Archaeologists at National Museums Scotland have discovered the first evidence of a previously unknown bishop. The name of Bishop Hyguald was revealed during the cleaning and restoration of a small rock crystal jar which resembles a small perfume bottle.
The object, which is 5cm tall, was found by a metal detectorist on land owned by the Church of Scotland near in 2014. But it took years of conservation work for the bishop’s name to be revealed.
Professor Alex Woolf of St Andrew’s University told Premier that when it was first found the crystal jar was wrapped in cloth, hidden inside a pot and caked in mud. “It’s been very slowly and painstakingly taken apart” by an expert team.
It was only when the crystal jar could be closely examined that the Latin inscription was revealed.
It can be translated as “Bishop Hyguald had me made.”
Professor Woolf explains, “the name is actually quite clear on the top of the lid. In among the gold filigree is this name that’s written out in a circular form.”
Details of Hyguald’s life and work will probably never be known as very little written evidence has survived from that period of British history.
Professor Woolf explains “our complete lists of bishops break down in the early to mid-ninth century, due to the chaos of Viking invasion.”
“We don't know of a Bishop Hyguald, specifically. 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-ninth century bishop of either Whithorn or Hexham.”
The historian regards the object as one of the most remarkable ever found in Britain from the period he studies. “It is amazing to see close up.”
“It definitely has religious significance. It was probably originally the fitting for some reliquary or some furnishing around an altar or shrine.”
“It really is an extraordinary find. This is something that was put in the ground in what we now think of as a rather remote part of south-west Scotland in the Viking Age.”
The rock crystal jar inscribed with Bishop Hyguard’s name is currently on display at Kirkcudbright Galleries until July 2022 in a National Museum Scotland touring exhibition.