History

History

Melrose Abbey
about one hour south of Edinburgh

Location map

Melrose Abbey
Melrose
The Scottish Borders

Melrose Abbey from the East Melrose Abbey window

The original site of the Abbey was 4 miles down the River Tweed, just below Scott's View. Founded by St Aidan in about A.D. 660, it's first prior was St Boisil who was succeeded by St Cuthbert, the apostle of the Borders, who dwelt there until 664 when he became prior of Lindesfarne.

Later, when St Cuthbert died, it became one of his resting places before his body was taken to the place where Durham Cathedral was founded. Then in 1131, David I, King of Scots, encouraged the Cistercian monks who had been sent by Bernard of Clairvaux from France to found a new abbey on the present site below the Eildon Hills. It was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin on Sunday 28 July 1146.

Richard II, in retaliation for a raid by the Scots in 1385, sent a force North of the border which

"saved nothing and burnt down with fiery flames God's temples and holy places - to wit the monastries of Melrose, Dryburgh and Newbattle"

Work started on the complete rebuilding of the abbey almost as soon as Richard's forces had left, and it is the remains of this new building which we see today.

window

The delicacy of carved stone is remarkable. The visitor can spend hours finding carved images and decorative details, some of it high up and thus well preserved.

  • The Coronation of the Virgin
  • The clam shell of St James
  • Saints, including St Andrew, St Catherine, St Peter, St Paul, St Thomas
  • dragons, gargoyles, and flowers and plants
  • A particularly beautiful sculpture of the Virgin and Child concieved in a 14th century continental style.

On the lintel of the bell-stair the celebrated master mason John Morow from Paris left his mark and incription:

"Behalde to ye hende"
which means" Keep beholden to, or keep in mind, the end, your salvation", and has become the motto of the town of Melrose itself.)

There is much of interest in the abbey precinct including the Burial place of Robert the Bruce's heart (brought back from the crusades), and the Commendators House of 1590, now a museum.
Restoration of the abbey was carried out under the direction of Sir Walter Scott in 1822.

Today the abbey is in the care of Historic Scotland, and is open to the public:
1 April - 30 Sept, every day, 9.30-6.30
1 Oct - March 31, every day, 9,30-4.30, except Sun, 2-4.30.

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