The Cathedral, pp.104-116.

[Old Glasgow Contents]

It is not my purpose, nor would my limits permit me, to write a topographical history of Glasgow, I must confine myself to a few notices of its principal buildings in the olden time, and of the wonderful progress of the city.

As originally built after the restoration of the see, Glasgow consisted of only a small cluster of residences near the Cathedral and the bishop’s castle. All around was muirland and forest. At first the only access from the south side of the river was by a ford, but at a very early period a bridge was constructed, probably of wood, on or near the site of the old Stockwell Bridge. It had been supposed by some of our local historians that this last-mentioned bridge, which was constructed by Bishop Rae in 1345, was the first ever erected over the Clyde at Glasgow; but this was certainly not the case, as in a charter dated sixty years earlier – namely in 1285 – mention is made of the pons de clud. The above view of Bishop Rae’s Bridge is from an engraving published by the Foulis’s in 1761.*


From a very early period – long anterior to the present Cathedral – there must have been a church at or near the spot where Kentigern resided. The first church no doubt was a very humble structure, but we have no record of what it was previous to the twelfth century. David having refounded the see and appointed John to be bishop, that prelate proceeded to rebuild the old church which he found there, and the new structure was dedicated on the nones [7th] of July, 1136. A great part of it was probably of wood, and not long afterwards it was destroyed by fire. Bishop Jocelin, who was consecrated in 1174, probably repaired this original structure. He certainly added to it, and he founded a society to collect funds for the purpose. For this he obtained the royal sanction and protection, by a charter granted by William the Lion in 1190, in which the king states that the original erection had been destroyed by fire “in these our days.” In the year 1197 the new Cathedral was dedicated.

Professor Innes speaks of the church thus erected as the present Cathedral, although not completed at the date of the dedication, and this has been for a long time the general belief, but I have become satisfied that it was not so. There is, I think, every reason to believe that the present magnificent structure was only commenced to be built by Bishop Bondington, who was consecrated in 1233, and this is the result arrived at, after a critical investigation, by Mr. Honeyman, whose eminence as an architect, and attainments as an archæologist, entitle his opinion to the greatest respect.1 Mr. Honeyman made a more careful examination of the structure, and a more strict comparison of its styles of architecture than appears to have been done before, and the conclusion at which he arrived was that the only portion which remains of the building consecrated in 1197 is a small pillar and part of the vaulting in the south-west corner of the crypt. This, as Mr. Honeyman points out, belongs to the transitional style. At the supposed time of the building of the present Cathedral the style in which it is erected was not even in existence. The architecture of the present building is early English, of a fully developed type, and the very oldest examples of that style, even in England, were not erected till after 1190.2 Apart from this, there is no reason to doubt that the church which was dedicated in 1197 was, at that date, a completed structure. It is described as a building which Bishop Jocelin “ipse novam construxerat” – terms which could not properly be applied to a building then, as Mr. Innes supposes, still only in the course of erection.

All the probabilities indeed go to show that the building so dedicated by Jocelin in 1197 was of a temporary character, to be superseded by a grander structure, and that sometime after the year 1238 the erection of the present Cathedral was commenced by Bishop Bondington. In all probability the crypt and choir were completed in his time. That he was engaged in extensive building operations, and not in mere additions, is rendered probable by the fact that in 1242 – forty-five years after the dedication of Jocelin’s Church – there is an ordinance for a national collection annually during Lent, in aid of the new building, then in progress; and more than thirty years later, namely in 1277, under the episcopate of Robert Wyschard, there is evidence that the work was still unfinished. In that year we find among the Glasgow charters a deed by the Lord of Luss, by which, in consideration of a sum of money paid to him, he makes a grant of timber from his forests in Dumbartonshire for building a steeple and treasury, campanile et thesauraria; and later still there is a grant by King Edward to Bishop Wyschard for the same purpose. The wooden spire erected with the timber from Luss was, in the year 1400, struck by lightning and totally consumed. The erection of a stone structure to supply its place was immediately projected, and the work was begun and carried at least as far as the first battlement by Bishop Lauder, who died in 1425. It was continued and probably completed by his successor, Bishop Cameron, whose episcopate lasted till the year 1446.3

The crypt is the finest in the kingdom. the annexed view of a portion of it is from an original drawing by the late Mr. Kemp, the architect of the Scott monument in Edinburgh.


The nave was no doubt added subsequently to the crypt and choir, although there appears to be no means for determining the date; and the massive and imposing square tower,** which till recently stood at the north-west end of the Cathedral, must have been commenced and finished immediately afterwards. Mr. Billings, indeed, is of opinion that the west doorway of the nave, and the lower stage of that tower, were the oldest portions of the Cathedral.4 Be that as it may, the tower was undoubtedly of great antiquity. It was 120 feet high, and on each side near the top were two fine windows with rounded arches. In the upper part of the tower were some curious grotesque sculptures. These are now lying in the crypt below the chapter-house. On the opposite or south-west corner of the nave stood also, till recently, another important erection in all probability coeval with the tower. This was the Consistory house. It had no doubt been intended for a tower, but it was not carried up, having been finished with gables. In the ancient records it is called the library house of the Cathedral. It was a highly picturesque building, supported by buttresses, and lighted on the south side by a variety of windows, square headed and pointed; and it was specially interesting as the place where the bishops held their ecclesiastical courts, and where the records of the diocese were preserved. Both buildings, apart from their antiquity, were valuable as adding greatly to the beauty of the Cathedral, and the tower was really essential to the proper balance of the structure.

Yet, incredible as it may appear, these two interesting and important parts of the Cathedral – the tower and the consistory house – both at the time in the most perfect state of preservation, were, within the last forty years, pulled down by order of Her Majesty’s First Commissioner of Works, in the course of certain operations professing to have for their object the improvement and restoration of the Cathedral! This was done at the instigation of certain individuals in Glasgow whose want of taste was only equalled by their ignorance, and among them, with shame be it told, were the then Lord Provost and magistrates of the city. Mr. Billings condemns the removal of the tower as an act of barbarism, and I have never met an artist or an archæologist, or any other person having a reputation for good taste, who did not share his opinion. A remonstrance against the outrage was presented to the magistrates at the time, subscribed by a number of gentlemen, comprising probably every one in the city competent to form an opinion on the subject – ten of them being architects – but it was of no avail. The late Mr. McLellan, who wrote an account of the Cathedral, and who was one of those who instigated the act of sacrilege, sought to excuse the removal of the tower on the ground that it was of a date later than the nave, yet he himself ascribes it to the time of Bishop Bondington – that is to the thirteenth century – a period sufficiently remote surely to have saved it from the profane hands of modern empirics.

The evidences of the great antiquity both of the tower and the Consistory house or library, are abundant. At the time of the Reformation the whole structure, as is well known, was saved by the spirit and good sense of the trades of Glasgow, from the violence incited by the ministers, which, under the pretext of putting down idolatry, would have made it share the fate of the other grand old ecclesiastical monuments of Scotland. But although thus saved, the building had, during the troublous times which preceded and accompanied the Reformation, been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair, and one of the first acts of the magistrates, when quieter times came, was to save it from falling into ruin. The minutes of the town council, towards the end of the sixteenth century, and in the beginning of the seventeenth, are full of entries recording the efforts made in this direction by the magistrates in conjunction with the citizens, and it will be found that the western tower and the consistory house shared their attention, as ancient portions of the fabric, deserving their care equally with the nave and choir. This is so important as to deserve more than a passing notice.

It was not the duty of the magistrates to uphold the church; but, as true archæologists, they had a reverence for it as a great national monument – in this respect presenting a contrast to their degenerate successors of the nineteenth century. Very soon after the Reformation, accordingly, we find them summoning the representatives of the crafts, and some of the leading citizens, to consult with them on the subject, and under date 21st August, 1574, the following interesting minute occurs in their records. I quote from the volume of extracts so well edited by Dr. Marwick: “The provest baillies and sounsale with the dekynnis of the crafts, and divers wtheris honest men of the toun, convenand in the counsal hous, and haveand respect and consideration unto the greit dekaye and ruyne that the hie kirk of Glasgw is cum to throuch taking awaye of the leid, sclait, and wther grayth thairof in thir trublus tyme bygane, sua that sick ane greit monument will alluterlie fall doun and dekey without it be remedit, and becaus the helping thairof is so greit, and will extend to mair nor thai may spair, and that they are nocht addettit to the vphalding and repairing thairof be the law, yit of thair awin fre willis vncompellit, and for the zele thai beir to the kirk, of meir almous and liberalite, sua that induce na practik nor preparative in tymes cuming, conforme to ane writting to be maid thairanent, all in ane voce has consentit to ane taxt and impositioun of twa hundredtht pundis money to be taxt and payit be the tounschip and fremen thairof for helping to repair the said kirk and haldyng it wattirfast.”

On a subsequent date, 10th December, 1581, the magistrates are joined by “the superintendent, with the deyne of facultie, principall of the college, and others members of the kirk,” and there is farther discussion as to the “rwyng and decay of the kirk.”

A later minute, 26th July, 1589, records that complaint had been made by “the ministers, elderis, deaconis and vtheris of the toun for non-repairing of the Hie Kirk according to the charges and ordinances maid thairanent,” and arrangements are made for raising money for the repair of “the queir.” On the same occasion it is recorded that Lord Blantyre attended and offered to contribute 400 merks towards the expense.

The funds thus raised appear to have been altogether inadequate for the purpose, as a still later minute, 29th April, 1609, bears that “Maister John Bell and Robert Scot, ordiner ministeris of this burgh and citie,” attended the council “to deploir the present hurt of the High Kirk and metropolitan of this diocie, and apperand rowen thairof;” and it is resolved to ask help of the king, besides promoting a voluntary subscription. In this way more funds were raised and the work was proceeded with.

The choir would probably be first repaired, but the western tower is specially treated as part of the structure which had fallen into decay. Under date 15th May, 1624, there is a minute in these terms:- “The provest, baillies, and counsall ordanis that the laich steple of the Heich Kirk [the western tower] be theikit with leid.” On a subsequent date, 16th August, 1628, the treasurer is ordained to have a warrant for the balance of £178, 15s. “debursed for poynting the tua stipillis of the Metropolitan Kirk” – that is, the centre spire and the western tower. And again on 18th October, 1628, a warrant is granted to the treasurer for forty merks for “beitting and repairing the laich stipill of the Metropolitan Kirk.”

The consistory house, which, as I have said, was probably coeval with the tower, had, through age, fallen into still greater decay, and it required a more extensive repair. A minute of the town council of date 5th April, 1628, bears that “the proveist, bailyeis, and counsell has condescendit and aggreit that James Colquhoun, wricht, and John Boyid, masoun, build and repair the dekayet pairtis of the Librarie hous of the Hie Kirk, putt the ruiff thairon, geist and lost the samyn, and theik the samyn with leid, and do all thingis necessar thairto for 3100 merk.”

All this shows that the western tower and the consistory house were, so far back as nearly three hundred years ago, regarded then as part of the ancient structure, and deserving of preservation equally with the other parts of the Cathedral. I have already stated that there is every reason for believing that the western tower was erected immediately after the nave. Indeed it made be said to have been coeval with it. Of this there is proof in a piece of real evidence which has been communicated to me by Mr. Honeyman. “I was told,” he writes me, “by one who examined it at the time, that the jambs of the west window of the north aisle, which was covered up by the tower, were found when exposed to be quite fresh. There was no chase cut for glazing, and evidently the window had never been used before the erection of the tower.” The inference from this is obvious. If the tower did not form part of the original design, its erection must have been resolved on before the nave was completed, and it was built before even the window of the north aisle required to be glazed.

Such were the portions of our grand old minster which were pulled down in the middle of the nineteenth century. Every archæologist – every person with any taste or knowledge of architecture has condemned it. Dr. Wilson, after referring to “the rich groining springing from large half figures of angels bearing shields and scrolls of the west tower,” observes truly that its removal, “for the purpose of restoring the west front to a uniformity, but poorly repays the idea of size and elevation formerly conveyed by the contrast between the central and west towers.”5

One excuse put forward for the removal of the tower and the Consistory house was that they were to be replaced by two finer towers, as if anything modern could supply the loss of such venerable relics of a past age. It is said that a fund was partly raised, and a government grant promised towards the erection of these towers, but if so, nothing came of it, and the mutilated building remains, a disgrace to the city, and a monument of bad taste and ignorance.

To my friend Mr. W. L. Leitch, one of the greatest of living artists, and himself a Glasgow man, and one who deplores the outrage by which the Cathedral was mutilated, I am indebted for the beautiful drawing of the western tower and Consistory house which is prefixed to the present volume. The annexed view of the Lady Chapel is from an original drawing by the late Mr. Kemp.


The see of Glasgow was one of great dignity and influence, and its cathedral was held in very high reputation. The general jubilee proclaimed in 1450 on the termination of the great papal schism was extended to Scotland, and penitential visits and offerings at the Cathedral of Glasgow were declared equally meritorious with those at Rome.6

As might be inferred from the importance of the see, and the extent of its possessions and endowments, the church was richly furnished with ornaments, jewels, and vestments, and its “library house” contained what would then be considered a pretty extensive collection of books. A catalogue of these and of the ornaments, vestments, and other items belonging to the cathedral has been preserved.7 But none of the religious houses possessed extensive libraries. A catalogue exists of the books of the priory of Lochleven, and it comprises only seventeen volumes, and among them there is not one complete copy of the Bible. In the list, however, which we have of the books of the Cathedral of Glasgow 165 volumes are particularized, many of them distinguished as being solennes, auro illuminati, magni voluminis, &c., indicating that they were rare and expensive books. Among them were some fine Bibles – one of them pulcra bene illuminata. There were also Concordances and Psalters, several lives of the saints, including a life of St. Kentigern and one of Servanus, several costly missals, a number of works in theology and philosophy, but very few of the classics. One exceptionally important work there was, a Catholicon, or Great Dictionary of the Latin Tongue, compiled by Johannes Balbus Januensis, described as valde preciosum et solenne. There are two manuscript copies of this work in the Hunterian Museum at Glasgow, each in two immense volumes. The collection did not contain a single book in the Greek language. All these books were distinguished in the catalogue by their colours, size, number of volumes, or the place where they were deposited, some being chained, and others preserved in chests and presses. In the same old catalogue one of the breviaries is described as being outside of the choir – chained, no doubt, for the use of the general public, few of whom probably were capable of taking advantage of it. Other books are mentioned as chained both in the choir and in the library. This collection is all now lost or scattered. In a minute of the town council of 20th September, 1660, Bailie Pollock reports “that he had gottin in from James Porter the thrie great Bybilles belongs to the kirks, and that they are now lying in the clarkes chamber.” But these were in all likelihood English versions belonging to a much later period – probably the first large folio of 1611, or other folio editions of the version now in use.

The Cathedral possessed, besides its books and vestments, many relics. In an inventory of these, and of the vestments and ornaments, which was made by order of the bishop and chapter in 1432, we find, among other items, two linen bags containing part of the bones of St. Kentigern and St Thomas of Canterbury; a small phial of silver-gilt containing a portion of the girdle of the blessed Virgin Mary, and a piece of the crib of our Lord. To these and the other relics many offerings were made. In the accounts of the Lord High Treasurer in 1495 there is a charge of xiiijs. given to James IV. “to offir to the reliquis in Glasgw.”8 The vestments and ornaments would appear from the inventory to have been of more than usual magnificence.

The interior of the Cathedral was enriched with many beautiful altars and sculptures. There were also many richly decorated altars in the crypt. In 1290 Robert, a burgess of Glasgow, and Elizabeth his wife, give a tenement for the augmentation of the Light of St. Mary the Virgin in “le crudes” – the crypt.9 And in 1460 David Hynde, a burgess, gives an annual of twelve pence to sustain the lights of St. Mary and St. Kentigern in the crypt.10 The altars in the choir and nave were very numerous, and each of them had a separate endowment. There were besides endowments for the general services of the Cathedral.11

The windows were no doubt filled with painted glass, and the stalls were richly decorated. There is preserved a contract, in the year 1506, between the dean and chapter and one Mychall Waghorn, wright, for the repair of five of the stalls, and making a covering for them of carved work, the details of which are given in a separate schedule, in the vernacular. It includes “schorne and kerset work, and colums, and anglis, and frontellis fiellis with knoppis, and four lefis about ilk knop, sik lik as is in the chapell of Striviling,” with other details. Michael was to have for the work 40 merks, a considerable sum for that time, considering that the dean and chapter were besides to do the sawing of the larger “burdis and treis,” and also to find the stuff for the scaffolding.12

All this beautiful work, with the altars and their ornaments, the sculptures and the painted glass, disappeared at the Reformation. Indeed the whole structure, as already mentioned, very narrowly escaped destruction at that time. The magistrates, probably against their own judgment, but instigated by Andrew Melville and others of the ministers, agreed to demolish the Cathedral, and workmen were actually convened for a particular day to commence the work. But the crafts of the city assembled with arms in their hands “swearing with many oaths that he who did cast doun the first stone should be buried under it.” The magistrates were compelled to yield, but they cited the leaders, and threatened them with punishment. The young king, however, on being appealed to, took the part of the crafts, and prohibited the ministers, who were the complainers, “to meddle any more in that business, saying that too many churches had already been destroyed, and that he would not tolerate more abuses of that kind.”13

But the crafts were unable to save what would have been so dear to the archæologist – the altars and ornaments. An order by the Lords for the destruction of the images and altars was obtained, but it was granted with the proviso that “ʒe tak guid heyd that neither the dask, windocks, nor durris be ony wise hurt or broken – either glassin wark or iron wark.” Nevertheless, all the painted glass was destroyed,14 with many other decorations, and some of the beautiful windows of the choir were roughly built up with stone, to save the expense of putting other glass in them. The nave also fell into complete disrepair. I have told how much had been accomplished by the citizens to remedy this state of matters, but in 1638 a great deal remained to be done. In the prospect of the famous General Assembly which was held in Glasgow in that year, the magistrates – ashamed no doubt of the state into which the church had fallen – made an effort to put it into better order. It was the only place in which the Assembly could meet, and in view of so many distinguished strangers coming to the city they were naturally anxious to make both the church, and the city generally, look respectable. With this object they ordered that all poor people should be kept off the streets and confined to their houses; stringent orders were issued to keep the streets clean, and the inhabitants were directed to “put out candells and bowattis” at night during the sitting of the Assembly. As regards the Cathedral, it was resolved by the town council that “grate paines be takin by making of the sait for the assemblie; repairing of the flure of the uter kirk; taking doun certain windous in the inner kirk biggit up with stane, and putting glass thairin; and other warks thair incumbent, as occasion sall offer.”15 The repairs then and previously made prevented the fabric from falling to ruin, but it continued in a sadly neglected state down to the period of its restoration in the present century – a noble work if it had not been marred by the act of vandalism which I have referred to.

1  The Age of Glasgow Cathedral, &c., by John Honeyman, Architect, Glasgow.
2  Sir Gilbert Scott’s Lectures on Mediæval Architecture, 1879, vol. i. p. 126.
3  Billings.
4  Baronial and Ecclesiastical Antiquities of Scotland.
5  Prehistoric Annals, vol. ii. p. 428.
6  Professor Innes, Pref. to Reg. Epis. Glasg., p. xlvii.
7  Printed by the Maitland Club, from a copy made by Mr. Dillon from the ancient Chartulary.
8  Annals L. H. Treasurer, p. 242.
9  Regist. Glasg. p. 298.
10  Regist. Glasg., p. 412.
11  Orig. Paroch. pp. 4-6.
12  Reg. Episc. Glasg., vol. ii. p. 612. There is also a copy of this curious contract – probably the original – inserted in the Lib. Protocollorum, lately brought to light by the Grampian Club, No. 198.
13  Spottiswoode.
14  The disregard of the fine painted glass of our old churches which was shown till quite recently is incredible. There is among the MSS. of Miss Conway Griffith, at Carreglwyd, a letter dated so late as 1786, addressed by a glazier at Hornham, near Salisbury, to a Mr. Lloyd in London, sending him a box full of old painted glass. “It is the best,” the glazier says, “I can get at present, but I expect to beat to pieces a good deal very soon, as it is of no use to us and we do it for the lead. If you want any more of the same sort you may have what there is, if it will pay for the taking out, as it is a deal of trouble to what breaking to pieces is.” This letter is endorsed “Berry the glazier, about beating to pieces the fine painted glass window at Sarum to save the lead.” – Fifth Report on Hist. MSS., p. 415.
15  20th October, 1638.
This same picture can be found in the ‘Scots Lore‘ article ‘Glasgow Bridge, Part 1‘.
**  This Square Tower is that included in the Thomas Fairbairn Lithograph of ‘Castle st, Cathedral & Square Tower‘ – 4th down on the post.