AT FIRST glance, you might think a pretty piece of stained glass from the 16th century and the roaring lion of Harry Potter’s Gryffindor House crest have nothing in common.

However, you would be wrong, says Glasgow Museums creator John Messner.

“Both are examples of heraldry, which is not some dusty old subject, confined to leather-bound books and ceremonial occasions,” he smiles.

“Look at your favourite football team’s badge. Or the house sigils of Game of Thrones, the school houses in Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books, flags and symbols of imagined nations in video games….modern heraldry is everywhere.”

Glasgow Times: The 'fleur de lis' stained glass in the Burrell. Pic: Glasgow Museums

The stained glass in question, which shows the French national symbol, the fleur-de-lis, and two unicorns, is one of many fascinating objects inside Glasgow’s world-famous Burrell Collection.

Sir William Burrell devoted more than 75 years of his life to amassing one of the world’s greatest personal collections of art, which he donated to Glasgow in 1944. The Burrell Collection in Pollok Park will re-open in March 2022, following a five-year, £68m refurbishment.

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For our occasional series The Secret Life Of…., we have asked Glasgow Museums curators to reveal the stories behind a selection of objects in the vast collection.

John is Curator of Transport and Technology and spends most of his time at the Riverside Museum.

Glasgow Times: The Glasgow City Crest

“My real job is all about trains and trams, but I have a personal interest in heraldry,” he smiles. “It was very important in the middle ages, but it is still very visible today. Look around Glasgow and every sports team and school has a crest – even the city has one.

“They are not just nice things to look at, of course – each one is used to tell some kind of story.”

Glasgow’s city crest, or coat-of-arms, relates to the legends of St Mungo - “the bird that never flew, the tree that never grew, the bell that never rang, the fish that never swam.”

John explains: “You might think Glasgow would have something industrial on its crest, related to shipbuilding, perhaps, but the city’s coat of arms is very ‘medieval’ and ecclesiastical in its symbolism because of its association with St Mungo.”

Glasgow Times: The Hogwarts crest Pic: Kirsty O'Connor/PA Wire

The fleur-de-lis stained glass is one of many in the collection featuring heraldic symbols of famous European families and rulers.

“It is blue, which is significant because it was very difficult and expensive to make in those days, so it was associated with wealth and nobility,” says John. “The French Royal family changed their colours to blue, which set off a fashion trend across Europe.”

“The unicorns might relate to the Scottish national animal – a nod to the ‘auld alliance’ perhaps,but we are not sure.”

Not much is know about the origins of the piece, other than Burrell having purchased it in 1928 from a dealer.

“There is some suggestion it originally came from Holyrood Palace and might have been painted for Mary, Queen of Scots but that is unconfirmed so far,” says John. “We are always amazed by the histories of the pieces in Burrell’s collection. Much is known, yet there is still so much to be discovered. The new displays will allow both visitors and experts alike the chance to explore the collection and further add to our understanding.”