It took my breath away when I saw it first, this beautiful, tender image of a mother breastfeeding her child, painted on the gable side at the corner of the High Street and George Street in Glasgow.
The mural, by the artist Smug, is one of a series commissioned by the City of Glasgow. And the bairn in arms is St Mungo, Glasgow’s patron saint. Whilst his story or miracles is dearly held on many people’s lips -
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
- the story of how he came to Glasgow as a child is less widely known. It’s the story of St Enoch, his mother, Glasgow’s other patron saint.
We’ve come to know and say this aloud only very recently, that St Enoch, of the shopping centre on Argyll Street, and the city underground station, was, in fact, a woman. I remember the shock of finding out, from Elspeth King’s The Hidden History of Glasgow’s Women. I was working for Glasgow Women’s Aid back then in the mid 1990s. I asked around amongst Glasgow pals. And I wasn’t alone. Surely St Enoch was a man?
Man or woman? Does it matter? Yes. It does. If the history of any place, or any people, is written only in the lives of one, this affects how we understand ourselves, and how things are now. All the more so, when the unspoken stories are like those of St Enoch.
Recorded first by the names Teneu, Tannoch, or Thaney, Enoch was a 6th century princess from the area around Edinburgh known now as Lothian. As a young woman, she was raped by Owain mab Urien, the neighbouring King of Rheged, who was disguised as a woman at the time. Her son was conceived in this violation.
When her father, Loth, found out, his dishonour and wrath fell upon his daughter. He sentenced her to death by stoning, strapping her to a cart and pushing her from the summit of Traprain Law in East Lothian.
She survived. But Loth tried again, setting Thaney out into the Firth of Forth at Aberlady Bay, in a coracle, a wee boat without rudder or oars.
Again, she survived, washing up eventually near Culross in Fife, a major monastic settlement. St Serf took her in, and her son, Kentigern, was born. Serf is said to have nicknamed Mungo, dear one.
Mother and son travelled later to Glasgow. And it’s there that Mungo’s story takes star billing over Enoch’s. The city needs to mind both.
I wrote this for Thaney. Recorded with Malinky for our album Three Ravens, it combines Scots and English language:
“I will make my bed fu’ narrow
And in it I will lie my lane
And my bonnie boy there beside me
Nothing more to rue again”