With its first church having been founded in the 12th century, Glasgow is a Scottish city with an undeniably rich religious heritage. Today it stands as the proud home of citizens practicing over 20 world religions, with Christianity being its most predominant faith, evident in the abundance of beautiful churches and cathedrals dotted around the area. Designed by some of the world’s most eminent architects, from George Gilbert Scott to Charles Rennie McKintosh, exploring Glasgow’s churches makes for an enthralling and extraordinary day out in the UK. Here’s our guide to the top 10 churches in Glasgow.
Opened by King David I in 1136, St Mungo’s Cathedral is a beacon of the Glaswegian community and is one of its proudest pieces of historical architecture. The only Medieval cathedral to have remained intact after the Protestant Reformation in 1560, the church is named after St Mungo, the founder and patron saint of Glasgow, a 6th century apostle said to have performed four miracles which led to the city’s formation. In the lower crypt visitors can find the tomb of the saint, as well as various beautiful chapels and quiet prayer areas. Grand and imposing to look at, the cathedral is a prime example of Scottish Gothic architecture, with its ornate facade of high windows and soaring towers creating a dramatic silhouette on the city’s horizon. Be sure to wander over the bridge beside the cathedral to view the stunning Necropolis, a unique Victorian graveyard similar to the celebrated Pere la Chaisse in Paris. This place exhibits beautiful tombs and gravestones designed by famous Glaswegian architects such as Charles Rennie MacKintosh and Alexander Thomson.
This city center Jesuit church was built in 1868 in place of an old school. Hailed at the time as a feat of engineering excellence, the nave of St Aloysius RC Church stretches over 44 feet and rises to an admirable height of 60 feet, giving it an impressive external aesthetic. With its ornate stained-glass copula, pristine white marble and intricate paintwork, the interior of the church is both beautiful and architecturally significant, housing four indoor chapels as well as the St John Ogilvie shrine, raised in 1933 to mark the beautification of the Scottish Catholic Jesuit Martyr. Be sure to spend some time browsing the church’s collection of sculptures and features, including the Lady Chapel alter made in the style of the High Altar of San Miniato in Florence, and a copy of the original Black Madonna of Częstochowa, Poland.
Also known as the St Vincent Street Church, this A listed building in the heart of the city center is made more radiant by its urban location, with glittering modern buildings surrounding and accentuating it. The church was designed by one of Scotland’s most eminent architects, Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson, who was once president of the Glasgow Institute of Architects,and is one of the world’s inaugural figures in sustainable building. With its proud tower overlooking the city streets and lofty stone pillars elevating and dominating the facade, the church makes for a touching sight amidst the hustle and bustle of Scotland’s largest city. Inside, visitors can marvel at the church’s tiered gallery and original timber work, gracefully curved in Thomson’s signature style and restored using careful preservation methods by Glasgow City Council. An elegant church within minutes of the city’s best shops, cafes and restaurants, this venue is well worth a visit whilst wandering down St Vincent Street.
Home of the Govan stones, a collection of early Medieval monuments carved sometime between the 9th-11th centuries, The Govan Old Parish Church makes for a compelling cultural and historical day out. Featuring 31 stones, the collection lay undiscovered in the surrounding churchyard for 1000 years before being excavated and put on display, to the delight of both local and international visitors. Hailed as one of the best collections of Medieval masonry in Britain, the church features a stone sarcophagus dating back to the Viking ages which is said to contain the remains of St Constantine, as well as a number of intricately carved gravestones and five unique hogback monuments said to have belonged to the Medieval parish. Take a tour around this majestic church nestled right on the banks of the River Clyde in the town center, and witness a true piece of Glasgow and Strathclyde history.
On the North bank of the river lies St Andrew’s Cathedral, a Roman Catholic church dating back to 1814 when the foundation stone was first laid. Pioneered by Reverend Andrew Scott, the church was created to accommodate Glasgow’s growing number of Catholic residents who relocated to the city during the Industrial Revolution. As the Clydeside dock became one of Britain’s main shipbuilding ports, the Catholic population spiked, and the new church thus became an integral part of the city’s religious culture. Designed by the celebrated Edinburgh architect James Gillespie Graham, the church is a handsome episcopal structure which acts as a beacon for a faith which was reinvented and reestablished after persecution during the Protest Reformation. Within its walls visitors can enjoy a newly renovated interior, including doors by the artist Jack Sloan, a new painting of Blessed John Ogilvie by Peter Howson, as well as beautiful white and gold leaf paintwork, stained-glass windows and golden chandeliers.
Another of Glasgow’s magnificent cathedrals, St Mary’s was designed by George Gilbert Scott, a prominent 19th century London architect who was awarded a Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal in 1859, and who is today buried in Westminster Abbey. One of the UK’s most beautiful Gothic revival churches, visitors here can enjoy detailed and intricate stonemasonry carved by highly skilled craftsmen, and an awesome tower stretching 63 meters into the sky, as well as a chancel refitted by the legendary Scottish architect Sir Robert Lorimer. For those wishing to attend a service, the church prides itself on being open and inclusive, supporting LGBT rights as well as welcoming an international and culturally diverse congregation to worship within its walls.
Formerly a Cluniac monastery founded within a 6th century Celtic church, Paisley Abbey has played a key role in Scotland’s history, and provides a fascinating exploration of its past. One of the abbey’s attractions is that the 13 monks who lived within it are said to have educated the celebrated Scottish knight William Wallace, a man who was one of the most prominent leaders of the 13th and 14th century Wars of Scottish Independence, and is today a national legend. In 1316, Robert the Bruce’s sister died at the Abbey following a horse riding accident, with her son being saved from the womb and going on to become King Robert the Bruce II of Scotland. Today the church is a jaw-dropping tribute to Scotland’s history, and a popular tourist destination where guests can enjoy a dramatic French Gothic exterior, traditional stone Gargoyles, gracefully carved masonry and a wonderfully tranquil atmosphere.
One of Glasgow’s more unconventional churches is the Òran Mór, the former Kelvinside Parish Church built in 1862 which now serves as a bar, restaurant and event venue. It was designed in the classical fashion in order to accommodate the growing number of Christians moving to Glasgow’s residential areas at the time, and with its soaring campanile tower, cast iron columns and graceful arches, from the outside Òran Mór is a charming 19th century church like the others. Walk inside however and discover that it is a thriving bar, restored in 2002. Keeping in line with its original function, the interior here features graceful dark oak furniture and artwork of a religious nature, with a stunning stained-glass ceiling mural designed by award winning artist and novelist Alasdair Gray. Serving French-inspired brasserie style food as well as a long list of drinks, cocktails and whiskeys, this former church makes for a truly unique night out. Stop by for their famous ‘A Pie, A Play and A Pint’ event running at 1pm every Monday to Saturday, where guests can enjoy a homemade savory pie, a pint of lager or ale and a play performed by local theater groups.
This stunning church is part of the mystical, Hogwarts-esque campus of Glasgow University, an institution founded in 1451 and the fourth oldest university in the English speaking world. The chapel was constructed in memory of the 755 Glasgow University students who were killed fighting in the First World War, with carved tablets displaying the names of each one, as well as another section dedicated to some 405 students who lost their lives in World War II. Poignant and atmospheric as well as undeniably beautiful, the chapel was designed by Sir John James Burnet, the Edwardian architect behind the Charing Cross Mansions and the Daily Telegraph Building in London. Fitted with elegant wood carvings and pews by the Scottish sculpturer Archibald Davidson, and famed for its long, pastel colored stained glass windows, the church is a popular wedding spot where couples can take advantage of the majestic interior and dramatic surrounding architecture, as well as the gardens of the university.
Designed by arguably Scotland’s most famous architect, designer and artist Charles Rennie MacKintosh, Queen’s Cross Church is the only one of MacKintosh’s church designs that came to be built, and is thus a prominent piece of religious architecture in the city. Designed in the late 19th century in a modern Gothic style, the church does not have the traditional aesthetic of its time, and void of any spires or towers it blends with its surroundings in a refreshingly minimalistic fashion typical of the artist’s work. Inside though, the building has a unique, modern atmosphere sprinkled with the trademark MacKintosh idiosyncrasies such as the geometric graphics carved into the pulpit, and the stained glass rose and heart windows. A quirky and powerfully original Art Nouveau design, Queen’s Cross Church is well worth a visit whilst exploring the works of Glasgow’s most beloved artist, with his other works in the area housed in the Glasgow School of Art, the Scotland Street School Museum and the House for an Art Lover. Queen’s Cross Church, 870 Garscube Road, Glasgow, Scotland.By Megan O’Hara