THE trouble with the Dark Ages is that they are very aptly named. There are several centuries of Scottish history about which we know very little for certain and what we think we know has usually been provided by unreliable witnesses often writing many decades or even centuries after the event.

You cannot accept as strictly factual much of what has been written about the events and people from the Roman occupation period which ended in the 4th century AD until the establishment of the kingdom of Alba in the 9th century. There is no over-arching surviving contemporary written record of what happened in the place that is now Scotland in those centuries, apart from vague references in works composed elsewhere and descriptions in the various lives of holy men and saints such as Columba. Nor is there too much archaeology to shed light on Scotland’s Dark Ages – we really just do not know for certain what happened back then.

Such is the case with St Mungo and the foundation of Glasgow.

We can be pretty certain that Mungo, or Kentigern, actually existed. There is no account about him dating from his own lifetime, but from the available evidence it is legitimate to conclude that Mungo really did found Glasgow.

This rendering of his story is drawn mostly from the work of Joceline or Jocelyn of Furness who wrote the Life of St Kentigern in the late 12th century, dedicated to his namesake Jocelin, Bishop of Glasgow, who commissioned the work. Bishop Jocelin is an important presence in Glasgow’s history and will reappear later in this series.

Jocelyn of Furness claimed to have found an earlier document in Gaelic containing details of Mungo’s life, but he also admitted to listening to the legends that surrounded the saint. It is more hagiography than biography but it is the main source of details about Mungo – we’ll leave out the more fanciful stuff and concentrate on what is probably factual.

As we saw last week Mungo had been preaching Christianity to the Britons in the Kingdom of Strathclyde, and had some success. So much so that by the age of 25, he was able to found a Christian settlement where the Molendinar Burn meets the River Clyde. That would date the foundation of Glasgow to 543AD, which would appear from other evidence to be pretty accurate.

The Christian clerics among the people of Strathclyde and its linked kingdom of Cumbria anointed Mungo as Bishop of the new settlement, and though he tried to decline his elevation, Mungo was eventually persuaded to take up the post, ordained as such by a bishop imported from Ireland.

Jocelyn of Furness gives us a description of the man and this may be accurate because Mungo continued to live a simple life: “He used the roughest hair-cloth next the skin, then a garment of leather made of the skin of the goats, then a cowl like a fisherman’s bound on him, above which, clothed in a white alb, he always wore a stole over his shoulders.

“He bore a pastoral staff, not rounded and gilded and gemmed, as may be seen nowadays, but of simple wood and merely bent. He had in his hand the Manual-book, always ready to exercise his ministry, whenever necessity or reason demanded. And so by the whiteness of his dress he expressed the purity of his inner life and avoided vainglory.”

For more than a decade, Mungo lived in a simple cell, converting many people to Christianity and helping others to rediscover their faith by the example he showed. Legend and Jocelyn’s work has it that he was a miracle worker, so we’ll deal with that claim now as it is very much part of Glasgow lore.

Every Glaswegian child used to be taught – they possibly still are – the verse to remember Mungo’s four miracles that are part of Glasgow’s coat of arms:

Here is the bird that never flew

Here is the tree that never grew

Here is the bell that never rang

Here is the fish that never swam

The first miracle is that he restored a robin to life after it had been killed by his classmates; the tree was a branch of hazel that he used to re-start a fire he had allowed to go out; the bell was one he fetched from Rome which people may have been scared to ring as it was used to mark deaths.

The fourth miracle involves the legend of how a Queen of Strathclyde was facing execution for treason by her husband the king. Obviously not a nice man and wanting rid of his queen, the king threw her wedding ring into the Clyde then claimed she had given it to her lover. Mungo sent a monk to the river and he returned with a fish which, when opened, was found to have swallowed the ring.

Myth rather than legend, all of it, but the bell, tree, bird and fish have long featured on Glasgow’s crest, and the saint is also responsible for the city’s motto: “Lord let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of thy word and the praising of thy name.”

Mungo’s fledgling settlement grew, helped by the fact that he had chosen the best spot for people to cross the Clyde. But after 13 or 14 years, the anti-Christian faction in Strathclyde drove him out and he went south to meet Saint David of Wales and helped found a monastery at St Asaph’s.

The Christian King Rydderch Hael, known as the Liberal, won the throne of Strathclyde in or around the year 573, and immediately sent for Mungo who brought many monks with him. He spent the rest of his life assisting the king to rule as well as winning even more converts to Christianity.

Far to the north and west, St Columba was in the midst of his mission to the Scots and Picts. The two saints met and exchanged croziers, or more likely simple staffs, with Mungo’s preserved for centuries.

St Mungo suffered ill-health in later life and needed his chin to be bandaged constantly. He

is traditionally said to have died on January 13, 603, and was almost immediately acclaimed as a saint.

As founder of Glasgow, it was no less than he deserved.