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December 2007 - January 2008


Glasgow’s multi-faith quarter

by Anil Mehta

Situated on the high ground to the east of Glasgow city centre is Glasgow’s multi-faith quarter where Glasgow Cathedral, and St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art are situated.

Glasgow Cathedral with its pointed arches and large areas of stained-glass windows is an outstanding example of Gothic architecture. Initially it was built as a church in the mid 6th century by St. Mungo, the patron saint of Glasgow. However, most of the current building including a 67metre (220 ft) spire was built in the 15th century on the site of St. Mungo’s tomb which marks the birthplace of Glasgow. Further restoration of the cathedral was done in the 19th century.

A Gothic facade of Glasgow Cathedral

Because of its sloping site, Glasgow Cathedral is on two levels. On entering, you arrive in the tall, imposing nave of the upper church. On either side of the nave the narrow isles are illuminated by beautiful stained-glass windows, most of which date from the 20th century. The lower church (crypt) which is entirely hidden from view is reached by two flights of steps, where you can see, among the forest of pillars, the chapel surrounding the tomb of St. Mungo, one time the focus of a famous medieval pilgrimage.

Also situated in the cathedral precinct, is St. Mungo’s Museum of Religious Life and Art. It’s an exhibition on different faiths, illustrating religious themes with a superb range of artefacts.

The museum which was opened in 1993 is housed in a late 20th century Scottish medieval town house and focuses on objects, beliefs, and art from world’s six main religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism. As well as exploring the importance of religion in people’s life across the world, it aims to promote understanding and respect between people of different faiths. It’s unique in Britain and is one of only a handful of museums in the world which looks at world’s major religions.

The museum occupies three floors and is divided into four exhibition areas. The Gallery of Religious Art, The Gallery of Religious Life, the Scottish Gallery, and a temporary exhibition space.

The Gallery of Religious Art (first floor) illustrates superb artefacts including statues of Buddha and Hindu gods, and Islamic paintings. Near the entrance to the gallery is the elegant statue of Shri Ganesh, and at the far end is a magnificent bronze sculpture of Shiva Nataraja (Lord of the Dance). The gallery is illuminated by colourful stained-glass windows depicting Christian saints and prophets. The Gallery of Religious Life (2nd floor) explores the world’s six main religions. Here you can see a small but beautiful model of Golden Temple in front of the portrait of Guru Nanak.

In the Scottish Gallery (3rd floor) you can explore how religion has shaped the culture and beliefs of Scottish society from the earliest times to the present day. You can also admire the beautiful ‘Sharing of the Faith’ banner, portraying Glasgow as the multi-faith city. The Scottish Gallery also throws light on the life of Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone.

St. Mungo’s Museum offers a wonderful chance to look at the richness of world’s religions and traditions. Its efforts at promoting religious harmony among the people should be commended as Britain is now more multi-ethnic than ever before. It has received wide recognition for its anti-sectarianism workshops for schools.

The museum shop and a cafe are conveniently located in the building (ground floor), and just outside it is a small Buddhist Garden – a symbolic arrangement of stones, gravel, and grass representing natural elements mountains, water, and land to inspire meditation and intuition.

Glasgow Cathedral and St. Mungo’s Museum provide a splendid double-billed site for a worthwhile visit and should not be missed while you are in town. At both places entrance is free. Perhaps that might give you some incentive to visit!

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