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XII in Bamburgh, United Kingdom

Oswald's Head

Legend - told by Philip Dainton

Legends speak of an old man travelling to Bamburgh on a mission to steal the king’s head. Sent by the Northumbrian Saint Cuthbert, the man finds Oswald’s head wrapped in a cloth above the altar in the church.

Pilgrims were paying their respects as he lingered in the background, biding his time.


When the pilgrims went to mass, the man took action. He swiftly drops his glove and belt by the altar when the official looks away.

Admitting to forgetting his garments when he reached his horse, he instructs the official to hold his mount. He runs back to the altar, hides the head under his clothes, and drapes the forgotten garments over his arm to avoid suspicion.

The man rides off in great speed, and the official locks up unaware of the theft that had occurred. Oswald’s head was kept as a relic by the monks in the church on Lindisfarne, and was found in the 19th century. The kings head had been buried in St Cuthbert’s coffin.

In the 12th century, Oswald’s sacred right arm enshrined in a silver cask, was stolen by a monk  from Peterborough Abbey called Winegot. It was displayed as a prized possession in the abbey until it was lost during the restoration. 

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