Glasgow Cathedral

The Bones of Kentigern

Cathedral from South

As you’ll have guessed from my recent posts on ‘The De’il’s Plantin’, I seem to be in resonance with the Glasgow Network of Aligned Sites just now, as there have been several correspondences since the start of the year.
Back in January, I spent a day in the company of Dai Vaughan, a fellow dowser and member of the West of Scotland local group. Dai is a poet and artist, and has been researching something of the history of Glasgow’s patron saint, St. Mungo, also called Kentigern. It seems that the tomb of the saint in the crypt of Glasgow Cathedral does not contain any of his remains, and that no-one seems to know exactly what happened to them, only that they disappeared around the time of the Reformation in Scotland.
I do love a good historical mystery, so we decided to do a bit of investigative dowsing in the Cathedral. Dai has previously hosted a talk and workshop on dowsing in the Cathedral, and knew that the staff there are quite receptive to the idea, which is in pleasant contrast to the negative attitudes displayed towards dowsing by many other religious institutions.

The story of how St. Mungo came to found the Cathedral is quite interesting, and this also obsessed Harry Bell when he was working on his Glasgow Network of Aligned Sites. Mungo was the son of St. Thenew or Thenaw (or St. Enoch as she is better known in Glasgow where there is a square and subway station named after her), who was the daughter of King Lot of the Lothians. Although it’s hard to distinguish legend from fact here as there’s not much written material to go on; Lot was most probably ruler of the Gododdin tribe who inhabited most of south-eastern Scotland at the time – their seat of power was Traprain Law in East Lothian. The earliest known literary mention of an Arthur figure comes from a 6th Century poem about them ‘Y Gododdin’, which gives rise to the theory that King Arthur was Scottish. Kentigern also has an Arthurian connection through his association with the wild-man Lailoken, who is identified with Merlin in some tales. But that’s another story…

Thenew was seduced by Owain mab Urien, son of the King of Rheged, who was accompanying his father on a visit to King Lot. She became pregnant, and as she was unmarried, her furious father had her cast from the heights of Traprain Law.
Miraculously surviving the fall, she travelled up the Forth estuary in a coracle before making landfall at Culross, where she was taken into the community run by St. Serf (or Servanus); and there she gave birth to Kentigern, who grew up in the community and was trained for the priesthood by St. Serf. It was St. Serf who gave him his ‘pet name’ of Mungo (“dear one”).

At the age of 25, Kentigern already had some remarkable achievements and miracles credited to him, and he decided to leave Culross in search of his destiny (or more likely he was exiled because the other monks were jealous of his abilities). After crossing the Forth, he met a holy man named Fergus who was on the brink of death. Fergus asked Kentigern to arrange for his funeral and dispose of his estate, and then having received Kentigern’s blessing, promptly died “during the words of prayer”, according to Jocelin’s ‘Life of Kentigern’.

Next day, Kentigern laid the old man’s body on a cart hauled by two untamed oxen, and prayed for God to lead them to the place appointed for burial. Jocelin continues: ‘And in truth, the bulls, in no way being restive, or in anything disobeying the voice of Kentigern, without any tripping or fall, came by a straight road, along where there was no path, as far as Cathures, which is now called Glasgu …’
Here we have the reference that so inspired Harry Bell – what did Jocelin mean by ‘a straight road along where there was no path’? Surely we could only be talking about an alignment – a ley line in fact? That was the start of Harry’s search, and Harry thought that he most likely alignment in his network was the one running from Carron Fords to the Necropolis, where the bulls came to a halt at a cemetery previously consecrated by St. Ninian a century and a half before. Kentigern founded his church there, on the site that is now Glasgow Cathedral. It is thought that the original cemetery may lie under what is now the Blackadder Aisle.

Little is known about the early buildings on the site, but the present building was consecrated in 1197, following a major reconstruction after a fire. The remains of St. Mungo were interred in a specially-constructed tomb in the new crypt sometime in the mid-13th century.

This rapidly became such a place of pilgrimage that a special shrine and reliquary was constructed to contain some or all of the remains, and this was displayed upstairs in the main church just behind the high altar (directly above the tomb in fact). This was mainly done to enable an increased flow of pilgrims, and consequently an increased flow of cash into the Cathedral’s coffers. Long since dismantled, some of the stone supports for the shrine remain and are on display in the crypt.

Although the remains of Mungo were the main draw, the Cathedral in fact had several holy relics – a piece of the True Cross, a phial of Mary’s milk, a piece of the True Manger, plus several other items. Glasgow was a major site on the medieval pilgrimage trail. But that would soon change, with the coming of John Knox and the Reformation in Scotland.

Necropolis with John Knox statueThings get a bit confused during this turbulent period of Scottish history, but it seems that Cardinal Beaton, worried by the Reformist mobs who were attacking churches throughout the land, removed many of the Cathedral’s relics to France for protection. It is not clear if the bones of St. Mungo were among these as no trace of them has been found since. Another theory says that they were removed and reburied secretly in the necropolis, where a massive statue of John Knox now glowers over the Cathedral, or (as seems more likely) they were hidden somewhere else inside the Cathedral itself so that the saint’s influence would still be felt there.

Tomb of St. Mungo

So it was on a chilly January day that the pair of us visited the Cathedral, dowsing rods at the ready, and descended to the crypt, or ‘Lower Church’ as it’s properly known. I’d dowsed here once before, and it is an interesting place to dowse. The saint’s tomb dominates the lower church and is still venerated, even though it may be empty of his remains. A large energy line runs directly through it on the main axis of the church, and there are also water lines emanating from a blind spring underneath the tomb and flowing outwards, crossing under the well in the south-east corner. These water veins also define the positions of the doors and some other architectural features. This is most obvious from the outside, where you can easily see that the architecture is asymmetrical for no obvious reason. It is also immediately evident that the saint’s tomb, and the position of the shrine above, were placed to gain maximum effect from the power centre of the site; even at the expense of the High Altar, which you would usually expect to find on the power centre in a building like this.

Having dowsed and got an affirmative answer to the obvious opening question, “are the remains of Kentigern still in the crypt?”, we both went off separately to see what we could find.

Dai dowses the spot

Dai, who had previously dowsed this area, concentrated on the area immediately around the tomb. He seemed consistently drawn to a place just behind the main tomb on the axis of the building and was getting a strong reaction there.
I was trying to remain open to all possibilities and moved over a larger area, but I kept being drawn to a spot in the south aisle that didn’t seem related to anything else. The floor here has been much altered with the addition of heating and cabling ducts, but this spot seemed (to me at least) to be relatively undisturbed.

Grahame dowses the aisle As we had both obtained contrary results (not unusual for dowsers!), we regrouped to see if we could narrow things down a bit.
As usual, it came down to how we were picturing the object of our search. It transpired that I had been asking for ‘bones of St. Mungo’, whereas Dai had been focusing on ‘remains of St. Mungo’. Could we both be partially correct? After some more questioning with the pendulum, I concluded that I had been finding bones, whereas perhaps Dai had been locating some artefacts connected with the saint – some belongings or other holy relics perhaps, but not his actual bodily remains. When I tried again, fixing this time upon ‘holy relics associated with St. Mungo’, I got the same spot as Dai. When he dowsed at my spot, Dai also got a reaction for ‘bones of St. Mungo’.

Conclusion? A somewhat inconclusive piece of dowsing perhaps, but it isn’t an easy task to pick up on something that is at best a fairly abstract concept, and we haven’t ruled out the possibility that we both may be correct in some way. Dai has since gone back to speak to the staff at the cathedral, and has found out that both spots that we found have not been previously investigated, unlike almost all of the rest of the floor during installation of the heating and new wiring systems. Nobody has looked at those particular two places before, which is curious in itself.
We may never find out what’s under there, but who knows – maybe one day they will decide to lift a flagstone or two and have a look. The bones – and perhaps other relics of Kentigern – may yet lie awaiting discovery.

Grahame Gardner
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