The Monymusk Reliquary, also known as Brecbennoch, is an eighth-century Scottish reliquary made of wood and metal and decorated with intertwined animals, and possibly once containing a relic of St Columba, the most popular saint in medieval Scotland.
He was an Irish abbot and missionary credited with spreading Christianity in what is today known as Scotland, at the start of the Hiberno-Scottish mission.
Believed to have been made by Ionian monks in the middle of the 8th century, the casket and lid are each carved from a solid piece of wood and covered in thin bronze and silver plates.
The piece as a whole is an interesting fusion of influences; a mixture of Pictish artistic designs and Irish artistic traditions fused with Anglo-Saxon metalworking techniques. It is an early example of a chasse or house-shaped reliquary, that became popular across Europe later in the Middle Ages.
The reliquary may have been handed to the abbot of Arbroath Abbey during the reign of William I (the Lion) of Scotland who reigned from 1165 to 1214. The custodian was charged with the care of the reliquary so that it could be used for saintly assistance by the Scots in battle.
It was long identified with the Brecbennoch, the ancient talisman carried by Robert Bruce’s army against the forces of King Edward II of England at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
However, recent research has questioned this tradition and highlighted that there is very little evidence to substantiate it and that this object was not the object mentioned in historical records.
It is now in the care of the Museum of Scotland, where it is one of the most important items in the Museum’s entire collection.