Edinburgh World Heritage - Find out why these symbols were picked for the burgh and their link to royalty


Find out why these symbols were picked for the burgh and their link to royalty

At the top of Canongate Church lies a gilded stag's head with a cross between its antlers.  This symbolises links with royalty going back to the time of King David I who ruled Scotland between 1124 and 1153.

The story is that in 1128 King David went hunting in what is now Holyrood Park which then would have been wild and heavily wooded countryside.  He became separated from his companions and was confronted by a large white stag which unhorsed him and seemed likely to kill him.  The King seized the stag’s antlers and miraculously they turned into a cross, which he was left holding as the stag ran off.  That night he dreamt that a great religious house would be established on the site of his escape.

We do not know how much truth there is in this story.  It is suspiciously similar to the legend of St Eustace who was said to have been converted to Christianity after a similar encounter with a stag!  What is certain is that in 1128 a monastery was established which was to become Holyrood Abbey. The walk between the Abbey and the walled town of Edinburgh became known as “Canons’ Gait” or Canongate. King David granted a charter to the burgh of Canongate and its arms included a stag's head surmounted by a cross.


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