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The Black Cross of Scotland

The Black Cross of Scotland

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Published by Jeff Nisbet
The Black Cross of Scotland: Has the long-lost relic been found at last?
The Black Cross of Scotland: Has the long-lost relic been found at last?

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Published by: Jeff Nisbet on Sep 01, 2012
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Discovery of the True Cross by Agnolo Gaddi (14th century


The Black Cross of Scotland
This article was originally published in the July / August 2012 Atlantis Rising magazine and the August 2012 Girnigoe: Scotland’s Clan Sinclair Magazine. Pages five and six have now been added with material that could not be included by the original deadline.

his is the tale of a famous relic, considered lost for almost 500 years. It begins in 326 AD, when Constantine, the first Christian emperor of Rome, sent his mother, Helena, on a mission to the Holy Land in search of relics of the Judeo-Christian tradition. While there, Helena found several buried crucifixes. One of them, by miraculously curing a dying woman, was believed to be the “True Cross” upon which Christ had suffered and died. It was an archaeological find for the ages, and a brilliant marketing coup. Over the centuries that followed, pieces of the cross were widely distributed around the ever-growing Christian world. By the end of the Middle Ages there were reputed to be so many pieces that Reformationist John Calvin quipped: “If all the pieces that could be found were collected together, they would make a big ship-load -- yet the Gospel testifies that a single man was able to carry it.” Genuine or not, fragments of the cross were made abundantly available. Some were presented to heads of state. Others were enshrined in churches along the lucrative pilgrim trails. Still others were captured and recaptured during the Crusades. While some still survive, others became lost to the historical record.


Has the long-lost relic been found at last?
By Jeff Nisbet

Copyright July 2012 by Jeff Nisbet / www.mythomorph.com

One of these now-lost pieces found its way to Scotland, and was given a name: The Black Cross, a.k.a. The Holy Rood. When the Normans conquered England in 1066, Hungarian-born English princess Margaret fled to Scotland, married Malcolm III, and became the mother of three subsequent Scottish kings. From Hungary, it’s claimed, she brought a relic of the True Cross, and was accompanied by a William “The Seemly” Sinclair. William was allegedly a member of the family that would later build Rosslyn, the Da Vinci Code chapel, but historians have yet to verify his existence. Margaret died in 1093, clutching her precious cross, and was canonized in 1250. The cross remained in Scotland for 130 years, during which its reputation was enhanced with a miracle. On Holy Cross Day, 1127, Margaret’s son King David I went hunting near Edinburgh, and was thrown from his horse when a beautiful but angry white stag startled it. David was saved from the stag’s furious charge by the sudden apparition of a cross between its antlers, causing the stag to turn away. In gratitude, David founded Holyrood Abbey near the spot where the miracle occurred, and his mother’s Holy Rood became the abbey’s most prized possession. In 1296, however, King Edward I of England seized the


cross and took it to London, where it remained for 32 years. In 1328, by request of Scotland’s King Robert the Bruce, it was returned to Holyrood, but was again lost to the English at the 1346 battle of Neville’s Cross. For the next two centuries the cross was given pride of place in the relic collection of nearby Durham Cathedral until the English Protestant Reformation of 1540, when it was lost forever -- or was it? There is yet another legend that connects the Sinclairs to the cross. One Simon Sinclair is said to have retrieved the cross from Durham, hiding it in Rosslyn Chapel. Once again, though, historians can find no record of this particular Simon. Nevertheless, there is a document that may lend some support to the story. In 1546, just six years after the cross is lost to history, Marie of Guise, mother of Scotland’s beloved Queen Mary, strikes a curious contract with William Sinclair of Rosslyn. In it, she pledges to “keep secret” what was shown to her, and the nature of that secret has been debated ever since. Perhaps it was the Black Cross. Indeed, of all speculations made about Rosslyn, Scotland’s newspaper of record, The Scotsman, has said that possession of the relic is “the least bananas.” Besides the fact that William and Marie were both Catholics in a country that would predictably soon become Protestant, it would have been folly to let such a national treasure fall into Protestant hands, since the staunchest Protestants looked upon all such objects as idolatrous. And as the English Reformation had shown, Catholic property would soon become easy pickings for the gentry. If William had the cross, why should he not keep it? As it happens, there is evidence the Sinclairs may have done just that. Two years ago I received a data disc containing 88 Rosslyn-related photographs. One was of a rough wooden cross inside a reliquary. Upon further inquiry I discovered there is a very small handful of people who believe this cross was fashioned from the wood of the True Cross, and that it is in the possession of the current Earl of Rosslyn, but I’ve been unable to discover whether or not they also believe it to be the Black Cross, or simply a relic acquired more recently. Inside the reliquary stands a woman, looking up and outward from the foot of the cross. Nothing hints at her identity. Is she the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, or Mary Magdalene, believed by some to have been the wife of Jesus and mother of his children? While we cannot be sure, Biblical tradition relates it is Mary Magdalene who first witnesses the risen Christ, making no mention that his mother witnessed the event. Also in the reliquary are two angels, each holding a scroll that, when read as one, reads EX LIGNO SSME CRUCIS DOMINI NOSTRI JESU CHRISTI (From the Wood of the Most Holy Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ). While the use of the letters U and J argues against the reliquary being older than 16th century, since before that time the letters V and I were used instead, even a reliquary made as recently as the 16th century still fits into the period the cross may have been retrieved from Durham by the historically nebulous Simon Sinclair. While researching this article, I consulted a 1903 translation, with editorial notes, of The Rites of Durham, four Latin

The Rosslyn Reliquary

Copyright July 2012 by Jeff Nisbet / www.mythomorph.com

scrolls containing an inventory of the cathedral’s preReformation relic collection. The scrolls relate that two crosses were carried to the Battle of Neville’s Cross. One is described as carried “by two or three men,” while the other is described as “but a palm in length.” This smaller cross, the editor suggests, would have been carried around the neck of King David II, son of the man who, ironically, had asked for the return of the Black Cross just 18 years earlier, King Robert the Bruce. Why, we may ask, was Margaret’s cross called the “black” cross? The prevailing wisdom is that the relic was contained inside a much larger cross made of ebony, a black wood, encrusted with gold and jewels, and bearing an ivory image of Jesus. While it is easy to believe that such a treasure may have been intentionally lost to history, why must it have been lost with the “true” cross still inside? A careful reading of The Rites suggests a reason why both crosses may be considered black. They are described as appearing “smoked all over,” which may mean that the wood had been considerably darkened by centuries of devotional candle smoke, and the cross in the Rosslyn reliquary certainly fits that description.


To better understand this humble relic we should ask how Margaret acquired it. As the daughter of exiled English Prince Edward, she was born in Hungary during a period of social turbulence. King Stephen I, who had won Hungary for the Catholic church of Rome, had been dead for only seven years by the time she was born, and while her English patrimony is certain, the patrimony of her mother, Agatha, is still widely disputed, although it has been proposed that Agatha was, in fact, the dead king’s daughter. Now enshrined in the Parliament building in Budapest, the Crown of Saint Stephen is the most-venerated object in Hungarian history. This crown, we are told, was raised by King Stephen upon his coronation, making the Virgin Mary the Queen of Hungary, and all subsequent kings of Hungary servants of the crown. Atop this crown is a gold cross that does not seem to belong there, and perhaps it isn’t meant to. It looks disproportionately small, pushes crudely through an icon of Jesus, and is bent at an angle. Éva Kovács, in The Hungarian Crown and Other Regalia, states her belief that this cross is a substitute for an original double-barred relic of the True Cross, noting that the ancient Hungarian coat of arms bears a double-barred cross. Kovács continues that renowned Hungarian genealogist, Szabolcs Vajay, “called to my attention a strange incident in the crown’s history which had completely escaped everybody’s attention. Before Queen Isabella handed over the regalia to Ferdinand in 1551, she broke the cross off the crown’s peak for her son, John Sigismund. According to a contemporary Polish chronicler, John Sigismund wore this cross on his chest till the end of his life, ‘…because he who possesses this cross will again come into possession of the missing parts which, subjected to the power of the cross, had belonged to it.’” [Italics mine] What are we to make of the words “the missing parts?” Is it conceivable that Margaret and her family, possibly in line of succession to the contested throne of Hungary, had taken the two horizontal bars of the original double-barred cross with them when they returned to England, and that a smaller single-barred cross had been fashioned from the remaining upright bar, which sat atop the Holy Crown until Queen Isabella broke it off and gave it to her son? Could Scotland’s Black Cross have been fashioned from those two missing bars, and is there any more evidence, however tenuous, that connects the Scottish cross to the Hungarian cross? Yes, there is … • The Scottish legend of David I’s encounter with the white stag is curiously similar to the Hungarian legend that a white stag led the brothers Hunor and Magor to Scythia, which in turn led to the foundation of the Hun and Magyar people. And regarding Scythia, the signers of Scotland’s famous Declaration of Arbroath, the inspiration for America’s own Declaration of Independence, stated that their forebears came from “Greater Scythia.” • A time-honored tool of genealogists is Onomastics, the study of name origins. While the patrimony of Agatha, mother of Scotland’s Margaret, is one of the great unresolved

questions of medieval genealogy, let’s consider that a tribe called the Agathyrsi is supposed, by Greek historian Herodotus, to have originated in the Scythian plains of what is now the Ukraine, and that a male contingent of the Agathyrsi is supposed, by others, to have made their way to Scotland, agreeing to a contract with the indigenous peoples guaranteeing a tradition of future matrilineal descent in return for wives. This theory has a history of raising hackles in various camps by touching on the unpopular theories of British Israelism and the origins of the blue-painted Picts -and yet the Onomastic similarity between Agatha and Agathyrsi remains. Regardless, let’s think more about the mystery behind the bent cross currently atop the crown. Depictions of the crown prior to the 17th century show an upright cross. Those after show it bent, presumed damaged. Why was the damage done to Hungary’s most treasured artifact never repaired? Why does the cross look disproportionately small, and why does it push crudely through an icon of Christ? Are we being quietly persuaded to consider there was once a different cross atop the crown than the one we see today, and are we to wonder what happened to it? Might there also be a message encoded in the angle at which today’s cross is tilted, and might that be the reason it was never repaired? Could that angle be telling us the fate of the original relic? Of the several photographs of St. Stephen’s Crown I was able to obtain, only one showed a directly frontal view of it, and from that perspective the cross appears to be left-leaning at an angle of 22.5 degrees. Three years ago, in Atlantis Rising #76, I published an article speculating the north/south line along which lay several UK megalithic sites was a post-diluvial prime meridian lying precisely 33 degrees west of the Great Pyramid at Giza, so I admit to being predisposed to think along geodesic lines, and to draw conclusions therefrom. I was nevertheless astonished to find that Buda Castle, seat of the Hungarian Kings, and Dunfermline Abbey, where Hungarian-born Margaret of

The Crown of Saint Stephen

Copyright July 2012 by Jeff Nisbet / www.mythomorph.com


Buda Castle to Dunfermline Abbey

It has been widely assumed that at least some part of today’s crown dates back to Stephen’s coronation, but that may not be so. In 1981, a team of international experts studied the crown for the first time, and generally concluded that even the lower and older part of the crown cannot date back earlier than 1067 -- thirty years after Stephen’s death. So what happened to the original? Margaret’s family left Hungary in 1057, ten years earlier than the date given by experts for the crown we have known since. Could it be that Margaret and her siblings, as grandchildren of Stephen, were strongly advised to abandon the Hungarian line of succession before returning to England, and took parts of the True Cross and the original Crown of St. Stephen with them when they left? And might today’s Holy Crown be a storyboard on which the truth of the matter has been written? While the appearance of the original crown is unknown, Éva Kovács speculates it may resemble “the diadem set with
The Great Seal of King David I

Scotland was both married and buried, are separated by 22.5 degrees of longitude. Is the angle of the small bent cross atop the Holy Crown telling us that the cross went thataway? Well, there is yet another element of the crown that may be saying precisely that. Around the lower circle of the crown are affixed enamel portraits of four angels, two saints, an emperor, and a king. Only the king holds a cross - Géza I of Hungary, who reigned from 1074 to 1077. Éva Kovács says that this cross, with its stylized foliage, represents the wood of the True Cross. Géza’s eyes are cast suspiciously towards the cross, which he holds at a 22.5-degree angle, and there is no cross on his crown. The crown he wears is not the St. Stephen’s crown we know today, and one arm of the 22.5-degree angle points to the area where the relic cross may have been originally fixed.
King Géza I of Hungary

gems and provided with a pinnacle decoration of lilies that can be seen in King Stephen’s portrait embroidered on the mantle,” the coronation robe considered the only part of the Hungarian royal regalia that dates back to Stephen’s reign. On the obverse side of the Great Seal of King David I of Scotland, Margaret’s son sits on his throne, wearing a crown similarly pinnacled with lilies. In his left hand he holds the Royal Orb topped with a single-bar cross, and in his right he holds a sword, inclined towards his crown at the by-nowfamiliar angle of 22.5 degrees. Directly above the crown, but not attached to it, floats a second cross, marking the beginning and end of the seal’s inscription As David sits, he gazes over the Orb towards the east, and seems to be saying, “Aye, we have your crown and your cross - and we bloody well mean to keep them.” This was the point at which my original investigation ended, but there proved to be one more story the Crown of King

Copyright July 2012 by Jeff Nisbet / www.mythomorph.com


22.5 Degrees 22.5 Degrees

Stephen had to tell, and it is perhaps the most remarkable of all. It concerns Saint Andrew, Scotland’s patron saint. How Andrew became the patron saint of Scotland is an interesting story that seems to have been cobbled together for the popular imagination from rather suspect accounts. In the 4th century, a Greek monk named Regulus was told by an angel to hide some of the saint’s corporeal remains from the Emperor Constantine’s relic hunt, mentioned at the beginning of this article, and to sail west with them. Wherever they were shipwrecked, the angel said, they should found a church. Unsurprisingly, Regulus and the relics were shipwrecked in the land now known as Scotland, at a place now called Saint Andrews, more well-known today as The Home of Golf. The Pictish king of that land, promised victory over his enemies by an apparition of the dead saint, dedicated the church founded by Regulus to Saint Andrew and his Christian God. Four centuries later, during the Battle of Athelstaneford, the Picts are once more heartened on to victory by divine intervention - this time the appearance in the sky of the X-shaped cross that Andrew was supposedly crucified on by his own instruction, not feeling worthy of a death on a cross of the same configuration as Christ’s. Or so we are told. Tidy tales, still accepted by the faithful, to explain how Andrew, whose ministry never took him anywhere near Scotland, became that country’s patron saint. His ministry did, however, take him to Hungary, where he was well revered at the time Margaret and her family lived there. Since the first appearance of the Saint Andrew’s Cross as a Scottish national symbol is on the seal of the Guardians of Scotland, dated to the late 13th century, one might be forgiven for suspecting that it was 11th-century Margaret who made Andrew a household word, and that the legends of Regulus and Athelstaneford were specifically written to pre-

Saint Andrew’s astonishingly long index finger is bent at an angle of 22.5 degrees.

Copyright July 2012 by Jeff Nisbet / www.mythomorph.com

date her appearance on history’s stage. It should be noted that the first mention of a Bishop of Saint Andrews is in 1108, fifteen years after Margaret’s death. Which brings us back to the Crown of St. Stephen … Andrew is one of eight apostles portrayed on the upper bands of the crown. He is shown only with a book, not with the Xshaped cross that has become his symbol in Scotland, but we know that he is Andrew because it says so above his head. All of the apostles’ portraits were made using an ancient process known as cloisonné, a several-step decorating technique. First, the artist would inscribe the outline of the finished piece on a metallic base; then, metallic wires would be attached to that base, conforming to the inscribed outline; and finally the areas separated by the wires would be filled in with enamel paints. It is a painstaking process, affording several chances to correct any obvious mistakes that might have been made along the way. When you look at the accompanying portrait of St. Andrew, then, does it not beggar belief that his index finger is shown to have been more than twice the length of a normal index finger? Not only that, is it not astonishing that the finger’s middle joint does not, like a normal joint, turn inward towards the palm, but instead turns sideways, then bends around the thumb, pointing to the northwest at an angle of precisely 22.5 degrees. Is he saying he was taken thataway, too? While mainstream history, leavened by ecclesiastic dogma, is careful not to step on too many toes, and keeps an ever-vigilant eye on which side of the bread the butter’s on, the truth of things is often written between and beneath the lines of venerable source documents, waiting for its day. Might not Margaret, living in a time when Hungary was not ready to accept a monarch who was half English and England was not ready to


accept a monarch who was half Hungarian, have decided to marry into the royal bloodline of a third country - Scotland? We might guess what dowry she brought ... In a 2006 Scotsman interview with Roddy Martine, author of The Secrets of Rosslyn, one of the more circumspect books about the chapel, Martine admits “there is a fairly strong possibility that the Holy Rood of Scotland is concealed there because it was certainly taken there for protection on several occasions for safekeeping.” Elsewhere in the interview, Martine describes Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code as “a rollicking thriller but it is fiction.” And regarding The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail, the book that Brown’s central storyline -- that Jesus married and had

King Malcolm III and his wife, Queen Margaret, by Sir Noel Paton (1821 - 1901).


children with Mary Magdalene -- was first presented in, Martine is not quick to discount the theory. If such a bloodline exists as described, he says, then it could be genealogically traced to the UK’s present ruling monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, adding that the current Earl of Rosslyn is Commander of the elite London Metropolitan Police unit charged with protecting the royal family, “so there could be something in it.” As far as the Earl’s possible possession of the Black Cross is concerned, my experience while investigating the February 2010 discovery of bones at the chapel, later published as The Rosslyn Bones, has shown that any questions I ask of the Rosslyn Chapel administration will remain unanswered. I am hoping someone else would like to do the asking.

Copyright July 2012 by Jeff Nisbet / www.mythomorph.com


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