Tuesday, 6 April 2010


To St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art this grey and rainy morning, at the third attempt on this trip. We tried yesterday, but the museum now closes on Mondays, a new policy that only started yesterday!

This unique museum explores the importance of religion in people's lives across the world and across time. The building, which stands on the site of the medieval Bishop's Castle, was opened in April 1993. The museum promotes the understanding and respect between people of different faiths and none. Displays occupy three floors and are divided into four exhibition areas:

  • The Gallery of Religious Art
  • The Gallery of Religious Life
  • The Scottish Gallery
  • and a temporary exhibition space.

In the Gallery of Religious Art you can reflect on the awesome figure of the Hindu god Shiva, Lord of the Dance. The gallery is illuminated with a wealth of colours by beautiful stained glass windows depicting Christian saints and prophets.

The Gallery of Religious Life explores issues of birth, death and everything in between from the perspective of six religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism. In this gallery you can listen to people of all religions talk about their faith. You can also meet the Mexican Day of the Dead skeleton, which celebrates the victory of life over death.

The Scottish Gallery presents the story of how religion has shaped the culture and beliefs of people in the west of Scotland from earliest times to the present.

Although St Mungo's Museum was opened after I moved away from Glasgow, it has personal significance for me on a number of levels. There's very little evidence of the Bahá'ís of Glasgow (or anywhere else for that matter) in the museum. I can think of only five minor instances. One of them is the signature of the late Andy McCafferty, then Chair of the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Glasgow on the museum's charter (Andy is the one who taught me the Bahá'í Faith and has, on occasion, been referred to as my spiritual father). Another is a small photo (hardly bigger than a passport picture) of Sean O'Rourke, with a few words' testimony about how, for him, the Bahá'í Faith was the perfect union of church and state. Did he actually say that? I wouldn't know - and nearby there's a similar photo of my mum, quoting her as saying something I don't believe she'd have said in a million years. Added to that, the lettering is fading, making it all difficult to read anyway. Maybe that's for the best, given the rather ambivalent message.

In the Scottish Gallery there's another picture of my mum (unidentified) as part of a multi-faith group of women who created a quilt or banner for the Sharing of Faiths. she's also there in another, altogether more spooky form ...

A couple of years after my mum died, in the mid 1990s, her older sister - my Aunt Marion - phoned my dad's house and spoke to my brother Peter there. She told Peter that she'd heard our mum's voice earlier that day. At first Peter wondered what on earth she was talking about - and if she'd taken a funny turn. But she explained that she'd been visiting the St Mungo Museum and had listened to a recording of our mum, speaking about how she adopted the Bahá'í Faith, a few years after Peter and I had done so. Her voice is preserved on a series of recordings that visitors can listen to through a set of telephone handsets in the Scottish Gallery on the top floor of the museum. So now, whenever I visit St Mungo's, I go up there and have a listen to her. Thanks to that recording, Harry and Grace have been able to hear a little of the granny they never met.

So, apart from the (very) occasional and irregular appearance of someone or something Bahá'í, my old mum is flying the flag there, virtually single-handedly - and still, a decade and a half after she died. She's got staying power, God bless her!

Find out more about St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art (and see a variety of images inside and outside the building) on the Undiscovered Scotland website.

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