Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

The History of Glasgow
Chapter XIX - Building of Glasgow Cathedral Resumed

AN important stage in the status of the Scottish Church was reached while Walter was bishop of Glasgow. In a Lateran Council held in November 1215, at which that Church was represented by the bishops of St. Andrews, Glasgow and Moray, a long series of disciplinary measures were passed, and it was enacted that throughout the Christian church metropolitans should hold provincial councils yearly to correct abuses, to reform morals and to enforce the statutes of general councils. The Scottish church had long before this been pronounced independent of the provinces of York and Canterbury, and had no metropolitan of its own to summon a provincial council, but by a Papal Bull, obtained in 1225, the Scottish bishops were authorized to hold such a council, by authority of the Apostolic see, without the co-operation of a papal legate or other outside assistance. Though the phraseology was ambiguous this authority was interpreted as of perpetual application, and from that time the Scottish church exercised the privilege of holding its own provincial councils, which all bishops, abbots and priors, were required to attend every year. [Statutes of Scottish Church (Scottish History Society), pp. xxxi-v.]

Most of the statutes passed by the Scottish provincial council are taken from those of general councils and from English and other sources, and the few special enactments are not always accommodated in any peculiar way to Scottish conditions; but there is at least one important resolution relative to the building of Glasgow Cathedral. Following on a regulation as to the reception of Pardoners coming to churches, on missions of the Pope or bishop, to grant indulgences on the gift of alms, it was ordained, as a thing to be kept steadily in view, that from the beginning of Lent until the Octave of Easter the scheme for the building of Glasgow church should, on all Sundays and feast days, be faithfully and earnestly brought before the parishioners, in every church, after the gospel at mass, and that an indulgence should be granted to those who contributed to the building scheme. It was also directed that the indulgences should be exhibited in writing in every church, and that the announcement should be publicly and distinctly recited to the parishioners in the common tongue. Contributions and the effects of persons dying intestate and also moneys piously bequeathed were to be faithfully collected and made over, without deductions, to the deans of the respective places at their next chapter-meetings; and no one was to authorize a collection in parish churches for any other scheme within the period specified. [Statutes of the Scottish Church (Scottish History Society), p. 25. This ordinance is said to have been granted in 1242 (Reg. Episc. p. xxviii).] Donations in money for the building and embellishment of the cathedral must have been profuse, but of these no record has been kept. In one case, however, where land was bestowed, the charters relating to the transaction have been recorded in the Register. Forveleth, the widowed countess of Lennox, designated as the daughter of Kerald, in exercise of her free power, during her widowhood, gave to God and Saint Kentigern the half quarter of the land called Hachenkerach, in the parish of Buthelulle, for sustentation of the building of the church of Glasgow, and that in free and perpetual alms, for the weal of her soul and of the souls of the earls of Lennox and of the souls of her and their ancestors and successors. The lands thus gifted were apparently part of those now embraced within the estate

of Auchincarroch, about two miles north-east of Alexandria, in the parish of Bonhill. The charter is not dated, but it was confirmed by Earl Maldouen, and both grant and ratification are supposed to have been penned about the year 1240. [Reg. Episc. Nos. 177-8; Scottish Abbeys and Cathedrals, p. 58.]

It is probable that each of the four Bishops next in sucession to Joceline had a hand in furthering the construction of the Cathedral choir, but in this work the chief share fell to Bishop Walter, whose episcopate extended from 1207 to 1232, and who is not only credited with completing that part of the Cathedral but is also believed to have made some progress with the nave and transepts. That in Walter's time the Cathedral had been put into a fairly efficient condition there is historical evidence to show, but strange to say the whole fabric disappeared without leaving any trace of the process whereby such a sweeping clearance was effected. Burning may have been the immediate agency or, as has been conjectured, the older material may have been designedly removed to make way for the magnificent choir and lower church which took its place under the direction of Walter's successor, but under what circumstances reconstruction began is a point of inquiry likely to remain obscure.

Bishop Walter died in 1232, and William de Bondington, at that time chancellor of the kingdom, [Before his appointment to the bishopric Bondington had been a canon of Glasgow Cathedral in the capacity of rector of Eddleston in Peeblesshire, and he had also held the office of archdeacon, either of Teviotdale or of St. Andrews, it is uncertain which. For fuller information regarding the bishop reference may be made to Dr. Primrose's Mediaeval Glasgow, pp. 16-33.] was elected his successor in the same year. He was consecrated by the Bishop of Moray at Glasgow on Sunday, 11th September, 1233, and he held the episcopate for twenty-five years after that date. The new buildings undertaken by Bishop William, consisting chiefly of the choir and lower church, which remain till the present day, were carried on with remarkable expedition, and it is thought that they may have been completed during his lifetime.

[In his Glasgow Cathedral (1901) Mr. P. Macgregor Chalmers thus describes the building:—"The choir is five bays long, and the arches are of greater span than those in the nave. The east end is square, with a column in the centre of the wall. The unique feature in the plan is the Chapel of the Four Altars, to the east of the choir and of the high altar. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the whole design, the columns and arches being exceedingly graceful, and the details of the windows and walls of great richness. The plan appealed to the designer of Roslyn Chapel, and he copied it in 1450. There appears to be no reason to doubt that the architect of the choir at Glasgow was familiar with the great work projected by his contemporary at Durham —the Chapel of the Nine Altars. The chapels occupy similar positions and serve similar purposes, and a study of the two works reveals that there is much in common. The Bishop of Glasgow subscribed to the new fabric at Durham, and he granted a twenty days' indulgence to all who would contribute towards the work.

The main piers in the Glasgow choir are elaborately moulded, the capitals are richly carved, and the arches are decorated with a splendid series of small mouldings set in relief by the deep hollows between. The second storey, or Triforium, is a beautiful design, of a double arched opening within a pointed arch. The clear-storey is treated as a simple arcade richly moulded. The outstanding feature in the work is the elaborate character of the mouldings. There is very little sculpture work. The east window is of four tall lancets, and the aisle windows are of three lights, under a single arch, the plate of stone over the lights being pierced with cusped openings. The Sacristy door is at the north-east corner of the Chapel of the Four Altars, where there is a staircase leading from the lower church to the Triforium. There was another door at the west end of the north aisle, which led to the room called the Hall of the Vicar's Choral. This building no longer exists; the doorway is built up, and the sill of the window above has been lowered and made uniform with the other sills. The aisles are vaulted in stone. This work is very interesting because of the number of coats of arms which have been introduced, all brilliantly gilded and coloured.

The plan of the lower church closely follows the plan of the choir. The Chapel of the Four Altars is repeated ; but, instead of the piers being detached, they are connected to the east wall by screens of stone. The altars were dedicated to SS. Nicholas, Peter and Paul, Andrew, and John. St. Mungo's Well stands in St. John's Chapel. The door to the Chapter-house, in the north-east corner of St. Nicholas' Chapel, is the most elaborately decorated work in the cathedral.

The side aisles of the lower church are vaulted in stone of a simple design. The centre aisle, in the arrangement of the pillars and in the design of the vaulting, presents features of great interest. The task set the architect was to distinguish both the new site of the High Altar in the choir above, and the site of the old Altar and Shrine of St. Mungo. An open compartment was formed at the east end, equal in width to two divisions of the vaulting in the aisles. In this compartment we may now identify the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The vault was richly decorated with moulded ribs and carved bosses in great profusion.

There are four carvings on the bosses in the vaulting of the north aisle, near the north porch, which merit special attention. Their great beauty of design and execution justifies the opinion that Gothic art at its best, approximated to the perfection of Greek art. And these have a further interest in addition to their beauty if, as appears probable, they are portraits of great benefactors to the cathedral. One of the bosses is carved with a woman's face, of rare beauty, sunk in the centre of a wreath of leaves. A man's face is carved in the other boss. His hair is peculiarly dressed. It is worn long at the back, but is fashioned in front with a plaited and curled fringe, which hangs stiff and square upon the brow. The nobles are shown with their hair dressed in this fashion in an illustrated life of S. Thomas the Martyr, drawn by a Frenchman in England between the years 1230 and 1260. It is probable that we have in these two carvings portraits of Isabella de Valoniis and Sir David Comyn, her husband. Her magnificent gift to the cathedral [referred to postea, p. iio], was made before 1250. To these two portraits must be added the portrait of the great builder-bishop, William de Bondington, and, on another boss, the portrait of King Alexander II., who died in 1249" (Glasgow Cathedral (1901), pp. L3-15).]

Other works, at different parts of the building, such as the south and west porches of the nave, the walls and pillars of the low building on the south transept, and some parts of the chapter-house, appear also to have been executed about this time. Experts recognize that the style of work, which is of a pure English type, is marked by a strong individuality, and the unknown architect is acknowledged to have been no copyists. [Glasgow Cathedral (1901), pp. 15, 16.] A durable sandstone was employed, which may have been obtained from what was latterly known as the Cracklinghouse Quarry, the site of which is now occupied by the Queen Street station of the North British Railway Company.

Having done so much in rearing the structure of the cathedral and fitting it for religious services, the Bishop turned his attention to the services themselves, and shortly before his death, while residing at his country seat of Ancrum in Roxburghshire, he, with consent of his chapter, granted a charter whereby the liberties and customs of Sarum (Salisbury) were established as the future constitution of Glasgow cathedral. Bishop Osmund of Sarum had, in 1076, composed a ritual which was very generally adopted in other churches, and it seems to have been used in Glasgow. Perhaps the constitution and customs of Sarum had likewise been followed to some extent ; but definite information regarding these were now procured, and the rules laid down with greater precision. In the church of Sarum there were four principal dignitaries—the dean, the chanter, the chancellor, and the treasurer ; four archdeacons, and also a sub-dean and sub-chanter. In Glasgow there were only two archdeacons, one for Glasgow proper, and the other for Teviotdale; but other office-bearers were the same in Glasgow as in Sarum. It was the dean's office to preside over the canons and vicars in the rule of souls and the correction of morals ; to hear all causes belonging to the chapter, and to decide by the judgment of the chapter ; to correct the excesses of clerics ; and, after fit consideration, to punish the parsons according to the gravity of the offence and the quality of the offenders. The canons received institution from the bishop, but possession of the prebends from the dean. The dean assigned to the canons their stalls in the choir and their places in the chapter. The office of the chanter was to guide the choir, to appoint the singers and the ministers of the altar, and to admit the boys into the choir, and superintend their instruction and discipline. The chancellor had to bestow care in regulating the schools, and repairing and correcting the books, to examine and prescribe the lessons, to keep the seal of the chapter, to compose its letters and charters and to read the letters requiring to be read in the chapter. The treasurer had to preserve the ornaments and treasure of the church, to manage the lights, and also the great paschal wax, to maintain the bells and ornaments providing all necessaries, to supply bread and wine, and candles

to the altars, and incense, coal, straw, and bulrushes for the church. The subdean took the place of the dean in his absence, and the sub-chanter similarly acted for his principal, and likewise superintended the song school. [Reg. Episc. No. 211.]

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus