The Monymusk Reliquary, or Breacbannoch of Columba
The Monymusk Reliquary, or Breacbannoch of Columba, is now
in the Museum of Scotland. Probably dating from the 8th century,
it was brought from Iona to Pictland and housed a relic of the
island's founder Saint Columba.

It is mentioned in 12th century charters at Forglen near Turriff,
where it was kept on behalf of the Monastery of Abirbrothock
(Arbroath) with permission from William the Lion, King of
Scotland granted in a Deed dated between 1178-1214 held in
Arbroath Charter Chest.
It remained in the custodianship of Forglen until the early 16th century when Forglen and the House of
Monymusk were in Forbes hands; with transfer of ownership from Sir William Forbes, Bart. to Lord Cullen
(Senator of the College of Justice, Sir Francis Grant of Cullen) in 1712, the shrine became part of the Grant
collection. It was bought for the Nation in 1933.
Breac-bannoch in Gaelic means the 'speckled peaked one' describing the Reliquary's Pictish decoration
punched into silver panels which form a background of zoomorphic figures into which have been set bronze
round, square and bird-beak shaped clasps. This 'speckling' is typical of monastic/Pictish decorative work
found in 8th century jewellery, ritual ornament and religious scrollwork. The original silver coating of the tiny
wooden casket was gilded and its raised bronze mounts set with enamel and lapis lazuli. It is smaller than a
man's hand, carved out of a single piece of wood: 4-1/4 inches long by 2-1/8 inches in height to the opening
of the lid, by 2 inches deep. The ark-shaped lid is trapezoid, 1-3/4 inches high by 2-1/2 inches along the
ridge, its gable ends forming equilateral triangles of 1-3/4 inches per side.
Its miniature scale (above illustration is approximately life-size) made it a portable shrine worn round the
neck, usually by a guardian monk. Its association with Columba, the warrior saint, was believed to transmit
the same potency in battle and the shrine was paraded before the Scots army prior to the Battle of
Bannockburn, 1314. It is not unique in its use as a battle standard: both the relics (bone) and the crosier -
baculum - of a saint were considered potent in vanquishing the enemy. It may be for this very reason that the
Scots Chronicles record first king of both Picts and Scots, Cinaed (Kenneth) mac Alpin, sometime before
AD849 transporting relics of Columba from Iona to a religious foundation in Dunkeld near his recently
conquered palace at Forteviot, former capital of the Pictish Kingdom. This may have been an effort on his
part to display power through the saint and he may have taken over the foundation at Dunkeld because it was
previously a powerful ecclesiastical centre founded by the long-reigning and well-loved Pictish king,
Constantine [Custantin], who died AD820, 20 years before the macAlpin takeover see Dupplin page.
The house-shape of such reliquaries seems to have influenced later medieval 'sacrament houses' built into
pre-Reformation churches in Scotland to keep holy vessels used in the sacrament.
© 1999-2000 Marian Youngblood
Also found at Monymusk is the unusual Pictish Cross Slab
contact Friends Of Grampian Stones by e-mail
©1998-2004 Friends of Grampian Stones - Editor: Marian Youngblood