ACQUIRING a University through Papal and Royal approbation hugely boosted the reputation and status of Glasgow at the start of the second half of the 15th century.

The University of Glasgow was the second to be founded in Scotland and the fourth in Great Britain, and was the product of Bishop William Turnbull’s deft negotiations with King James II who in turn sought the Pope’s approval which was duly given in a bull (letter) dated January 7, 1451.

Pope Nicholas V’s opening sentences translated from the Latin are worth repeating: “Amongst other blessings which mortal man is able, in this transient life, by the gift of God to obtain, it is to be reckoned not among the least that by assiduous study he may win the pearl of knowledge, which shows him the way to live well and happily, and by the preciousness thereof makes the man of learning far to surpass the unlearned, and opens the door for him clearly to understand the mysteries of the universe, helps the ignorant and raises to distinction those that were born in the lowest place.”

If there was ever a better definition of the advantages of education, I’ve not seen it.

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The Pope continued with sentences praising Glasgow as “particularly meet and well fitted for multiplying the seeds of learning and bringing forth of salutary fruits, not only for the advantage and profit of the said city, but also of the indwellers and inhabitants of the whole kingdom of Scotland, and the regions lying round about.”

Sadly Bishop Turnbull lived for only three years after his university was established, but he saw its first graduates and the institution of the Faculty of Arts, with plans under way for the building of a structure to house it when he died in 1454.

Glasgow was at that time briefly caught up in the civil war between James II and the powerful Douglas family. Interestingly, by 1455 the great ally of the Douglases, Lord James Hamilton, had changed sides and as a result James II made him Sheriff of Lanark.

Lord Hamilton appears to have been a great benefactor of the University, for it was he who gave a property in his possession – an entire tenement and four acres of land – to Duncan Bunch, principal of the aforesaid Faculty of Arts, for the use of teachers and students. The area would be the home of the University for more than 400 years.

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Hamilton’s generosity was marked by the University which put his coat of arms on the original Mace, and you can see that Mace depicted in the modern coat of arms of the University.

The death of 29-year-old James II in a tragic accident at the siege of English-held Roxburgh Castle in 1460 – he was standing next to a cannon which exploded, mortally wounding him – saw recognition of Glasgow’s standing in the nation, as Turnbull’s successor, Bishop Andrew de Durisdeer or Durisdere, also known as Andrew Muirhead, was asked to join the Council of Regency which ran Scotland during the childhood of King James III.

With the University attracting both teachers and students of renown, Glasgow swiftly became a vital source of education, and all the while the town was growing steadily. By 1470, Glasgow had a renowned choir, probably attached to the Cathedral, and the Bishop supported the choir by housing the priests attached to it in a specially built college.

An inscribed stone survives from that establishment. It states ‘has pater Andreas antistes condidit edes Presbiteris choro Glasgu famulantibus almo’ which roughly translates as ‘these buildings were built by Bishop Andrew for the priests who serve the auspicious choir of Glasgow’.

Bishop Andrew left behind him one tangible piece of evidence of Glasgow’s growth. We have it with us to this day and it’s called Provand’s Lordship.

Renowned as one of the two oldest still-extant buildings in Glasgow – part of Provan Hall at Auchinlea is contemporaneous – Provand’s Lordship was built by the Bishop as part of St Nicholas’s Hospital, which was located to the south of where the house stands and which had a renowned herbal garden that was re-created in the 1990s.

That original hospital was built to house patients who, don’t forget, had no recourse to doctors or nurses because such professions did not formally exist at that time. Instead they were cared for by a priest and most probably St Nicholas’s Hospital was more like a hospice, because the primitive state of medicine back then meant even a trivial infection could be a killer.

Bishop Andrew planned the hospital well. Each patient had his own room – it was male-only establishment – with its own fireplace, and their care was provided and paid for by endowments given to the hospital by local clergy and gentry, usually in return for some type of indulgence, a sort of ‘get out of Purgatory early’ card which people craved.

The name of Provan’s Lordship and indeed Provan Hall is probably a corruption of the word ‘prebend.’ The diocese of Glasgow was divided into 32 such prebends, each of which areas had its own Canon or senior priest all of whom were members of the Chapter of Glasgow Cathedral.

It is believed that the Canon of Barlanark Prebend was the first or at least an early occupier of the house. That would make sense as the occupier would need a considerable income and the Barlanark Prebend was one of Glasgow’s wealthiest areas back then.

Prebend over time became Provand, and Lordship simply means that the ‘Prebend’ was the laird of the property.

It is a quite remarkable building and very much worth a visit, not least because it is adjacent to the very modern and quite excellent St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art.

In Provand’s Lordship itself you will find a fine selection of 17th-century historic furniture and royal portraits, and it really is a wonder that we can step inside a piece of Glasgow’s history, a Grade A-Listed building which is one of the rarest and best-preserved mediaeval houses in the UK.