4.5.2 Relics

Museums and other public and private collections today include many relics associated with people and events that reinforce  the continuing importance placed on commemoration and the need to identify objects which encapsulate or recall those things and people that our society holds dear. in medieval times some relics were little more than souvenirs, like the pieces of porphyry brought back by pilgrims from churches in Rome. Others had added importance for their curative or amuletic qualities, like the Coigrich or crosier shrine of St Fillan. The hog-backed crystal that decorates it was dipped in water which was then considered to be efficacious in curing diseased cattle (Glenn 2003, 110-11). St Margaret’s sark was worn by later Scottish queens during child birth to ensure safe births (Dunlop 2005, 92).

Other relics had an important ceremonial role, especially saintly ones preserved and venerated in churches. In Scotland there was a tradition of saintly relics being given into the care of hereditary keepers who were provided with land in return for looking after and providing a service with their relic. This might be leading contingents of men to war, as with the keepers of St Moluag’s crosier on the island of Lismore, and the keepers of the Brecbennach, a battle standard associated with Arbroath Abbey (Caldwell 2002, 270-74). Weapons in particular were often believed to have belonged to famous ancestors and heroes of the past, and were marked or decorated accordingly. In the early 16th century King James IV of Scotland had a sword which was allegedly William Wallace’s (Caldwell 2007, 170).

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