Banner headline for Covenanters

AN HISTORIC banner raised on the battlefield of one of Scotland's fiercest religious conflicts has been saved due to a restoration scheme.

Historians feared the silk banner, flown at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679, faced destruction after decades of hanging on a library wall.

It was thought the 323-year-old Covenanters' flag would have to be removed permanently from public display at Airdrie library in Lanarkshire because it had deteriorated to such a fragile condition.

However, the symbolic relic, used as a rallying point for Scots fighting for religious freedom from the English Crown, has been saved after 10,000 worth of work. During the 18-month long restoration process, specialists from the Scottish Museums Council have carefully repainted some of the banner's delicate lettering and motifs, as well as cleaning off dirt and corrosive debris.

The flag, which is emblazoned with the Latin phrase "Nemo me impune lacessit" (No-one provokes me with impunity), is one of only two such banners thought to have survived in the UK.

Yesterday, following the work, it was put back on display within a protective glass case to shield it from harmful sunlight.

Neil Ballantyne, the curator of social history with North Lanarkshire Council, said: "The banner is not only of huge importance to this area but the whole of Scotland. Very little physical material, other than some pieces of armour and weaponry, have survived from this particular period, so it was vital that this artefact be preserved.

"Unfortunately, due its exposed position on the library wall, it had suffered from fading as a result of sunlight."

The banner, originally blue but now faded to a beige hue, was flown during the battle of Bothwell Bridge.

On 22 June, 1679, more than 6,000 Covenanters gathered a mile outside Hamilton, Lanarkshire, to defend Presbyterianism against the forced introduction of an English prayer book.

The banner, embroidered with a hand holding a sword and an open Bible, was carried in the battle by John Main, Laird of Ballochney in Airdrie.

Despite surviving the battle, Main was executed at Glasgow Cross some five years later and the flag was passed down through his family before being handed over to Airdrie library in 1920.