St Mungo and his mysterious deeds
WHEN Languoreth, a sixth century Queen of Strathclyde, embarked on an affair with a young soldier, she could have had no idea that her actions would live on in Scottish folklore hundreds of years later.
The story reveals how news of the adulterous Queen's behaviour reached her husband Redderech via a royal servant. The King did not want to believe in her infidelity but Languoreth had made the mistake of giving her lover a ring which had been a present from Redderech - and when the he saw it on the young man's finger his patience snapped.Taking the soldier on a hunting expedition along the banks of the River Clyde near Dumbarton, Redderech plied him with drink until he fell asleep. The King then removed the ring and threw it into the river. He then angrily confronted his wife and demanded the impossible, that she produce the band by dinner that evening.
What happened next must go down as one of the most unlikely "miracles" ever performed. In a panic, Languoreth pleaded with the holy man Mungo, bishop of her husband’s kingdom and founder of the city of Glasgow. When he heard of her plight Mungo immediately dispatched a messenger to the Clyde and ordered him to bring back the first fish he caught.
The messenger quickly caught a salmon and rushed it back to Mungo. When it was cut open the ring lay inside, which was given straight away to the wretched and very grateful Queen.
The story has been passed down through generations and explains why the Glasgow coat of arms prominently features three salmon each holding a ring in its mouth. It is also one of four "miracles" performed by Mungo - later St Mungo - remembered in the following verse:
Here is the bird that never flew
Here is the tree that never grew
Here is the bell that never rang
Here is the fish that never swam
What makes the story improbable is that St Mungo, one of the holiest men Scotland has ever known, would have colluded with and given his approval to what appeared nothing more than a tawdry sexual dalliance. Lust, after all, was even then one of the seven deadly sins and Mungo's intervention undoubtedly saved the Queen from a less than pleasant fate.
Much of what is known about St Mungo is contained in 1185 writings by a monk called Jocelin of Furness. His source were old legends which told of the often fantastical experiences of Mungo.
Although there is some dispute over his parentage, it is recorded that he was the illegitimate son of Tenew (or Denw), the daughter of the King of the Lothians. When Tenew's father, King Llew or Loth, who reigned in the Haddington area, discovered her misfortune he attempted to kill his daughter by throwing her off Traprain Law - a nearby hill.
She survived and was cast adrift in a wicker boat - called a coracle - in the Firth of Forth, eventually landing at Culross in Fife. On the beach there she gave birth to a baby she called Kentigern - meaning "my chief Lord". Mother and child were looked after at a religious establishment run in Culross by St Serf, who gave the boy the pet name Mungo - "my friend" or "dear one".
Jocelin of Furness's history shows that Mungo was special from an early age. When classmates killed the pet robin belonging to St Serf, Mungo miraculously brought it back to life (the bird that never flew). On another occasion he was in charge of ensuring the flames of a holy fire in St Serf's monastery remained lit, but while he slept jealous rivals extinguished the goblet of light. Mungo then blew on a hazel branch which burst into flames and re-ignited it (the tree that never grew).By most accounts he arrived in Glasgow in around AD 540 in his early twenties and established a monastery on the banks of the Molendinar Burn, a tributary of the Clyde. He spent some time away from Scotland living in Wales and even travelling to Rome. He returned the the Clyde at the invitation of the King of Strathclyde, Roderick Hael. Mungo lived a most austere lifestyle, converting many to Christianity. The community which grew up around him was known as "Clasgu" (the dear family) and grew into the city of Glasgow.
One of his sermons contained the words, "Lord, let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the word". Shortened to "Let Glasgow Flourish", it is now the city's official motto. As for "the bell that never rang", that was the instrument said to have been brought by Mungo from Rome and which was used in services to mourn the dead.
Jocelin claims that Mungo met St Columba and the two embraced and exchanged pastoral staves. This most venerable old man preached until he was well into his 80s and is said to have died in his bath on 13 January, believed AD 614.
Glasgow Cathedral was built in his honour on the spot where he was buried and was a site of pilgrimage until the Reformation. But his memory has survived even in the fictionalised world of Harry Potter in which he is the patron saint of St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.
If you enjoyed reading this, you may want to read:
North Berwick and the brew of tortured witches
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