The Glasgow Riddle – A Brief Story

Artist's depiction of St. Mungo Photo credit:  thescottishhome-blogspot-co-uk

Artist’s depiction of St. Mungo
Photo credit: thescottishhome-blogspot-co-uk

Saint Mungo, the common name given to Saint Kentigern, lived in the 6th century and is the patron saint and founder of Glasgow. Serf, who raised and educated Kentigern, gave him the pet name ‘Mungo’ which translates to ‘my dear one.’  Here is a verse in the form of a riddle commonly used in Glasgow to help people remember the four miracles of Saint Mungo:

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.

Glasgow Coat of Arms

The Glasgow Coat of Arms features an image of St. Mungo, a tree with a bell and a bird over a gutted salmon, and two salmon flanking the crest, each with a ring in its mouth.

Where are they? The answer to this riddle is that all four of these items are found on the Glasgow Coat of Arms. Each item represents one of the four miracles attributed to St. Mungo. There are legends that tell about the miracles. An explanation follows and I make no claims as to the accuracy of my version of the stories.

The bird: When Mungo was a student of Saint Serf, some of his classmates stole Serf’s pet robin and killed it, then left it with Mungo in an attempt to place the blame on him for the death of the bird. Mungo is said to have prayed over the bird and brought it back to life.

The tree: Mungo was left in charge of the monastery fire to keep it burning in the monks’ absence. He fell asleep and either let the fire burn out or some of the students put it out while he slept. When he woke and discovered the fire was out, he took a branch from a tree and prayed with it in his hands. The branch caught fire and Mungo rekindled the fire with it.

The bell: The bell is thought to have been brought back from Rome after Mungo made a pilgrimage there. The bell was said to have been used in services and to mourn the deceased. The original bell no longer exists. A replacement bell was created in the mid-1600’s, and it is now on display in Glasgow.

The fish: The most legendary miracle follows a plea by Queen Languoreth of Strathclyde. King Riderch had given his queen the gift of a ring. When the king noticed a member of his court with the ring on his hand, he suspected his wife of infidelity. He requested the ring from his associate which he later threw into the river. Then he confronted the queen with his suspicions and threatened to have her executed if she did not produce the ring by the end of the day. Fearing for her life, the queen appealed to Mungo for help. He ordered a servant to go fish in the river and bring him the first fish he caught. The servant returned with a salmon that Mungo sliced open and in the fish’s stomach was the ring. The queen presented the ring to her husband that evening, thus saving her life.

Mungo preached Christianity on the current site of the Glasgow Cathedral. Under the patronage of King Riderch, he is believed to have been the first Bishop of Glasgow. In a sermon, Mungo is said to have included the call to ‘Let Glasgow flourish by the preaching of the word.’ The more secular ‘Let Glasgow Flourish’ remains the city’s motto to this day.

15 comments on “The Glasgow Riddle – A Brief Story

  1. So much history to explore and learn about! Six months may not be enough… and you’re posting so much more! You may have a book by the time you move on. 🙂

    • Mike Lince says:

      Yes, we have been on the go for three weeks and there is much to see and share. All I need is a little inspiration to pull out the laptop and compose a new post. I honestly never know what the next post subject is going to be or when it will happen. I did not write as much while I was back home because it would have been boring. We are not bored now! 🙂 – Mike

  2. sanstorm says:

    I could be wrong but I think the whole motto included “and the praising of his name” on the end. But maybe that was an addition to St Mungo’s original words.

  3. You guys are learning some fun and interesting stuff! I love the last legend – of course I always like a good fish tale. I was so glad to get a note from Florence too. How exciting that you guys (or at least Florence) are finding it easy to eat vegan in Scotland. I would never have guessed! Celeste 🙂

  4. reocochran says:

    I am in awe of the photograph and the explanation of the riddle! I am finally going back to the posts I liked and writing a comment on them! Thanks for all you are telling, all is so intriguing and unique. I appreciate the unusual things you choose to blog about. Take care and hope you will enjoy settling in, resting and continuing your journeys to all those special places!

    • Mike Lince says:

      I value that you are one of the three top commenters on my blog, and I cannot express how much I appreciate your feedback. As you know, comments are like food to a blogger. I feel like we bond just a bit more with each comment we share on each other’s blogs. Thank you again for sharing your comments! – Mike

  5. finley says:

    You ought to take part in a competition for one of the most useful blogs on the net. I will advise this site!

  6. stushie says:

    The full version of the motto is “Let Glasgow Flourish by the preaching of Thy Word and the praising of Thy Name.”

  7. reocochran says:

    You shared a fascinating legend of St. Kentigern/Mundo. I really like how the crest gives the symbols of the 4 miracles, Mike. I believe people need these to keep our faith in God. He sends us saints, visions and angels. Thank you for this post with its Hope shining out to us. Hugs, Robin

    • Mike Lince says:

      I wrote this piece just after we arrived in Scotland from our previous home in Mexico. Our apartment wasn’t ready for us in Perth, so we traveled around the countryside for a couple of weeks and learned a bit about the local lore. This was a fun story from Glasgow.

      Thank you for your comments, Robin.

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