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The Ruined Abbeys of Scotland

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The Abbeys of Scotland are famous by name if nothing else, for who has not heard of " fair " Melrose, of Dry burgh, of Dunfermline, where the kings were buried, of Scone, where they were crowned, or of Holyrood, where so many of them lived? Of course, there are also a great many which are comparatively unknown, but we must confine our remarks to a few of the more important, which we shall classify under the various orders of monks who possessed them.

The Canons Regular of the Order of St. Augustine owned the beautiful and famous Royal Abbey of Holyrood. About 1128 the abbey was begun, and grew in greatness and wealth to be one of the finest in the country. It became a favourite residence of the Stewart kings, so much so, that they built a palace adjoining the monastery. Of these splendid buildings only the ruined nave of the abbey church remains, attached to the more modern palace, with the foundations of the choir and transepts to the east. It is an interesting structure and shows details of all periods of Scottish medieval architecture. During the English invasion of 1544, when the abbey was much ruined, the brass lectern was carried away, among many other things, and is still in use in St. Stephen's Church, at St. Albans, Herts.

Another historic house of the Canons Regular was Jedburgh. This abbey owes its existence to David I, who founded it in 1118 as a priory. In 1147 it was raised to the dignity of an abbey. Since it stands so near the English border, the abbey at Jedburgh was constantly in the midst of fighting, and though often harried, the abbey church nevertheless stands comparatively complete, though roofless. The remains of the choir are fine solid Norman in style, while the nave is chiefly Transitional. Of the conventual buildings there are but few traces, for they were not properly rebuilt after the English burnt them in 1544 and 1545.

Cambuskenneth, on the links of the Forth near Stirling, was a third abbey of these monks, and it, too, was among the numerous foundations of David I. But little remains to-day of this, the burial place of James III and his queen, except a fine example of a detached bell tower of the First Pointed period, the arch of the west door, and a few foundations. Among the other abbeys of this famous order were Inchcolm, on an island in the Firth of Forth, perhaps one of the most interesting of all, for its cloisters and conventual buildings are the best preserved in Scotland, and Scone, the ancient place of coronation of the Scottish kings, where the stone now at Westminster was treasured before it was carried off by Edward I.

The Benedictine Abbey of Dunfermline was the burial place of the Scottish kings. It was founded by Queen Margaret, who died in 1093, but the present buildings cannot have been started till the reign of her son, David I, over thirty years later. The abbey to-day consists of a Norman nave with western towers, whose interior, though much smaller, bears some resemblance to that of Durham. The choir is little more than a hundred years old, and is in the bad style of its time; its interest, however, is that under the central tower is the tomb of King Robert the Bruce. His body was discovered when the new building was being erected, and this tomb was made for the royal hero. While to the east, again, are the foundations of the Lady Chapel, where was the shrine of St. Margaret. To the south of the abbey church are the ruins of the refectory, with a fine window, while to the west of that are the scanty remains of the palace where Charles I was born in 1600. The whole group is very fine, for the church stands on the top of a hill dropping sharply to the west, while the monastic buildings and palace crown the edge of a deep wooded glen. At the height of their glory, an old chronicler states that they could accommodate three kings and their suites without the least inconvenience to one another.

An offshoot of the original Benedictine order were the Tyronensians, who had several monasteries in Scotland. Arbroath, anciently called Aberbrothoc, is one of the most famous. It was founded by King William the Lion, immediately after his return from imprisonment in England in 1176; and was one of the largest churches in Scotland, but much has been swept away. However, parts of the east and west ends still stand, with the south transept, gable and sacristy, which show it to have been largely First Pointed in style. Of the monastic buildings, the gatehouse, a tower and abbot's house are fairly complete. The abbey stands a short distance from the sea, while on the horizon is the Bell Rock lighthouse, which, owing to Southey's ballad of how The Abbot of Aberbrothoc Had placed that bell on the Inchcape Rock, has become so familiar to many people.

Near the banks of the Tweed, in the country town of Kelso, stands another great Tyronensian abbey, founded by David I when still Earl of Huntingdon. In the border warfare the abbey was often laid waste, and was indeed a ruin before the Reformation. Nevertheless, at one time its mitred abbot claimed precedence over all the other abbots of Scotland, and its wealth was unbounded. The scanty remains of to-day consist of two sides of the western tower western transepts, and fragments of the great porch. The west end appears to have been rather like the English Ely, and there is documentary evidence that the church extended eastwards to another crossing and tower, though all is now swept away.

A third Tyronensian house was at Kilwinning in Ayrshire, and its condition is still more fragmentary than that of Kelso. The gable of the south transept is the only portion anything like complete, and is a fine piece of First Pointed architecture standing about ninety feet high. The entrance to the chapter house also remains. It is probable that Hugh de Morville, who founded Dryburgh, also founded Kilwinning.

The Cluniacs, who were first installed in Scotland at Paisley, in the monastery founded in 1163 by Walter Fitz-Alan, High Steward of Scotland, were also a branch of the great Order of St. Benedict. Paisley was much connected with the Stewarts, for a descendant of the original founder married Bruce's daughter, and their son was Robert II, first of the Stewart kings. The nave has been in continuous use, and now the choir, transepts and cloister have been restored, making the finest complete abbey church in Scotland. The monastic buildings also in part remain, though altered in 1675 to make a dwelling house.

A second Cluniac abbey was Crossraguel in Ayrshire, which was founded about the end of the twelfth century by the Earl of Carrick and filled by monks from Paisley. Like Paisley, it, too, suffered much during Bruce's wars, and most of the remains are fifteenth century work. The church is a long rectangle ended with an apse, but is without aisles or transepts. Besides the church, the chapter house and several domestic buildings, including the Abbot's Tower and a picturesque gatehouse, still remain.

The Cistercians had a greater number of abbeys in Scotland than any other order, and best known among them is Melrose, whose fame the works of Scott have spread to the ends of the world. It stands on low ground near the Tweed, not far from Scott's own home at Abbotsford. The abbey itself, though often wasted by the English, grew in the fifteenth century to be one of the most beautiful and elaborate in Scotland. It contained the burial places of many of the important border families, including the great Douglases. Before the high altar is the heart of Robert the Bruce, which Douglas took in a casket to the Crusades. But he was slain by the Saracens before he got to the Holy Land, and the heart was brought back and buried in Melrose. Michael Scott the wizard, who as ambassador of the King of Scotland flew to Paris on a winged horse, is also supposed to be interred in the abbey. Enough remains of the abbey church to show how fine it must have been, but of the conventual buildings nothing but the foundations can be seen. Most of the church is in the Decorated style, and though more elaborate than usual in Scotland, there is little reason to believe that it is due to foreign influence, but rather, if anywhere, to England, perhaps to York.

The Cistercian nearly always built on low ground in fertile places, and as this is so at Melrose, so is it at Dundrennan, in Kirkcudbrightshire. The ruins of the abbey occupy a most beautiful situation in a secluded valley not far from the sea. It was to Dundrennari that Mary Queen of Scots eventually came after her flight from Langside in 1568, and it was here, either in the abbey or more probably in a house near it, that she spent her last night in Scotland, and the next day sailed for England from the bay at the mouth of the Abbey Burn. The remains of the abbey are scanty, the nave is gone except for the west doorway, and all that stands are parts of the transepts and fragments of the choir and chapter house. The work is chiefly Transitional, but the chapter house seems to have been First Pointed, and, judging from its doorway, must have been very beautiful. Not far from Dundrennan are the ruins of another Cistercian monastery, known as New or Sweetheart Abbey. It was founded in 1275 by Dervorguilla, a daughter of the Lords of Galloway and mother of King John Balliol. After her husband's death she carried about his embalmed heart in a casket, and on her death it was buried with her, before the high altar of the Abbey - hence the curious name. New Abbey was to distinguish it from Dundrennan. Dervorguilla also founded the old bridge in Dumfries and Balliol College in Oxford.

On a lovely site surrounded on three sides by a loop of the Tweed stand, among fine trees, the ruins of the Abbey of Dryburgh. It was founded in 1150 by Hugh de Morville, Constable of Scotland, and filled with Premonstratensian monks from Alnwick. Being near the road from the south, the abbey fell a prey to the English in 1322, when it was burnt by Edward II, in 1385 by Richard II, and again in 1544. Of the church but little remains except the north choir aisle and east aisle of the north transept. However, a large part of the conventual buildings exists, including the chapter house, fratery and dormitory, which are largely thirteenth century work.

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