February sees the opening of a
curious opera in an even more curious opera house. The performance is of Columba and the venue is Glasgow Cathedral.
This unusual combination is part of the celebrations to mark the 850th anniversary ofthe Cathedral. For the past two years a special committee convened jointly by church members Moira Meighan and James Macauley. has been organising a Festival Year to mark the occasion together with the Jubilee of the Society of Friends. The programme of mainly musical events - although a Flower Festival is happening in the summer - will last throughout the year. with the highlight being the opera Columba. which opens on February 5. Written by Kenneth Leighton. one of Scotland's leading composers and with a libretto by Glasgow born poet. Edwin Morgan. Columba is an appropriate choice for the festival for a variety of reasons. Columba. a complex and at times vindictive character (‘not a mealy-mouthed saint‘ as Moira says) is one of the most influential figures in Scotland‘s religious history. founding his monastery on lona in the 6th century. The opera tells the story of this lrish missionary and ofhis anxiety to see a united Scotland and at one point shows Columba on Iona recalling his meeting with St Kentigern. in whose honour the Cathedral was built.
St Kentigern. or St Mungo as he is probably better known. was born in Culross. Fife. later movingto Glasgow where. on the site of his cell. the first cathedral was built in 518. to commemorate his death and adoption as the city's Patron Saint.
The present structure is. in fact. the
third. the second cathedral having been destroyed by fire. The Cathedral as we see it today
i was built between 1250 and 1500 and
has had an eventful history which saw it switching between being Presbyterian and Episcopalian four times in the 80 year period from 1610 to 1690. In 1451 it held the first classes of the new University of Glasgow and in the same year. the Pope decreed that it should be as meritorious to make a pilgrimage to
' Glasgow Cathedral as to Rome
itself. It continues to attract tourists from around the world and the present Minister. Rev William Morris sees parallels between the recent ‘Miles Better‘ campaign and the Cathedral‘s history. as religious
: pilgrims made up much of Glasgow‘s
main business 850 years ago. The basic role ofGlasgow
; Cathedral has remained very similar
throughout the centuries. Regular worship is still the main focal point of everything around and within this busy church. As well as a congregation of about 700. it serves other functions. It plays its part in civic life by holding special services for different bodies and organisations within the city, including the City Council. the Trades House, doctors, lawyers and rotary clubs, in addition to providing a religious focus for the increasing
mumber of national organisations
sThe List-24Jan—6 Feb
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using Glasgow as a conference centre. Neither is business restricted to Sundays as community activities go on all week. With a congregation scattered around the city from Helensburgh to Ayr and Milngavie to Stirling. it is not easy to host the usual church-based organisations. meeting on weekday evenings. But a shop in the nearby High Street
i selling second hand clothes. is as
much a meeting place for volunteers as a means of raising funds for the church. both in Glasgow and around
5 the world.
As Glasgow itself has grown. the Cathedral is no longer the geographical centre nor by any
! Eight hundred and fifty turbulent years later, Glasgow Cathedral is preparing to shatter a little of the prevailing peace. Carol Main looks at its history and the high point of a celebratory Festival; a fully staged opera — Columba.
STAGING A B
means the only church. but it is still very much the mother church of the city. 1986, Festival Year. is naturally
an exceptional year in the life of the = cathedral. but special events do
'~ happen at times other than
. anniversaries - ﬂower festivals.
f; dramatic productions and concerts.
for example the annual New Year‘s
Day recital of The Messiah. In fact.
as the Rev Morris says: “anything which can be regarded as an expression of people‘s aspirations. Even people who haven‘t got Christian faith can come and express whatever is nearest to religious experience in their lives.‘
Times do of course change and
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ignore the church and do not feel the same need to use it as a place to meet socially. The Festival Year. it is hoped. may go some way to change this. Certainly the ambitious programme of events to be held in mainland Scotland‘s only example of pre-Reformation Gothic Church architecture should prove tempting. Columba was in fact written with the i intention of performance in a large scale church although this is the first time that it has actually happened. A specially constructed stage in the Nave will be the setting for the action. but there are a number of difficulties to overcome. For