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Galloway Hoard yields another exciting discovery

A rare rock crystal jar found wrapped in textiles as part of the Galloway Hoard, which dates back to around the year 900, has been conserved, revealing a Latin inscription written in gold. The inscription says the jar was made for a bishop named Hyguald.

The Galloway Hoard is the richest collection of rare and unique Viking-age objects ever found in the British Isles. It was discovered in 2014 and acquired by National Museums Scotland in 2017. The hoard includes over a hundred objects, such as brooches, ingots, glass beads, a Christian cross, and a silver vessel. Even some textiles that originally wrapped the materials have survived.

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The crystal jar, which is around 5cm high and resembles an ornate perfume bottle, is thought to have had an ecclesiastical function. It has now been carefully separated from its wrapping. The Latin inscription on the base, spelled out in gold letters, translates as ‘Bishop Hyguald had me made.’ It is the clearest evidence that some of the material in the hoard may have come from a church in the Kingdom of Northumbria, which stretched as far north as Edinburgh and as far south as Sheffield.

“The inscription is in Latin, which was the universal language of the Western Church in those days,” explains Professor Alex Woolf, Senior Lecturer at the University of St Andrews. “The sources and records of the period are incomplete, but what we do know from them is that there were several ecclesiastics in early Medieval Northumbria with the name Hyguald. We don’t know of a Bishop Hyguald, specifically, but our lists of Northumbrian bishops are incomplete after 810. It is accordingly – and frustratingly – difficult to be more precise but it may well be that what we’re looking at is an otherwise undocumented mid-9th century bishop of either Whithorn or Hexham.”


Base of the rockl crystal – Photo by Neil Hanna / National Museums Scotland

Dr Martin Goldberg, Principal Curator, Medieval Archaeology & History, National Museums Scotland, adds that “it looks, from the carved surface of the Galloway Hoard rock crystal, that this was once the capital of a Corinthian-style crystal column.  This is unique in early medieval Britain but there are parallels within the Roman Empire for objects of this type. The ones that I have seen are in the Vatican collection, where there are different forms of carved crystal columns. And so it was maybe 500 years old by the time it was transformed in the late 8th or early 9th century into a gold-wrapped jar.”

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Some of the research into the artifact included 3D X-ray imaging. The scanning was produced in partnership with the British Museum allowed the object to be investigated within its wrapping without damaging it. Dr Leslie Webster, former Keeper of Britain, Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum, commented that the “rock crystal is unusual in itself. It is one of those materials that was greatly prized in the antique world, for its transparency and translucency, and so it’s associated with purity. So it was, I think even in its time, very, very special. And you can see from the way that the gold almost enshrines it, it’s made into a sort of relic. It’s a showcasing piece from a very high-status workshop, such as one that you might expect a bishop to have in one of his monasteries. This object is absolutely fascinating. I’ve seen a lot of Anglo-Saxon finds over the years in my professional career, some of them amazing. But this absolutely knocks them all into a cocked hat.”

National Museums Scotland is currently running the exhibition Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure runs at Kirkcudbright Galleries until 10 July 2022 . The exhibition will then go to the Aberdeen Art Gallery (30 July to 23 October 2022). The Galloway Hoard will eventually go on long-term display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh with a significant and representative portion of it also displayed long-term at Kirkcudbright Galleries.

Pre-conservation view of the rock crystal – Photo by Neil Hanna / National Museums Scotland

Click here to visit the National Museums Scotland website.

Top Image: Photo by Neil Hanna / National Museums Scotland

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