On this Christmas Day, I’d like to tell you about a place that is sacred to Christians that had a profound impact on me. This is not the only Christian sacred space that has touched me or taught me a lesson. (I’m sure I’ll tell you of another come Easter.) But this place is special to me right now because it is right here in Glasgow. But I can’t just tell you about the place. I have to tell you the story…
Once upon a time, in July of this past year, to be precise, I came to Scotland for the very first time. I arrived in Glasgow at the home of my friend where I was to spend a week visiting and working on projects we both care about. We didn’t have a lot of time for travel and touristing, but we did have one day to wander the city by bus and by foot. We went to the city center, explored a marvelous shop of crystals and a magick shop just down the street from there. We found a wee comic book shop full of the best graphic novels you could hope to find in one place. My friend told me stories of his youth, pointed out the music shop where he bought his guitars, and showed me the statue that always wears a traffic cone for a hat.
We wandered onward, and made our way to a very special church: Glasgow Cathedral. This is an amazingly beautiful medieval church with a rich history. The church is not technically a “cathedral” any more since it has not been the seat of a bishop since 1690 and it is currently owned by the Church of Scotland, not the Roman Catholic Church. But just as the name has stuck, the layers of continuous faith and sacred devotion are still quite evident inside its walls.
I have loved many old church buildings and their grounds, so it was with the utmost of respect that I walked into the church to view the stained glass windows and the memorials inside. Despite the tourist information desk at the entrance and the many visitors, the place was still clearly a living and vibrant spiritual space. You could just feel the flavor of recent prayer in the room, if you know what I mean.We walked along the long walls of the main church as my friend pointed out the many references to Freemasonry in both the stained glass and the architectural details. This place was important in the development of the Scottish Rite, he explained. I made a mental note and decided to research this further when I got the chance. I took pictures with my phone, quietly and without flash, to remember what I was seeing and to share it with friends. My friend guided me to some stairs, away from the main church and towards a lower chapel.
This space was darker, the walls felt closer, the color palette shifted. All the chairs in this space were turned in toward a single dais with a crypt at its center. The crypt was covered in a multicolored cloth. We walked along the edge of the room, still observing the architectural details and the beauty of the building. But as we reached the far end of the room I noticed something.
As I looked back across the center of the room, there seemed to be a shimmering, as if I were looking through… something. I pulled my friend over and showed him what I saw. Move this way: normal. Stand here: shimmer. He saw it, too. We walked slowly now, eyes toward the center of the room, not the architecture. The circle was clear and strong. Any magickal worker would have recognized it as we had. But this is a Christian space. Do they build circles too? Or is this circle we perceive the result of a different sort of sacred space creation?
We stepped gently into the shimmering circle, and sat in the pews in front of the tomb of St. Mungo. His name was Kentigern, but he was called Mungo, “Dear Friend”. He in turn called the city where he was a missionary and later bishop Glasgow, “Dear Green Place”. We sat in front of his tomb, in the center of the shimmering circle of energy, to listen to the silence and feel the presence of the sacred in that space.
I wonder at the meaning of experiences like this. I know that St. Mungo had many battles with local Pagans in his day, was even exiled from this city for a time. What he might think of a Pagan like me now, I do not know, but in that place I felt only love and reverence. Sometimes I speak to St. Mungo to ask for help here in Glasgow. He still hasn’t told me what he thinks of me, but somehow I think that he welcomes me here.