Author may have answer to mystery of Scotland’s forgotten crown jewel

David Willem with St Cuthbert's Cross.
David Willem with St Cuthbert's Cross.
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IT was seized by the English along with the Stone of Destiny and then disappeared during the Reformation.

Now the story of the Black Rood of Scotland - almost certainly the origin of the name Holyrood - will be explored in a talk at the National Library of Scotland.

Author David Willem, who has made a special study of Scotland’s forgotten crown jewel, has developed a theory that despite its mysterious disappearance, the Black Rood - an Anglo-Saxon cross which contained inside what was said to be a fragment of the cross on which Jesus was crucified - may still exist and now be housed at Durham Cathedral.

It was brought to Scotland in 1068 by St Margaret, sister of the last Anglo-Saxon heir to the throne of England, when she and her family fled the Norman Conquest. She went on to marry King Malcolm III of Scotland and the Black Rood was passed down to their descendants, becoming part of the Scottish crown jewels.

When England’s Edward I invaded Scotland in 1296, he removed the Black Rood, the Stone of Destiny and other symbols of the Scottish monarchy and sent them to London.

The Black Rood was returned in 1328, but taken by the English again when the Scottish army was defeated at the Battle of Neville’s Cross, near Durham, in 1346. It was then held in Durham Cathedral and displayed there for 200 years until somehow disappearing in the upheaval of the Reformation in 1540.

David Willem points out that in 1827 an Anglo-Saxon cross was found in the grave of St Cuthbert in Durham Cathedral. It was immediately assumed to belong to the saint, but his remains had been examined several times since his death in AD 687 without a cross being found.

And Mr Willem has suggested what is known as St Cuthbert’s Cross might actually be the Black Rood of Scotland.

He said: “I have never been able to understand how St Cuthbert’s Cross was found in his grave in 1827 but despite numerous exhumations and investigations over a thousand years, no one had ever seen that cross before.

“A cross disappears in Durham Cathedral and a cross turns up at Durham Cathedral, both are the same kind of gold jewelled Anglo-Saxon crosses so could those two be the same?

“I don’t know the answer to this, but there is a possibility that they could be the same.

“This is a truly fascinating historical story which I’m excited to share with people in Scotland. The talk offers the opportunity to learn about the history of a Scottish crown jewel that was central to the country’s conception of itself and its independence for hundreds of years during the medieval period.”

Mr Willem is soon to publish a book on the Black Rood, telling the story and setting out his theory.

He will give his talk, “The Black Rood - rediscovering Scotland’s Anglo-Saxon crown jewel” on Wednesday January 23 at 5.30pm in the National Library of Scotland, George IV Bridge. Tickets for the free event can be booked at www.nls.uk/events or by phoning 0131 623 3734.