profile and status of Glasgow as a place of pilgrimage, trade and commerce. She invited everyone to allow themselves to be taken back to when the Vita was being written, to recognise that they were all “Mungo’ s Bairns” and to appreciate the history of their city. (You can read the text of Bailie McMaster’s speech below this article)

Then some of Mungo’s Bairns from St. Andrew’s Secondary and St. Timothy’s Primary (one in suitable episcopal dress) sang the Pilgrim Song of Mungo (written by Liz Bovill). Excerpts from the Vita were then read in English and Latin by Dr. Laurence Whitley (Minister of Glasgow Cathedral) and Archbishop Mario Conti of Glasgow. The short celebration was completed by the singing of “Let Glasgow Flourish”, led by the St. Mungo Singers.


Dr. Whitley with the St. Mungo Singers










Bailie Cathy McMasters with Archbishop Conti



Dr. Whitley, Archbishop Conti, Bishop Gregor Duncan & Chief Archivist Dr. Irene O'Brien










Speech for the launch of the Festival in the Mitchell
Library 7 Jan 2011

Bailie Catherine McMaster


Glasgow was founded by Mungo sometimes known as Kentigern, a Celtic Saint of the 6th century
in Scotland, not yet as we know it today, but still in the kingdom of Strathclyde.

The Vita Kentigerni was a canonisation text prepared by Bishop Jocelyn to promote Glasgow
as a City and create a pilgrimage centre for those making their journey to the
tomb of St Mungo. This act of saint making was a political act, to establish Glasgow as a City for
Pilgrimage, to stimulate the economy for merchants and trades, and protect all as a bishop’s burgh.

Folk legends , myths and images from oral history were collected by Bishop Herbert, this was used
as the basis of a commission from Jocelyn, bishop of Glasgow to Jocelyn a monk of Furness abbey
to write the Book vita Kentigerni. The Cistercians were monks famous for writing holy books.
The copy of this 12th century book is on display on thos table today fpor all who want to see the
written words of the story of Mungo. It is not like a website page or facebook – it is the text of a
medieval social network. The language is latin and stories are recorded by Jocelyn almost re
inventing the image of Mungo for 12th century Rome.

Visions, miracles were written as if they were historical facts. This would give the listeners a
memory of the holy founder of their city and encourage people to visit Glasgow as a centre of
Pilgrimage. The text preserves forms of speech used in the 12th century where a society built
their hopes on values of the Church and identity as citizens to belong to the city.

Today we recall the Feast day of St Mungo by reading a section of the text in a public space to
remember the how the name Glascu means dear family, the section of the story recalls how
Mungo was called from exile in Wales by Ryderrich King of Strathclyde to return to Glasgow.
Mungo returns by way of HODDOM in Dumfries and eventually reaches Glasgow
where he is proclaimed Bishop in the custom of the 6th century.

In 12th century Glasgow Cathedral, the Vita would be read in the Chapter House starting on
the Vigil of the Feast. Today we will hear the story of return from Wales read in English and in Latin.

Our Childrens’ group and the St Mungo Singers will perform songs to celebrate the Feast Day here
in the Mitchell Library. Come and see the book read the English text , see the beautiful
writing and decoration of simple colours – real 12th century Cistercian style.

Let Glasgow flourish as Bishop Jocelyn wanted it to do, enjoy the Festival events and remember
the 1400 anniversary of the foundation of our city.