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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Story of St. Mungo's Bell


JOCELIN, in his life of St. Kentigern, states that "the saint went seven times to Rome, and consulted the blessed Gregory concerning his state." He laid open, in their order, all the fortunes that had befallen him. But the holy pope, actuated by the spirit of counsel and discretion, as one who was full of the Holy Ghost, perceiving him to be a man of God, and full of the grace of the Holy Spitit, confirmed his election and consecration [to the SEE of Glasgow], because he knew that both of them had come from God. The holy bishop, Kentigern, returned home not only with the apostolical absolution and benediction, but also carrying along with him, as gifts, manuscripts of the canons, and numerous books of sacred Scripture.

No special mention is made of a bell, and it is surmised "that what became the traditional legend of the bell was, in all probability, of still later date than the work of Joce-’un. But although we have no deilnite information as to the way in which the saint obtained it, . . . it came to be universally believed that Kentigern had brought his bell with him from Rome. . . . At anyrate, in the begin-fling of the fifteenth century, ‘St. Mungo’s Bell’ had be-conic a notable institution in Glasgow, the ears of whose citizens must have been very familiar with its doleful sound. Endowments, generally of small annual sums, but in considerable number, were bequeathed to it, on condition of its being tolled throughout the city on a specified day in each year, the object being to secure the prayers of the inhabitants for the souls of the donors and their friends. Thus, in A.D. 1454, ‘John Stewart, the first provost that was in Glasgow,’ left to the prior and convent of the ‘Freres Pre-chouris’ (Dominicans or Black Friars) certain properties for this among other purposes....

"The ultimate fate of St. Mungo’s bell is, by us at least, unknown. The city treasurer’s accounts for A.D. 1578 exhibit an entry of two shillings ‘for ane tong to Sanct Mungous’s bell;’ and Camerarius, whose word is not worth much, writing about A.D. 1630, says that it still existed, and this, we suppose, is the last that has been heard of it."

The bell which appears on the early seals of our bishops, and also on one of the early seals of the community, is, without doubt, a representation of the bell of St. Mungo. It is a quadrangular bell—a form which denotes a very high antiquity. It was probably made of bronze, was used at the altar services, and was also rung through the streets for the souls of the departed, especially of those who had been beneficiaries of the Church. Prior to the Reformation, it was in the possession of the clerical dignitaries of the city, but after the spoliation of the Cathedral, it passed into the hands of the civic authorities.

On the 22nd October, 1640, an entry is recorded in the Town Council minutes, ordering a new bell. The minute runs as follows :—" Ordaines ye Dean of Gild to caus mak ane new deid bell to be rung for and before ye deid under hand."

Such is the story of the St. Mungo’s bell, which so long often and solemnly rang in the city that he founded, although the line in the popular rhyme on the city arms has it—" There’s the bell that never rang."


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