Scotlands Culture\|Scotlands Stories

King David and the Stag

You’ll have heard of the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood but do you know the legend of King David I and the Holy Rood?

The Scottish King David I was the son of King Malcolm Canmore and Saint Margaret.

He lived in the 12th century and loved nothing more than deer hunting in the forests at the edge of Edinburgh.

King David encountered a white stag. White animals were magical, otherworldly creatures. In Brittany fairy women could change their shape, taking the form of white hinds. The Fairy Queen that met Thomas the Rhymer at the Eildon Tree rode a milk-white horse. The fairy hounds of the Arawn, King of Annwn, were white dogs with red ears.

The word 'rood' is a name for the Holy Cross and King David placed a Holy Rood where he had seen the white stag. 'The Dream of the Rood' is a famous poem that tells the story of Christ’s crucifixion as a dream dreamt by the wooden cross. Lines from 'The Dream of the Rood' are carved into the Ruthwell Cross.

King David’s mother, Saint Margaret, had a piece of the True Cross, known as the 'Black Rood of Scotland'.

Today, the Black Rood is lost, but you can visit Holyrood Abbey and Saint Margaret’s Chapel, and look for stone carvings of a stag with a cross between its antlers in Edinburgh’s Old Town.

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