Scotlands History

The Monymusk Reliquary

The Monymusk Reliquary is a portable reliquary, built to carry a relic of St Columba. Columba’s remains were seen as sacred relics. As well as the Monymusk Reliquary, Columba’s hand was kept in a silver and gold reliquary that is now lost.

The Monymusk Reliquary would have been carried on a leather strap worn around the neck of its keeper. The keeper of relics was known as the ‘deoradh’ which is the origin of the surname ‘Dewar’.

It is thought that the Monymusk Reliquary was ‘the Brechbennoch’ that was carried in 1314 by Robert the Bruce’s army at the Battle of Bannockburn. It was believed that the Saint would intercede with God on behalf of the Scots as the outcome of battles was decided by God.

William the Lion gave land and the Brechbennoch to the Monks of Arbroath before 1211 on condition that they bore the reliquary in battle. King David II, Robert the Bruce’s son, confirmed the charter and the wardenship of the Brechbennoch to the Monastery of St Thomas the Martyr of Arbroath.

Legend says that Robert the Bruce asked the Abbot of Inchaffray to bring ‘the Mayne’ - a silver reliquary holding an arm bone of St Fillan - to Bannockburn. The Abbot took the bone out of the reliquary, fearing it would fall into the hands of the English. On the eve of the battle, as the Bruce knelt in prayer, a noise was heard from the reliquary and the arm bone of St Fillan miraculously fell out onto the ground. Bruce is said to have established a monastery dedicated to St Fillan in thanks for his victory.

The Monymusk Reliquary is a small house-shaped casket that was made of yew wood around 750 AD. The back and sides of the reliquary are covered with sheets of bronze while the front has sheets of silver. The reliquary is ornately decorated, using Pictish metalworking techniques, with interlaced animals and red enamel.

The house-shaped design of the Monymusk Reliquary is strikingly similar to an illumination of the Temple of Jerusalem in the Book of the Kells. The relics of St Columba that the reliquary once held are now lost. They were probably destroyed during the Reformation.

The Monymusk Reliquary, one of Scotland's greatest treasures, is on display in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

  • A photograph of a wood and metal relic container said to have contained a bone or bones of Columba
  • Photo of a rectangular metal box with the lid open

Click on the image to view a larger version.