Christmas Comes Early in Scotland, Where Researchers Unwrap a Rare Rock Crystal Jar From the Viking-Era Galloway Hoard

The jar is inscribed on the bottom: “Bishop Hyguald had me made.” But the existence of this clergyman remains a mystery.

A rock crystal jar from the Galloway Hoard. Photo Neil Hanna.
A rock crystal jar from the Galloway Hoard. Photo Neil Hanna.

The Galloway Hoard, one of the most significant Viking-era treasures ever to emerge in Scotland, has provided yet another gift, seven years after it was discovered and just in time for the festive season.

The National Museums Scotland, the hoard’s owner, has revealed that one object that was wrapped in a fragile cloth is a two-inch rock crystal jar encased in gold filigree. After conservation, a Latin inscription was found etched on the bottom of the vessel that reads: “Bishop Hyguald had me made.” Historical records do indicate several church officials by that name, says professor Alex Wolff, senior lecturer at the University of St Andrews in an announcement, but none of them a bishop, so Hyguald’s identity remains a mystery.

Much of the hoard, discovered in 2014 by a retiree using a metal detector, is on view in the newly opened Kirkcudbright Galleries, named for the county in southwest Scotland where it was found. The collection includes objects such as armbands, brooches, ingots, and a touchstone (used for identifying precious metal alloys), all of it stored in a silver vessel. But the rock crystal jar, as well as some other objects similarly covered in delicate and difficult to handle cloth, have been undergoing careful conservation and research. Experts used 3D X-ray imaging to inspect the item before unwrapping the historic Yuletide gift.

The base of the rock crystal jar from the Galloway Hoard. Photo Neil Hanna.

The base of the rock crystal jar from the Galloway Hoard. Photo Neil Hanna.

Adding to its interest, the extremely rare object may have originally topped a tiny crystal Corinthian-style column, according to Martin Goldberg, principal curator of medieval archaeology and history at National Museums Scotland. “This is unique in early medieval Britain but there are parallels within the Roman Empire for objects of this type,” he says in the press release. “The ones that I have seen are in the Vatican collection, where there are different forms of carved crystal columns.” This leads Goldberg to believe that it may have been placed in its current gold casing only five centuries after it was made.

Leslie Webster, former keeper of Britain, prehistory and Europe at the British Museum, calls the relic, which is made in a rare and treasured material, “absolutely fascinating.” He adds that it must have come from a top-shelf workshop.

“I’ve seen a lot of Anglo-Saxon finds over the years in my professional career, some of them amazing,” he says. “But this absolutely knocks them all into a cocked hat.”

“Galloway Hoard: Viking-age Treasure” is at Kirkcudbright Galleries until July 10, 2022 and will tour thereafter to Aberdeen Art Gallery (July 30 to October 23, 2022). It has been updated with a new film outlining the discovery of the inscription on the rock crystal jar.


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