Scottish soldiers’ remains to be reburied in 17th century service

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The remains of 17th century Scottish prisoners of war will be reburied after skeletons were discovered during building work at Durham University.

Extensive tests were carried out after they were found five years ago and studies showed they had been held captive in the then empty Durham Cathedral following the 1650 Battle of Dunbar.

A simple graveside ceremony reflective of the 17th century will be held on Friday at Elvet Hill Road Cemetery, less than a mile from where they were found.

During the reburial service people will have the opportunity to scatter a handful of Scottish soil into the grave, in acknowledgement of the origins of many of the soldiers.

Professor Chris Gerrard, of Durham University’s Department of Archaeology, said: “It has been a privilege to research these soldiers and, having learnt so much from their remains, it was important to us to lay them to rest with respect and dignity.

“Today we are able to give these men the burial they were denied when they died almost 400 years ago.”

The reburial service has been designed by Durham Cathedral, and representatives from the Church of Scotland and the Scottish Episcopal Church were invited to comment, to ensure a respectful and dignified final committal.

Metrical Psalms from the 1650 Scottish Psalter and a Bible reading from the 1611 King James Version have been included in the service, in keeping with the traditions of those who died.

Canon Rosalind Brown, of Durham Cathedral, said: “The simple graveside ceremony not only reflects the traditions of the 17th century but is also respectful of the circumstances that led to these men dying in Durham.”

A full service in Durham Cathedral was not thought to be appropriate as, although it was not being used as a place of worship, it would have represented a prison to the soldiers at the time.

The Battle of Dunbar was one of the shortest and most brutal battles of the 17th century civil wars.

In less than an hour the English Parliamentarian army, under the command of Oliver Cromwell, defeated the Scottish Covenanting army who supported the claims of Charles II to the Scottish throne.

After the battle thousands of soldiers were marched more than 100 miles to Durham in north-east England.

Around 3,000 soldiers were imprisoned in Durham Cathedral and Castle and those who survived were transported to different parts of the world including France and New England in the US.

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