Posted by: christinelaennec | October 29, 2014

The Glasgow Coat of Arms

Constance Ann very kindly asked, in a comment on my previous post, if I would tell the story of the Glasgow Coat of Arms.  In fact it has four stories attached to its four elements: the tree, the bird, the fish and the bell.  You can see these four elements in the lampposts near Glasgow Cathedral:

Lamppost next to Glasgow Cathedral.  Photo source:

Lamppost next to Glasgow Cathedral. Photo source:

In the past, Glaswegian schoolchildren were taught a rhyme to help them remember their city’s coat of arms:

There’s the tree that never grew;

There’s the bird that never flew;

There’s the fish that never swam;

There’s the bell that never rang.

Glasgow Coat of Arms, from The Glasgow Story, link below.

Glasgow Coat of Arms, from The Glasgow Story website, url at bottom of post.

What are the stories behind these mysterious lines?  They all go back to an early Christian saint in this part of the world, St. Mungo.  He lived in the late 6th century, and was also known as St. Kentigern.

The tree that never grew:   St. Mungo was in charge of making sure that the fire at St. Serf’s monastery didn’t go out.  Alas, he fell asleep and the fire went out.  He went to get a branch of a tree, and through his fervent prayers, caused it to burst into flame, so he could rekindle the fire.

The bird that never flew:   St. Mungo brought back to life a robin that was a favoured pet of his tutor St. Serf.

The bell that never rang:  By most accounts this is a bell that John Stewart, the first Lord Provost of Glasgow, had made in 1450, called “St. Mungo’s Bell”.  It was to remind the citizens of the city to pray for his soul.

The fish that never swam:  This is a Scottish/Celtic version of a European folktale.  In this version, King Hydderch Hael gave a ring to his Queen, Langoureth.  She in turn gave it to a knight she favoured.  The King discovered the ring, and threw it into the River Clyde.  He then demanded that Queen Langoureth produce the ring, to prove her faithfulness, under pain of death.  She asked for it from the knight, who no longer had it.  He went to St. Mungo and appealed for help.  St. Mungo told one of his monks to go fishing and bring him the first fish he caught.  This was a salmon, with the King’s ring in its mouth.  And thus Queen Langoureth’s life was saved.

The city’s Coat of Arms, along with its motto “Let Glasgow Flourish” (also attributed to St. Mungo) are found everywhere you go in the city.  I shall have to collect some examples to show you in another post.

Image of coat of arms is from



  1. I didn’t know that, it was certainly an interesting read. You learn something new everyday.

  2. Now that is a weird set of stories, but The fish that never swam story takes the cake! Sainthood is one of those big issues that divide the faithful from the skeptical, but this folk story of the supposed role of St Mungo seems to carry some mixed messages that must be hard for anyone to work through. Nonetheless, no matter how bizarre the origins, this coat of arms makes a great lamp post design. I’m looking forward to seeing some more manifestations of the coat of arms. I get the impression that the city (indeed the whole country) is pretty good at preserving its heritage.

  3. Interesting! I have been fascinated over last months as I have been reading about some of the Eastern Orthodox saints. As I understand it the East and the West have different systems for recognizing Saints; but the stories I have read, Eastern or Western, reflect faith in God and require faith to believe!

  4. I do like this story; there’s something quite poignant about the poem. All those things didn’t do what they usually would, in service to someone else (or indirectly to God?). I guess it can be argued that the bird was brought back to life, but it was to make the tutor happy, and presumably it didn’t fly after that? Who knows, I just like stories 🙂

    I first came across the tree, bird, fish, and bell at Glasgow School of Yarn 2012, where their design competition theme was Glasgow Coat of Arms. My favourite was the Dear Green shawl

  5. Fascinating! Thanks so much for indulging my curiosity, Christine.

  6. I love Glasgow’s motto, especially because it is short for “Lord, Let Glasgow flourish through the preaching of thy word and the praising of thy name.”

  7. So glad that the reader asked about this. I have been waiting anxiously for your response! xo

  8. Quite interesting!

  9. excuse for my poor english, but I want to note that something very strange happens with this and many other explanations of these events, on all sides play the same poem and it and flagrant contradiction between poetry and the development of events is repeated …
    because the poem says very clearly
    There’s the tree That Never grew;
    There’s the bird That Never Flew;
    There’s the fish swam That Never;
    There’s the bell That never rang.
    These are all things that do not happen, never happen and stories that have developed quite another.
    My theory (and I wish I could find more information on this) is that poetry corresponds to an older than the text explanations, and the latter have been changed, probably for the church to have a more respectable, more honorable explanation .
    But that certainly does not do honor to the original lyrics of the poem.

  10. This seems to me an elemental symbolism for everlasting life!

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