The Church of Scotland is suing a man for a share of a $2.5 million Viking treasure trove he discovered with a metal detector on church land in 2014.
Retired businessman and detectorist Derek McLennan uncovered the 10th-century hoard in a field in the Dumfries and Galloway region of western Scotland.
The treasure trove, known as the Galloway Hoard, is regarded as one of the richest and most significant finds of Viking objects ever found in the United Kingdom. It included rare silver bracelets and brooches, a gold ring, a bird-shaped gold pin and an enameled Christian cross.
“I unearthed the first piece, initially I didn’t understand what I had found because I thought it was a silver spoon and then I turned it over and wiped my thumb across it and I saw the Saltire-type of design and knew instantly it was Viking,” McLennan told the BBC at the time of the discovery.
Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish culture secretary, noted that the Galloway Hoard “is one of the most important collections ever discovered in Scotland,” and “opens a window on a significant period in the history of Scotland,” according to National Museums Scotland.
Stuart Campbell, head of Scotland’s treasure unit, told the Guardian: “What makes this find so significant is the range of material from different countries and cultures. This was material that was buried for safekeeping, almost like a safety deposit box that was never claimed.”
Following the discovery of the treasure, National Museums Scotland raised $2.5 million to acquire the treasures for the Scottish public.
Laws pertaining to the discovery of treasure differ in Scotland from the rest of the UK; payment is only required to be made to the finder north of the border, yet awards are split between finder and land owner elsewhere in Britain.
It was nevertheless reported at the time that an agreement had been made to split the proceeds of the hoard between the church and McLennan, which was ultimately never honored.
Reverend David Bartholomew, who belongs to the Church of Scotland and was present when the hoard was discovered, expressed sadness over the events.
“Derek was my friend and it is sad that it has come to this,” he told the Sunday Post. “It is my understanding there was always an agreement the money would be shared with the Church.
“I’m surprised Derek would go back on a deal because he had done everything by the book at all times. I don’t understand why he would, it is not a thing that can be avoided.”
CNN has reached out to McLennan for comment.
Church trustees subsequently lodged legal action at the Court of Session in Edinburgh against McLennan, claiming the church is entitled to an equal share of the proceeds.
“It can be confirmed the general trustees of the Church of Scotland have raised an action against Derek McLennan,” a spokesman for the church said, according to the UK’s Press Association.
“As that is now a matter before the court, it would be inappropriate for us to provide any further commentary at this time.”
The Scottish government announced $188,000 of funding in December 2018 in order to launch an exhibition of the hoard at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. This will be followed by a tour to galleries around Scotland between December 2020 and late 2022.