St. Mungo, The Foundation of Glasgow, and Four Miracles
“Here’s the Tree that never grew, Here’s the Bird that never flew, Here’s the Bell that never rang, Here’s the Fish that never Swam.”
By Kevin Robertson-Damer
Saint Mungo was born to Saint Teneu in 518 AD, in Culross, Fife. It is believed that Teneu was Scotland’s first reported rape victim and unmarried mother. The young Teneu was sexually assaulted by the Welsh prince Owain mab Urien, resulting in her pregnancy. Upon learning of Teneu’s pregnancy, her father, King Lleuddun of Lothian, became outraged and sentenced her to death. In carrying out this sentence Teneu was thrown from Traprain Law, East Lothian. Teneu, however, survived the fall and managed to escape, sailing in a small boat to Culross in Fife. Upon arriving in Culross, the pregnant Teneu was taken to the local monastery where she was looked after by Saint Serf. In 518 Teneu gave birth to a boy, naming him Kentigern. Saint Serf decided to raise Kentigern, training him to become a priest at the monastery and giving him the nickname Mungo meaning “dear one”.
During his time at the monastery, Mungo became the favourite student of Saint Serf, often causing jealousy and resentment amongst his monastic peers. This jealousy and resentment continued to grow eventually causing Mungo to leave the monastery. After his departure, Mungo travelled to Stirling where he lived at the home of a holy man named Fergus. As time went on the pair became close friends and on his death bed, Fergus told Mungo of his dying wish. Fergus’ dying wish was that his body be placed upon a cart, which was to be pulled by two bulls, with his body being buried where the bulls stopped. Mungo carried out the dying wish of his friends and travelled with the bulls until they eventually came to a stop near a small burn. Mungo gave a name to the area, he named it Glas Ghu (Glasgow), meaning “dear green place”. It was here that Mungo would start the first Christian community in Glasgow, building his church near the Molendinar Burn, which would later become the site of Glasgow Cathedral. It was from here that Mungo would say the words “Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of his words”. This would later shorten to “Let Glasgow Flourish” becoming the motto for the city.
Mungo and Teneu would later become co-patron saints of the City of Glasgow. It is believed that St Enochs square in the city centre was the medieval site of a church built to honour Saint Teneu.
The four legends of Saint Mungo
The City of Glasgow’s coat of arms depicts an oak tree, a robin, a bell and two salmon each with a ring in its mouth. These images relate to the four legends of Saint Mungo.
“Here’s the Tree that never grew,
Here’s the Bird that never flew,
Here’s the Bell that never rang,
Here’s the Fish that never Swam.”
The Tree that never grew
During his time at the monastery in Culross, Mungo was left in charge of the holy fire which burned in the rectory, ensuring that the flame was not extinguished during the night. However, due to the increasing jealousy of the other boys, they put out the fire in the hope that Mungo would be punished. However, upon waking, Mungo noticed that the fire had gone out. Acting on this discovery, Mungo collected frozen branches from an oak tree, which were ignited as a result of Mungo’s prayers.
The Bird that never flew
The tale of the bird also comes from Mungo’s days in the monastery. At this time, Saint Serf had a pet, Robin. The pet, however, was killed by some of the boys at the monastery, who wished to place the blame on Mungo. Mungo, however, took the bird in his hand and commanded it to live, to which the Robin immediately sat up and began to sing.
The Bell that never rang
It is believed that the bell was given to Mungo by the Pope in Rome. It was said that the bell was used in services to mourn the dead. The bell quickly became a notable symbol in Glasgow. The fate of the original bell is unknown, however, a replacement which was bought by the city’s magistrates in 1641 can still be seen in the People’s Palace Museum.
The Fish that never swam
As mentioned, the salmon in the coat of arms of Glasgow, contains a ring in its mouth. The ring was a gift from Hyddderch Hael, King of Cadzow to his wife Queen Languoreth. Languoreth in turn gave the ring to one of Hydderch knights. The King was suspicious of his wife, believing her to be guilty of infidelity. The King organised a hunting party in which the knight would be present. As the knight slept the King took the ring and threw it into the River Clyde. The following day the King demanded to see the ring which he had given Languoreth, if she could not produce the ring then she would be sentenced to death. A distraught Languoreth visited Mungo and pleaded with him to help find the ring. Acting on this Mungo sent one of his monks to the River, instructing him to bring back the first fish that he caught. On the monks return, Mungo removed the ring from inside the mouth of the salmon.
Jennifer Westwood and Sophia Kingshill ‘The Lore of Scotland: A guide to Scottish Legends’ (2009).
Allison Galbraith ‘Lanarkshire Folk Tales’ (2021).
St Mungo Heritage Trail Guide