Britain Votes: Lectern returns Phoenix-like 500 years after it was stolen

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The Independent Online
ONE OF Scotland's finest national treasures, looted by Henry VIII's army and then taken back from England in 1984, has resurfaced in time to be used in the Scottish Parliament.

The Dunkeld Lectern, an exquisite phoenix-like bird with outstretched wings mounted on an orb, has turned up in Edinburgh after years of secret negotiations with a group of self-styled Scottish patriots.

The latter spirited the magnificent bible-stand away in a Stone-of-Scone style theft on St Andrew's Day 1984 during a raid on a Hertfordshire church. They are thought to have hidden it for 15 years in a west Highland grave.

The bird was delivered anonymously to an Edinburgh arts centre at the weekend to coincide with an ancient Celtic spring festival. Now there are calls that the bible-stand, which has been authenticated by the Museum of Scotland, should be used in the new Scottish Parliament for ceremonial occasions such as its official opening on 1 July.

Yesterday, the St Albans church where the Dunkeld Lectern stood for more than four centuries until it was removed in 1984 said Scotland should keep the bird.

The Rev Christopher Futcher, vicar of St Stephen's church, said: "We are delighted that it has reappeared. It was looted from Scotland, so that is where it belongs. The lectern arouses deep feeling in Scotland. Its return is part of a healing process between our two countries." He said that a special Consistory Court of the Church of England would have to be convened this summer approving handover of the lectern.

Four years ago, during negotiations to secure the recovery of the bible- stand, a Dundee church offered St Stephen's a replacement. Mr Futcher said: "It was an extremely creditable act. It also produced a great coincidence because the replacement turned out to be a previously unknown Victorian replica of the Dunkeld Lectern."

Since 1992, officials from the Netherbow arts centre in Edinburgh have been trying to recover the lectern from the so-called Scottish National Guardians, who claimed responsibility for the theft.

Donald Smith, the Netherbow's director, said: "We were given a message that there had been a delivery in reception and when we went down we found that the lectern was standing there. We are delighted. The lectern is artistically very fine, standing about five feet nine inches and made of brass, using a phoenix which looks quite Celtic ... In terms of Scotland's heritage, the recovery is invaluable."

A key mediator has been Winnie Ewing, president of the Scottish National Party, which everyone accepts had no part in the theft.

Mrs Ewing, MEP for the Highlands and Islands, said the lectern - probably made in Italy and given to Scotland by Pope Alexander VI in 1498 - should be used for ceremonial purposes in the Scottish Parliament. "Not only have we seen the return of the Stone of Destiny to Scotland, but another part of our history is returning," she said.