Surrounded by the bustling city of Dunfermline, the Abbey and grounds are an oasis of peace and contemplation for the inquisitive tourist. The majestic ruins of one of the most powerful religious centres in medieval Scotland are well presented in the midst of the final resting places of some of the Scotland most famous sons and daughters. The following blog presents a brief history of the site and some photos.
It is believed that a monastic foundation has been on the site of Dunfermline Abbey since the 9th century, possibly established by a community of Culdees. The Culdees, or Ceile De (family of God in Irish), were communities of monks active in Ireland and Scotland in the early medieval period. However no trace of such an early foundation has been identified archaeologically so far.
It is in the 11th century the Dunfermline Abbey really came to prominence. The Benedictines founded a Priory at Dunfermline in 1070 at the request of Queen Margaret wife of Malcolm III (King of Scotland from 1058 to 1093). This was the first Benedictine house in Scotland. The Priory was subsequently elevated to an Abbey in 1128 by King David I who commissioned a grand new church, evidence for which still survives today. It is thought that Geoffrey of Canterbury was the first Abbot of Dunfermline. This early monastic foundation was a daughter-house of Christ Church Cathedral, Canterbury and became the richest Benedictine monastic house in Scotland.
The Abbey is notable for the many burials of the great and the good interred in the grounds. Queen Margaret was interred here in 1093 but moved to a shrine at the east end of the Abbey church following her becoming a saint in 1249. The shrine became the focus of pilgrimage and it was believed visiting the site could cure the sick with many miracles recorded. The plinth which held the shrine of St Margaret survives at the east end of the church. This would have held an ornate coffin which was set inside a shrine at the east end of the church which would have been the focus of pilgrimage and a very lucrative enterprise for the monastic community
The Abbey was badly damaged by Edward I ‘Longshanks’ of England in 1303 during his campaign in Scotland but later rebuilt by Robert the Bruce who was famously buried in the Abbey although his heart was buried in Melrose. There is a brass marker in the floor of the church indicated where he was reinterred in the 19th century.
During the Reformation, the Abbey was partially destroyed but subsequently the nave was converted into the parish kirk which resulted in it being preserved.