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National treasures return to Whithorn

3 September 2008

Precious items buried with medieval bishops of Galloway have returned to Whithorn for a special exhibition.

They include gold rings, sequins from the vestments, a chalice and paten. The exhibition is a collaboration between Historic Scotland, the Whithorn Trust and National Museums Scotland.

It celebrates the centenary of Whithorn Priory being brought into state care and is being hosted in the Whithorn Story Visitor Centre which is run by the trust.

The artefacts on show were discovered during an archaeological excavation of part of the priory church, which is cared for by Historic Scotland, between 1957-67.

Rachael Dickson, Historic Scotland collections manager, said: “Whithorn Priory has now belonged to the people of Scotland for 100 years and we felt this was something worth celebrating.

“A special exhibition of the remarkable and beautiful artefacts discovered in the excavation seemed a great way of marking the anniversary.

“It has been made possible by the excellent relationship between us, the trust and National Museums Scotland as we work together to encourage interest in Whithorn and its important place in Scottish culture as the cradle of Christianity.”

Each summer some of the more famous finds, like an ornate 12th century gilded crozier head, a silver chalice and altar vessels are moved from Edinburgh to Whithorn to go on show.

The special centenary exhibition items are in addition to these and will be on display from now until the end of October.

Janet Butterworth, Whithorn Trust director, said: “The items being shown in the special exhibition are some of the smaller finds from the excavation and in many ways some of the most interesting because they get you closer to real people.

“The sequins from the vestments give an idea of just how richly dressed a late medieval bishop would have been.

“This exhibition is a great chance to see many of the finds together and get an insight into what life was like at Whithorn Priory in the middle ages.”

The visitor centre also has an audiovisual theatre, discovery centre and through the ages exhibition with finds from a series of excavations.

Dr David Caldwell, Keeper of Scotland and Europe, said: “National Museums Scotland is delighted to lend an extended range of artefacts for display at the Whithorn Story Visitor Centre. These finds are of great significance and the centenary is a fantastic opportunity to celebrate the importance of the Priory, which acted as the cathedral for the bishops of Galloway.”

As well as caring for the priory, Historic Scotland has its own museum which contains a world-famous collection of early Christian carved stones.

Key events in the recent history of Whithorn Priory.

  • The Whithorn Stones include the country’s earliest Christian monument – the fifth century Latinus Stone – were taken into national guardianship in the 1890s.

  • The priory came into public guardianship in 1908.

  • A museum was established so the public could see the stones.

  • 1957-67 excavations at the eastern end of the priory church carried out by Roy Ritchie.  

  • Whithorn Trust celebrated its 21st birthday in 2006.

  • The Historic Scotland museum was completely refurbished and modernised to allow far better access to the stones and improve the visitor experience.

  • In 2007 a project by Historic Scotland and National Museums Scotland uses the latest techniques to date the skeletons discovered by Ritchie and identifies some of them as belonging to medieval bishops of Whithorn.


  • Whithorn Priory and Museum are in the care of Historic Scotland. They are in Whithorn on the A746. Telephone 01988 500508.

  • To find out more about National Museums Scotland see

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For further information

Rebecca Hamilton
Marketing and Media Manager
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8685 / 07788 923871