St Mary’s congregation can be traced back to the ancient St Mungo’s Cathedral in the turbulent period before the Church of Scotland’s episcopalian structure was dismantled in 1689. Both before and after this change, public worship according to episcopalian traditions caused rioting in the city. However, Glasgow’s Episcopalians continued to meet in private houses or in a succession of “meeting houses” throughout the 18th century, surviving the rigours of the Penal Laws enacted after the 1745 Rising; throughout this period they remained ardent Jacobites. After the repeal of the Penal Laws in 1792, the congregation expanded, and for many years services took place in a classroom in the Grammar School. In 1825 St Mary’s Episcopal Chapel opened in Renfield Street to accommodate the growing congregation.
Sir George Gilbert Scott, already working as architect for the University and one of the foremost architects in Britain, was commissioned to design a new church in Great Western Road. The result is one of the city’s best Gothic Revival buildings, constructed by the finest craftsmen available. Most of the stained glass was designed by the studios of Hardman, and Clayton & Bell. The church was opened for worship in 1871 and St Mary’s was consecrated in 1884. Nine years later, the imposing spire, added to the original square tower, was finally completed to the design of Scott’s son. A detailed description of the church shortly after it opened can be found in James Gordon’s “Glasghu Facies – The History of Glasgow” (1872).
During the 1880s and 1890s five new mission churches were established from St Mary’s, and its status and influence were recognised in 1908 when it was made the Cathedral for the Scottish Episcopal Church Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway. Cathedral status required the addition of the Synod Hall and other offices immediately afterwards.
Since that time the major architectural change has been the refitting of the chancel. This work was carried out by Sir Robert Lorimer, the most distinguished Scottish architect of his day, soon after the Great War. Although of no great age by Cathedral standards, the building was found to be in need of restoration and repair by the 1980s. Emergency roof repairs were undertaken in 1985, followed by a series of restoration, repair and internal improvement projects between 1989 and 1996. Externally, the Cathedral roof has been re-slated and the tower and spire repaired. Internally, the organ has been re-built, the font moved from the west door to the South Transept, and the east end and crossing decorated, and the splendid murals painted by Gwyneth Leech. Further external stone repairs and interior restoration, the introduction of an altar and choir stalls in the nave, and a new entrance porch were completed in 2002.