Scotland: Stirling Castle

On New Year’s Eve, it was raining heavily over Loch Long and we were too unadventurous to brave a walk. Instead we took the car to Stirling. The weather cleared up amazingly on the drive, though we had to ford quite a few flooded roads.

Stirling Castle is up on a big hill. From it’s walls you can look out over the town and hills for an excellent view of the phallic Wallace Monument. It was built in the late 1800s.

There is also this statue of Robert the Bruce, King of Scots in the 1300s. I thought that “the Bruce” was some kind of honorific, but actually it just refers to his family name (originally de Brus).

Stirling Castle was Scotland’s primary Royal residence and the seat of power in Scotland for a time. It was involved skirmishes during the Scottish battles for Independence and was once unsuccessfully sieged by Bonnie Prince Charlie.

This is a photo of the Great Hall. The banner has embroidered unicorns. Unicorns are everywhere around Scotland, which I found hilariously whimsical. Turns out the Unicorn is a symbol of Scotland and it appears on the United Kingdom crests along with the English Lion.

The Unicorn being a symbol of Scotland makes the inclusion of the famous Hunt of the Unicorn (1500) tapestry in a Royal Residence more sensical. Not just an allegory for Christ and the conquering of maiden virtue, it’s also a symbol of country. The original tapestry, I knew for a fact, is housed in the Met in NYC, so I was like what’s it doing here?

Turns out there had been a one-of-a-kind project undertaken to replicate the tapestry; by hand, in the old traditions. The museum has a workshop which explains their process. It’s extremely fascinating. A small group of historically trained weavers matched the work by hand. One major concession was made: the original tapestry had 8 wefts, but they re-creation has only 4. This decision saved them 13 years of production time.

Hunt of the Unicorn is seven panels of tapestry, an unbelievable about of work (to have done twice!). They now hang in the Queen’s Quarters and look beautiful. In my opinion, it’s more than just a copy. It’s an attempt to lovingly and accurately re-create something 500 years on, with techniques that are in some ways lost to time and in other ways improved with time. I like to think that the re-creation will stand on it’s own in the museums of the future, for comparison with the original and for it’s own merits.

Unicorns everywhere!


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