Lead Moderator European Armoury
Join Date: Dec 2004
hearts pierced in baskethilts
It has been a while since i tried to find the origin of this procedure, that of piercing hearts in the guards of baskethilts and dirks. Through Norman McCormick, i found a source qualified on this area.
Here is the explanation given by Paul Macdonald, of Macdonald Armouries:
My thanks for your enquiry regarding the symbology of Scottish craftsmanship.
The heart has been used in Scottish craftsmanship for centuries. Jewellry incorporating hearts date from the early 16th century and it was used as a common decorative symbol on basket hilt swords, targes and dirks.
The basis for most artistic decorative work is that of repeated pattern or symbols. All cultures vary in what these specifically are in themselves. The Scottish Highland (as the Highlands generated specific cultural artistry now recognised as being generally `Scottish`) symbols commonly seen are the concentric circle (dating from Pictish times in stone carvings), Celtic knotwork in waveform (also indigenous to other Celtic nations as Spain, Ireland and Northern Italy), squared `key` form (as aldo seen in Roman culture) or zoomorphics (also seen in Scandanavian countries) and the heart.
The heart can be found in much Highland decorative metal and stonework. Rosslyn Chapel has a carving (from early C15th) of a man holding a heart. The legend is that this is the heart of Robert the Bruce, which as we know was carried as an iconic symbol to the Holy land on the crusades.
The Scots did not forget this great man and what symbolised his presence.
The symbol of the heart can also be found largely used in religious art from the C15th onwards. Christ holding a heart or legend of one of Christs wounds being to the heart are commonplace in Christian symbology. This is not the origin of this artistic expression however, as the heart symbol has been used in artistic decoration from as early as the 7th century BC.
To recognise the importance of this particular symbol to Highlanders, we have to look a bit deeper into the Highland culture and sense of identity. The Highlanders were not just a barbaric fighting nation as commonly imagined, but a race of warrior poets and artists, with an great sense of tradition, family, community and humanity.
The land shapes the Highlander, as he is early obliged to accept the naturally changing surrounding elements and forces of terrain and weather. This and the fact that the land is of natural form that allows for small communities to settle only, there being no large enough stable and flat ground mass to accomodate the building of anything like a city.
Highlanders are as a result direct in communication and relation with any individuals they meet, not closed minded or full of self importance, but naturally open in mind and heart.
The heart is the centre of the self, that from which we really feel and hear Life from if we listen closely enough. Gaelic song and poem are full of references and subject of Heart and what this is. It is literally a central symbol of Highland culture and identity. A reminder of what is important in Life, and where we are from. It is where answers can be found.
Heart is what Highlanders listen to, abide by, and fight with.
I hope that the above goes some way towards your own answer.
Yours Very Truly,