The History of Leith

December 16, 2011

legend of the White Hart

“THE well-known legend of the White Hart,” says Daniel Wilson, ” most probably had its origin in some real occurrence, magnified by the superstition of a rude and illiterate age. More recent observations at least suffice to show that it existed at a much earlier date than Lord Hailes referred it to.”
It is recorded that on Rood-day, the i4th of September, in the harvest of 1128, the weather being fine and beautiful, King David and his courtiers, after mass, left the Castle by that gate
before which he was wont to dispense justice to his people, and issued forth to the chase in the wild country that lay around—for then over miles of the land now covered by the new and much of the
old city, for ages into times unknown, the oak-trees of the primeval forest of Drumsheugh had shaken down their leaves and acorns upon the wild and now extinct animals of the chase. And here it
may be- mentioned that boars’ tusks of most enormous size were found in 1846 in the bank to the south of the half-moon battery, together with an iron axe, the skull and bones of a man.
On this Rood-day we are told that the king issued from the Castle contrary to the advice of his confessor, Alfwin, an Augustinian monk of great sanctity and learning, who reminded him that it was the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross, and should be passed in devotion, not in hunting; but of this advice the king took no heed. Amid the dense forest and in the ardour of the chase he became separated from his train, in ” the vail that lyis to the eist fra the said castell,” and found himself at the foot Of the stupendous crags, where, ” under the shade of a leafy tree,” he was almost immediately assailed by a white stag of gigantic size, which had been maddened by the pursuit, ” noys and dyn of bugillis,” and which, according to Bellenden, was now standing boldly at bay, and, with its branching antlers, put the life of the pious monarch in imminent jeopardy, as he and his horse were both borne to the ground. With a short hunting-sword, while fruitlessly endeavouring to defend himself against the infuriated animal, there appeared—continues the legend—a silver cloud, from the centre of which there came forth a hand, which placed in that of David a sparkling cross of miraculous construction, in so far that the material of which it was composed could never be discovered. Scared by this interposition, the white stag fled down the hollow way between the hills, but was afterwards slain by Sir Gregan Crawford, whose crest, a stag’s head erased with a cross-crosslet between the antlers, is still borne by his descendants, the Crawfords of Kilbirnie, in memory of that eventful day in the forest of Drumsheugh.
Thoughtful, and oppressed with great awe, the king slowly wended his way through the forest to the Castle ; but the wonder did not end there, for when, after a long vigil, the king slept, there appeared by his couch St. Andrew, the apostle of Scotland, surrounded by rays of glory, instructing him to found, upon the exact spot where he had been miraculously saved, a twelfth monastery for
the canons regular of St. Augustine ; and, in obedience to this vision, he built the noble abbey of Holyrood, ” in the little valley between two mountains”—i.e., the Craigs and the Calton.
Therein the marvellous cross was preserved till it was lost at a long subsequent period; but, in memory of St. David’s adventure on Rood-day, a stag’s head with a cross between the antlers is still
borne as the arms of the Canongate. Alfwin was appointed first abbot, and left a glorious memory for many virtues.* Though nobly endowed, this famous edifice was not built for several years, during which the monks were received into the Castle, and occupied buildings which had ^een previously the abode of a community of nuns, who, by permission of Pope Alexander III., were removed, the monks, as Father Hay tells us, being deemed ” as fitter to live among soldiers.” Abbot William appears, in 1152, as second superior of the monks in the Castrum Puellarum, where they resided till 1176.

source-Old and New Edinburgh

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