Who is St. Mungo?

Ever heard of St. Mungo?

Harry Potter fans might recognize the name as the fictional patron saint of St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.

In the real world, he’s everywhere — at least in Glasgow, Scotland. That’s because he’s the founder and patron saint of that city and was its first bishop.

Glasgow Coat of Arms (WikiMedia Commons)
Glasgow’s Coat of Arms features images, such as the three salmon, associated with St. Mungo. (WikiMedia Commons)

St. Mungo has even made the leap to pop culture. A giant mural painted last year by Glasgow graffiti artist Sam Bates (aka Smug ) on a gable row depicts a modern-day St. Mungo in realist form. (See featured image at top, photographed by me.)

The legend of St. Mungo says he was the illegitimate son of a princess. When her father found out, he threw her over a hill, but she floated down a river to land in Culross in Fife. Around 518, she gave birth to a son named Kentigern, who was raised by St. Serf.

St. Serf called the boy Mungo, meaning “my friend” or “dear one.” St. Mungo did missionary work and brought Christianity to the area in the sixth century before dying in the early seventh century.

The City of Glasgow’s coat of arms, according to TheGlasgowStory, bears symbols connected to St. Mungo:

  • The three salmon with rings in their mouth refers to a tale involving the sixth century Queen and King of Strathclyde (a Scottish kingdom). The queen had an affair with a young soldier, giving him a ring that the king had given to her. When the king found out, he threw the ring in the river, and then demanded that she produce the ring. She confessed to Bishop Mungo, who pledged his help. He sent someone to catch fish from the river. Mungo found the ring inside the salmon, giving it to the queen.
  • The oak tree with a bell hanging from it symbolizes a fire St. Mungo set using one of its branches.
  • The robin on top of the tree signifies a favorite of St. Serf’s that young St. Mungo revived after it was killed.
  • A phrase used by St. Mungo in a sermon was shortened to “Let Glasgow Flourish” to become the city’s official motto.

Some of the same symbols are incorporated into the University of Glasgow’s crest.

Visitors to Glasgow also will find a statue of him at the north entrance to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. His name graces the free St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life & Art housed in a 1989 building next to Glasgow Cathedral, where St. Mungo is buried.

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