Glasgow Cathedral Precinct

Walk Glasgow Cathedral Precinct
and the cobbled roots of our spirituality

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The Lowdown | History | Attractions | Getting there

Continue to Glasgow Cathedral | Provand's Lordship
St. Mungo Museum | Necropolis

The Street of the Auld Firm

Glasgow Cathedral Precinct

Ever heard about the Old Firm, the historic rivalry between the football teams of Glasgow Celtic and Glasgow Rangers, the roots of which are thought commonly to have burrowed their way from the times of King William of Orange and the gruesome Battle of the Boyne in 1690, until they became mangled in terrorised Irish soil more recently?

Ever heard the way the City has long been tarnished by an ugly, sectarian divide between Catholics and Protestants?

Well, walking the Glasgow Cathedral Precinct will help you understand what really lies beneath the whole sorry tale, why I think that this spiritual and sporting chasm that's extended beneath our surface for more years than has been necessary, and which is evident in the stadiums and streets of Glasgow to this day, has remained wide open by nothing more than deep confusion and a lack of education.

For neutrals, it really is a fascinating story about Glasgow that'll enrich your experience here. For Glaswegians, it's just embarrassing. And when I say 'Glaswegians', I'm including only those of us truly inspired by the thought that the sectarian divideisn't what makes Glasgow unique, that it isn't something to sing about, that whilst it may well be part of our history, we should've moved on a long time ago!

Yes siree, heavy stuff it might be, but despite the complete silence about sectarianism in most of the glossy websites about Glasgow, sectarianism bubbles under our skin nonetheless, and in my mind if you want to learn what Glasgow's really about, why it's more than just the architecture that holds us in place, then it's absolutely imperativethat you spend some time introducing yourself not only to the genuinely admirable diversity of our people, but also to the pointless bigotry and prejudice that gives us a really bad name.

Once you learn a little about that, I guarantee that you'll enjoy & engage more with the buildings you wander around in the Glasgow Cathedral Precinct, and return to your life with a story to tell rather than just a few great photos.

So here's a wee introduction to the whole thing & a little history behind Glasgow Cathedral Precinct...

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Looks good, shame about the story behind it!

The Glasgow Cathedral

The Glasgow Cathedral Precinct houses amongst other things our oldest building (the Glasgow Cathedral), what's commonly thought to be our oldest house (the Provand's Lordship), the St. Mungo Museum of World Religion & Visitor Centre, and the Victorian Glasgow Necropolis graveyard (not as creepy as you'd think!).

It might sound at first like yet another street of old buildings that blend in with all the other old buildings you've seen on the planet. I mean, if we're being really honest, what's in a building? Bricks, windows, dust? We walk around them only able to guesswhat it might have been like as history unfolded in their midst all those years ago. We take photos, read some leaflets, move on.

So why spend even a few hours walking the Glasgow Cathedral Precinct, when you could be learning more about our famous fascination with the pub or the football? Why spend time there when all the history these buildings have witnessed has already happened, leaving only the bricks behind, a faint whisper you can't hear or understand without having lived in the past, a memory typed out insultingly in gloss on the travel guide you hold absently in your hand?

Because here, right here on this street, you'll have the chance to learn what makes Glasgow tick today. The history of the present.

It started quietly -

  • It was here, at the Molendinar Burn that our patron Saint, our 'head chief' St. Kentigern (a.k.a. St. Mungo - 'dear friend') established his church in the late 6th & early 7th centuries, around which developed the community of Glaschu ('beloved green place', thought to signify where the church was built).

  • It was here, in this originally Roman Catholic Cathedral, that St. Mungo himself is buried; this, a building Pope Nicholas V declared in 1451 as a place of pilgrimage only Rome could equal, before he permitted the Cathedral to create Glasgow University, the 4th oldest university in the English-speaking world.

  • It was here in 1560 & later years when Parliament consigned the Catholic religion to the flames & formalised protestantism, that the organised trades of Glasgow locked arms around the Cathedral to protect it from the destructive, baying mob of the Protestant Reformation (which began with John Wycliffe and then amongst others Martin Luther, a German monk, in 1517 who 'protested' - hence the name - not against a belief in God, but merely against the way the Pope governed the Church, and which spread unfortunately into a virulent organism bent on cleaving from the world any remnants of Catholicism before landing here, perhaps unintentionally, when King Henry VIII had the Bible translated into English & placed in every church, and then in Scotland when the Calvinist John Knox, author of The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women (!), was authorised to found the Church of Scotland).

  • It was here, following the Reformation as the City began to tear free from her spiritual roots and towards a more secular way of life, becoming in time the spectacular Second City of the British Empire, that the area surrounding the Cathedral began to crumble and die, forgotten inch by inch in our industrial rush to become one of the richest cities in the world.

  • And it's here today you'll stand in the Glasgow Cathedral Precinct, gloriously restored but surrounded by unimaginative architecture and an East End of the City disturbingly ignored in our push to the top, where you might begin to understand where Glasgow went wrong.

So far so good? I hope I've not bored you completely to tears yet! Here's a wee picture for you to break up the monotony...

Cathedral Precinct Glasgow

Printed with kind permission of Francis Roberts Architects.

My home town's packed with a diversity you'll see in every large City in the world, all cultures, colours, creeds, but that's not what has come to define Glasgow in the eyes of her citizens.

All the history I've mentioned, everything that started symbolically right here on this street, has filtered through time and created a divide (known as 'sectarianism') between the citizens of Glasgow, sometimes wide, sometimes narrow, sometimes dangerous, sometimes just a wee joke, but on each side of that divide, most folks haven't the foggiest idea why the divide's there in the first place!

It's like this. If an alien were to descend on our streets, it would scratch its head (if it had a head) and stare open-mouthed (if it had a mouth) in unsurpassed perplexity at all the Catholics and Protestants, who believe in the same God, squabbling only about how He should be worshipped. It would wonder (if it had a brain) why they did all this squabbling business whilst at the same time, in the main, having no understanding whatsoever about why they were doing it, why it wouldn't just be less hassle to get along & enjoy life.

And it would jump back into its spaceship (if it had a spaceship) and tell all its friends back home about this wierd green place in which the vast majority of its citizens were so confused about their beliefs, so lazily indoctrinated & entrenched, that they focussed their futile hatred of each other by joining without thought their family and their friends in supporting two different football teams (Celtic & Rangers), and by singing monosyllabically every chance they get a swathe of varyingly offensive songs about Ireland & England, Palestine & Israel, the meanings of which totally escaped them.

And yes, all the aliens would laugh and laugh.

Sectarianism in Glasgow

See, like the buildings on it that have surrendered to time and which stand no more, the lessons from the history of Glasgow Cathedral Precinct have also deteriorated. Celtic fans sing '...and if you know your history...', but most of our Catholics and Protestants (and I'm including those intelligent enough to know better) grow out of their school uniforms and put to one side any knowledge they may have been taught about the foundations of their beliefs, moving on through their lives thinking only that they're Catholic, Protestant, a Celtic fan, a Rangers fan, and as a result, that it's perfectly normal for them to maintain & spread like overly-churned butter their obtuse dislike and distrust of the other half, even if, as happens on a regular basis, they no longer believe in a God or are past caring.

Glasgow forgot long ago that she was built from faith in a Higher Power, in love and humanity regardless of belief. Everything else that came after it, all the non-conformity, the self-doubt, violence, greed, the pointless fragmentation of folks who should have had better things to do, all of that stuff -


The sheer futility of the historical events that cultivated such sectarianism could be described as follows -

Me: Hi there, I'm a fan of Manchester Utd Football Club.
You: Well, so am I. But I don't agree with the way you're supporting Man Utd, so I'm going to sit away from you in the stadium, call myself a Reformed Man Utd Fan, sing some different songs, but hey, whatever our beef I hope Man Utd win the Cup!

Like I say, pointless! Surely it doesn't matter a jot how either of us support the team?

However (and this is a big 'however'), we're learning. There are organisations and institutions, including Celtic & Rangers Football Clubs themselves, that are attempting to curb sectarianism, to rid the City once and for all of this crayon line down the middle. But they won't manage to do it completely in my lifetime, not a chance, as there's generations of stupidity whose bequest of hatred needs to be washed away, reversed and relearned in school and in society, before finally (cue the gasps) we become the Glasgow our tourist industry likes to paint so eloquently for you.

It'll take countless years before Glaswegians come to agree that in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't matter a hoot how or even whether a Higher Power is worshipped, and that actually (and this is for those of you who'll think I'm just pointing the finger at Protestants here), the only thing that's important is humanity.

St Mungo Museum Glasgow

Until we reach that point though, the buildings of Glasgow Cathedral Precinct will continue to stand as they've stood down the years, watching life go on despite what people say, wondering what all the fuss is about, and maybe some day years from now when that crazy alien comes back in his spaceship, he'll actually like the look of what he sees and invite his friends to visit!

Heavy stuff for a wee travel guide eh? I really hope I've not reduced you to tears with this, as it's just a little introduction, some thoughts about Glasgow Cathedral Precinct and its place in our lives that I think you might want to know when you're walking about here.

I think of this street and see the ruinous desire for money that almost destroyed the soul of its surroundings. I see the divide in my home town, the sectarianism borneright here around the Cathedral all those years back, something we'd prefer you not to know about but which we understand will hang in the air like a bad smell until we breathe no more. It's resulted in years of death, intimidation and insult. It's cloaked itself in football scarves and the flags of other countries.

It's given Glasgow a reputation which has belied for too long the best of what she offers the world. And as I watch all the tourists gaze blankly at the architecture, taking their photos and moving on, I see that if there's one thing you should take from a visit to Glasgow Cathedral Precinct, it's that the history of a place should never be forgotten.

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So enough of all this mince - what's there to see?!!

Oldest House Glasgow

Hey there, don't worry yourself about all that stuff I've been going on about! Like I say, all of this sectarian nonsense is mostly under the surface - these days most of it's just displayed as a joke, banter between idiots. I realise what a bleak picture I've been drawing about Glasgow here, so I'll add in that it's actually as safe as any other place you visit & you definitely won't need your pepper spray to walk Glasgow Cathedral Precinct!

If you put all that nonsense to one side therefore, from an architectural point of view the Glasgow Cathedral Precinct is of itself nothing short of breathtaking.

I'd recommend starting your visit to Glasgow Cathedral Precinct at the Provand's Lordship, then crossing the street to the St Mungo Museum, then heading inside Glasgow Cathedral and finally to the Necropolis. Check out the links on this page for more information on these attractions.

You can also spend time around the area and have a look at the awesome structure of the Glasgow Royal Infirmary hospital, the Barony Church on the High Street (where I graduated from university, wet behind the ears!), the Barony North Glasgow Evangelical Church on Cathedral Square, or the historical delights of Townhead where my Dad grew up, including Martyrs School in Parson Street which was designed by a young Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and also St. Mungo's Church again on Parson Street.

Like I say, if you're interested in learning more about the real origins of our City, Glasgow Cathedral Precinct and its surroundings is definitely the place to start.

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How to get to Glasgow Cathedral Precinct

It's not difficult to find Glasgow Cathedral Precinct, you'll be pleased to know.

From George Square, head away from the City Centre on George Street, passing the City Chambers on your right, until you reach the High Street, at which point turn left, go up the hill and you won't miss it. It's a ten minute walk at a leisurely pace.

Here's a wee map to get you headed in the right direction, and if you need anything else, just give me a shout.

Once you're done wandering around Glasgow Cathedral Precinct and so on, or if you find yourself in need of a bite to eat & drink, the Merchant City to the right of the High Street will give you plenty of options so you should be OK.

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So I hope you've enjoyed this little introduction to the Glasgow Cathedral Precinct. I hope it wasn't too heavy for you at this time of the day - it was for me so don't hold back there - I'm off for a wee lie down and a glass of milk to settle all this buzzing in my napper!

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