Armstrong shield

Theft of Oswald's Head

 

Curious legend has it an old man, sent by the Northumbrian Saint Cuthbert, comes to Bamburgh on a mission to recover Oswald's head. Hurrying into the castle, he soon finds the king's head wrapped in a cloth and placed above the altar in the church where a crush of pilgrims are paying their respects. Biding his time, the man lingers until the faithful pilgrims have gone to mass. A diligent official keeps watch over the shrine and eyes him suspiciously.

The wily thief waits until the official looks away then swiftly drops his belt and gloves near the altar. Hastening out to his horse, the man calls to the official to hold his mount while he retrieves his garments. And before he can say no, the man is off his horse and at the altar where he tucks the head under his clothes. He returns with his belt and glove draped over his arm to avoid suspicion. He rides off while the watchman carefully locks up the church unaware the sacred booty has been taken.

Buried on Lindisfarne in the church there, Oswald's head was kept as a relic by the monks. It was found in St Cuthbert's coffin, complete with sword cuts, when it was opened in the 19th century.

Enshrined in a silver cask at Bamburgh, Oswald's' sacred right arm is stolen by an enterprising monk from Peterborough Abbey called Winegot in the 12th century. Winegot made off with the arm and carried it off to Peterborough where it was displayed as the monastery's most prized possession until it was lost during the Restoration.

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