King David of the Psalms
On the south-west side of Royston Cave is a carving of a figure wearing a crown. The figure is cut off at its waist and its arms are raised above its head. Many now believe this carving to depict King David of the Psalms.
David was born c. 1000 BC and first appears in the Bible in the Book of Samuel in the Old Testament. The youngest of eight, David was a humble shepherd before being chosen by God as the man who would succeed Saul as King of Israel. He is perhaps most famously known as the man who faced the mighty champion Goliath, armed with just five stones and his sling shot. A practiced aim from protecting his sheep from wolves, David hit Goliath in the head and killed him.
The 150 Psalms are either sung, spoken, or read silently and play a central role in Christian worship, becoming part of the eight prayer services recited daily by monks and nuns. King David is widely attributed to have either written or collected the Psalms, though some modern scholars now attribute them to various authors between the 9th and 5th centuries BC. Regardless of their creation, David was revered as a role model for Christians and the words and illustrations of the psalms tell the stories of David’s journey of redemption, from shepherd and sinner to divine king.
The crowned figure in the cave is thought to be King David because a similar drawing of King David appears on a late 13th-century manuscript of Psalm 69, currently held in Trinity College, Cambridge. Psalm 69 begins ‘Save me, O God’ and asks for help when being misunderstood and persecuted. It relates to a particular point in David’s life when he was being persecuted by numerous enemies. David asks to be rescued by God, declaring that his enemies have hated him unjustly and that he is innocent of their false charges.
If the carving does depict this scene, it’s an interesting sentiment to be shown in Royston Cave. Sylvia Beamon, a local historian who studied the cave for more than five decades, believed the cave was used by the Knights Templar and noted that King David was often depicted in Templar artworks. Perhaps the sentiments of Psalm 69 resonated with the Templars following their own persecution.
Alternate theories for this carving have also been suggested. Joseph Beldam, local historian who studied the cave in the mid-1800s, believed the carving to be William the Lion, King of Scots, whose forty-eight-year reign (1165 – 1214) was the second longest in Scottish history. On the carvings chest appear to be inscribed the initials ‘WR’.
William Stukeley, a famous antiquarian who visited the cave shortly after its discovery in 1742, believed the carving to depict King Louis VII of France, while his contemporary, Rev Charles Parkin, thought the figure to show the Roman Emperor Decius, in whose reign St Laurence, thought to be carved above, was martyred.
Beamon, S.P. (1992). Royston Cave: Used By Saints or Sinners? Baldock: Cortney Publications.
Houldcroft, P.T. (2008). A Medieval Mystery at the Crossroads. Royston: Royston and District Local History Society.