THE remains of 17th-century Scottish prisoners of war unearthed during building work near Durham Cathedral have been reburied close to where they were found five years ago (Real Life, 25 January 2012).
The 28 soldiers were among 3000 held captive in squalid conditions in the then-abandoned cathedral after a Civil War battle at Dunbar, in 1650. More than half of them died from disease or neglect.
The simple interment was held last month at a public cemetery less than a mile from where the remains were discovered. The service, designed by Durham Cathedral, reflected 17th-century traditions and included metrical psalms from the 1650 Scottish Psalter, and a reading from the Authorised Version.
Among those attending were representatives of the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church, descendants of the prisoners, and groups that have worked on the project, led by archaeologists from Durham University, to discover as much as possible about the soldiers. Handfuls of Scottish soil were scattered into the grave.
Canon Rosalind Brown, the Residentiary Canon who led the service with Canon David Kennedy, said: “The simple graveside ceremony not only reflected the traditions of the 17th century, but was also respectful of the circumstances that led to these men dying in Durham. In a spirit of ecumenism and reconciliation, it honoured the memory of the soldiers and commended them to God.”
It was agreed to have a graveside ceremony because, she said, a service in an Anglican church, especially the cathedral, “would be inappropriate, given the history of these men and the fact that, although not used as a place of worship at this time, the cathedral represented a place of imprisonment for them”.
The battle at Dunbar was one of the shortest and bloodiest of the Civil War. It took Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarian army less than an hour to defeat a Scottish Covenanting force that supported Charles II’s claim to the Scottish throne.
A headstone is to be added to the grave, bearing the epitaph: “Here lie the remains of those Scottish soldiers from the Battle of Dunbar who died in Durham 1650-1651, were excavated from Palace Green Library in 2013, and were reburied here on 18 May 2018.”
A play based on the story of the discovery, Woven Bones, opens in Dunbar on 25 June and progresses south, closing in Durham on 7 July.