Thursday, October 08, 2009

About sea unicorns . . .

We're exploring the Royal Mile these days, walking down from Edinburgh Castle,all two blocks down to St. Giles Cathedral, a stunning Episcopal Church, once Catholic, transformed to a Presbyterian church under the leadership of John Knox in the 16th Century. Our docent told us that Knox had the stained glass windows removed, replacing them with plain glass. By the 19th and 20th Century, these stained glass windows have been replaced and dazzle the eye in every direction. Wikipedia has excellent pictures of the inside of this cathedral.

What took my eye? This small, maybe two feet wooden carved square, kind of a crest, propped up against a side stone wall, flanked by two unicorns with curious fish-tails, creatures I've never seen anywhere before. The docent on duty identified the crest as a traders' or burghers' crest. She told us that the city on the right of the shield was Edinburgh, and the ship at the base of the shield sailed under the flags of Scotland. We also identified weights and measures (another indicator of a merchant crest), and Allen read the Latin as "by land and by sea". Note: You can click on the picture for a larger image.

I couldn't wait to get home to the computer to try to find out more about this crest that had a Latin quote and the date 1681. Check out this link to the Merchant Company of Edinburgh for a list of what each part of this coat of arms means. Those creatures are sea unicorns. Interestingly, the internet search turned up a real sea creature, the tusked shark, the Narwhal, which reminds me of an excellent book, The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett. Pam, that's another one for your book club.

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