Shoulder bone of Scots hero St Margaret removed by archaeologists

Part of St Margaret’s shoulder bone has been removed from its reliquary by archaeologists seeking to find out more about the life of one of Scotland’s most venerated figures.

Part of St Margaret's shoulder bone has been removed from its reliquary by archaeologists seeking to find out more about the life of one of Scotland's most venerated figures. Picture:Andrew Fleming

The experts will use 3D scanning technology to try to discover more about the 11th century Queen of Scotland’s lifestyle, as well as producing an exact replica which people can hold without fear of breaking an ancient artefact.

St Margaret, known as the Pearl of Scotland, led a pious lifestyle and gave much help to the poor, as well as introducing refinements to the country, such as the first use of knives and forks.

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Now, Lauren Gill from the University of Glasgow and Martin Lane from Cardiff Metropolitan University have had the opportunity to begin researching the holy relic which is kept in an ornate reliquary at St Margaret’s RC Memorial Church in Dunfermline.

Ms Gill said permission had to be given by Archbishop Leo Cushley before work could begin. She will use the 3D scan to recreate St Margaret’s relic.

“You can tell already she was very small, and that is normal for a woman of her era,” the final year degree student said. The expert team will also look for signs of disease such as gout or osteo-arthritis and may also be able to detect malnutrition as St Margaret was known for fasting for long periods as she prayed to God.

But the other side of the research will look at the importance of relics.

Ms Gill said: “Now that relics are less popular it is important that we understand why they hold an importance to the church and to worshippers. She was a great figure for Scotland and it is of national interest to find out more about 

St Margaret established a ferry which was named after her to take pilgrims on their way to St Andrews from South to North Queensferry. After her death in 1093 – days after the death of her husband Malcolm III – she was taken back to Dunfermline via the ferry and buried.

After being made a saint by Pope Innocent IV, a shrine was built at Dunfermline where she laid intact until the 16th century when Mary, Queen of Scots asked for her head to be sent to her, to bring her help as she gave birth to her son who would become James VI.

Her head was then taken to a Jesuit College in Douai, France, but was never seen again after the French Revolution.

As the Reformation threatened to destroy Catholic churches and abbeys the rest of her body had been secreted away in the 16th century, ultimately being taken to Escorial Monastery by Philip II of Spain.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that Bishop James Gillis of Edinburgh sought permission from Pope Pious IX for a relic to be brought to Scotland.