A Search for Spirituality in Glasgow’s St Mungo

St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, Glasgow, Scotland

Mankind has created some of its finest art for religion, so the idea of having a museum dedicated to Religious Art was very appealing.  The museum, right next to Glasgow Cathedral, opened in 1993, and exhibits objects relating to the world’s major religions. It aims to “explore the importance of religion in people’s lives across the world and across time.” (So says their own website.)

Honestly, I expected more.

St Mungo is Glasgow’s patron saint – he brought the Christian faith to Scotland in the 6th century and therefore the name of the museum is an appropriate reminder of the fact that the grounds used to belong to the Cathedral.

The exhibits are presented in a thematic manner, in an attempt to show the similarities of thought between religions.  This attempt to unify people through their basic beliefs is laudable and extremely sensible.

One of the most fascinating items on display was a native American blanket.  Not only was it very attractive, but because I don’t know very much about the culture, the story interested me very much.

The blanket has a design consisting of animals that are held sacred as totems – which are sacred beings or objects – by the native Americans living on the North-West coast.  These totems are mythical animals whose stories are associated with humans in the form of descent lines.  There are many stories in which animals show humans how to get food – and to maintain their mutually beneficial relationship, humans give animal spirits the remains of their food – which is transformed into souls – and the spirits give humans the remains of souls which transform into food.

Blankets such as this one from the 19th century, were worn by chiefs and those who held titles linked to specific totems.  The titles brought obligations to hold a feast for those particular spirits in the community.  These were often big affairs with dancers performing the myths and distributing gifts.

IMG_5249

Chilkat Blanket, late 19th century, America, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland. The blanket was woven from shredded cedar bark and mountain goat wool.  Men made the looms and painted the pattern boards from which the women wove the designs on a half-loom. The blanket was woven in sections and sewn together and took a year to complete.  This form of weaving appears to have originated among the Tshimshian people, but eventually only the Chilkat produced these blankets.

Let me leave you with some of the exhibits that I found particularly interesting…

Nigerian Ancestral Screen, 1900, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland.  Kalabari screens commemorating the heads of trading houses were placed behind altars on which descendants spread offerings for the ancestor's spirit. 

Nigerian Ancestral Screen, 1900, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland.  Kalabari screens commemorating the heads of trading houses were placed behind altars on which descendants spread offerings for the ancestor’s spirit.

Angel from the Stained Glass window of St John the Baptist, and an Angel, 14th century, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Angel from the Stained Glass window of St John the Baptist, and an Angel, 14th century, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

St John the Baptist and an Angel, 14th century, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

St John the Baptist and an Angel, 14th century, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Virgin Mary holding the Infant Jesus, c1480, Belgium, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland 

Virgin Mary holding the Infant Jesus, c1480, Belgium, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Shiva as Nataraja, 18th/19th century, India, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Shiva as Nataraja, 18th/19th century, India, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Detail of Shiva as Nataraja, 18th/19th century, India, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Detail of Shiva as Nataraja, 18th/19th century, India, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Shiva as Nataraja, 18th/19th century, India, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Shiva as Nataraja, 18th/19th century, India, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Detail of Shiva as Nataraja, 18th/19th century, India, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Detail of Shiva as Nataraja, 18th/19th century, India, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Alabaster Pieta, c1440, Middle Rhine, Germany, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Alabaster Pieta, c1440, Middle Rhine, Germany, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Another angle of the Alabaster Pieta, c1440, Middle Rhine, Germany, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Another angle of the Alabaster Pieta, c1440, Middle Rhine, Germany, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Norwich School Saint Stained Glass Window, 14th century, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Norwich School Saint Stained Glass Window, 14th century, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

Naga Rassa (snake demon), wooden mask from 19th century Sri Lanka, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland.  It was worn in dances to chase away evil spirits who caused sickness. Nagas or sacred snakes can be both protective and destructive. 

Naga Rassa (snake demon), wooden mask from 19th century Sri Lanka, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland.  It was worn in dances to chase away evil spirits who caused sickness. Nagas or sacred snakes can be both protective and destructive.

Thanka (sacred painting used for meditation), probably 18th century, Tibet, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland. In Tibetan Buddhism, these dancing skeletons, or citipati, respresent the triumph of enlightenment over death.

Thanka (sacred painting used for meditation), probably 18th century, Tibet, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland. In Tibetan Buddhism, these dancing skeletons, or citipati, respresent the triumph of enlightenment over death.

Yenle, 16th century, China, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland.  In Chinese Buddhism, Yenle is the King of the Dead who rules over the 10 Courts of Justice in Hell.  He and his fellow judges assess the good and bad deeds of the dead. Crimes were punished with torture and reincarnation in a lower existance.  

Yenle, 16th century, China, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland.  In Chinese Buddhism, Yenle is the King of the Dead who rules over the 10 Courts of Justice in Hell.  He and his fellow judges assess the good and bad deeds of the dead. Crimes were punished with torture and reincarnation in a lower existance.

Model of a farmhouse, c150AD, China, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland 

Model of a farmhouse, c150AD, China, St Mungo Museum, Glasgow, Scotland

So In Summary

The venue aims to promote understanding and respect between people of different faiths, as well as those of none, and offers something for everyone. There are regular events, from family-friendly activities to talks about culture and religion in Scotland today.  Alternatively, you can relax in the popular cafe which opens out onto the first Zen garden in Britain.

I was quite disappointed by how small the collection was – and though there were some great pieces – like the Nataraja, and the alabaster Pieta – on the whole the objects themselves felt quite underwhelming, merely on display to communicate a message that fitted the curator’s theme, rather than as something which we were invited to admire.  I get that this is something museums go for, but you end up feeling that it’s aimed more at school groups than adults – which is a real shame, because the museum had the potential to do something really amazing here for all audiences, offering genuine insights into the unifying aspects of the world’s religions.

Further Information

Entrance to the museum is free.  They have a website, which is joined with other Glasgow museums, which gives all the essential information necessary: www.beta.glasgowlife.org.uk

There are regular events held at the museum, most of which seem to be aimed at children, though some aren’t.  Do check out the website for further information.

How To Get There

Local transport information is available here:  www.spt.co.uk while information on how to get to Glasgow via train is available via: www.thetrainline.com 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

No Comments

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: