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Medieval Britain

Rediscovered: Lost Abbey where Bruce was Crowned

by Frank Urquhart, The Scotsman, 20 July 2007

One of Scotland's most important 'lost' historic sites - the ancient abbey in which Robert the Bruce is believed to have been crowned on the Stone of Destiny in 1306 - was rediscovered in 2007.

Archaeologists using sophisticated magnetic imaging technology managed to trace the exact location of Scone Abbey during the first such investigations ever to take place there. The abbey was the ancient seat of ecclesiastical and royal power in which Scottish kings were inaugurated for four centuries.

No part of the abbey now stands above ground.

The major archaeological investigation in the grounds of Scone Palace was being led by Oliver O'Grady, of the Department of Archaeology at Glasgow University, and Peter Yeoman, a prominent expert on medieval Scotland. O'Grady admitted that the discovery of the outline of the 'lost' abbey had exceeded all the expectations of his team.

This was the first time that any trace of the great main abbey church of Scone had been discovered. It was the location of many inaugurations of Scottish kings and is believed to have been where the Stone of Destiny was housed in the main altar at the eastern end of the abbey. It is certainly thought to be the location in which Robert the Bruce was inaugurated.

Scone in ancient times was an important centre of royal and ecclesiastical power. Even before the Scots controlled the country after the mid-ninth century, Pictish kings had been inaugurated on the Moot Hill. The abbey was founded in 1114 by Alexander I and was standing by 1120 - a royal abbey which befitted this great ceremonial centre of the kingdom, one which housed the Stone of Destiny. It was sacked and burned by an angry mob in 1559 at the height of the Reformation.

The importance of Scone - where kings were made and parliaments met - was matched only by how little was known about the place itself.

The gates of Scone Abbey
The gates of Scone Abbey survived in this form until 2010, when a white van driver rammed through them, destroying all of the bridging stonework

An emerging picture

The dramatic first images were captured on the team's computer screens. They believed that the abbey complex could be up to a hundred metres in length - far larger than had previously been thought.

The Moot Hill was also giving up its secrets, with the clear indication of a massive ditch which originally encircled it, and evidence of how the hill was artificially created.

Mr O'Grady and his team of archaeologists were in 'positive' discussions with the palace - home of the earl and countess of Mansfield - about continuing their work and expanding the geophysics survey. There were, he said, 'multiple possibilities' which included future excavations.

Suzanne Urquhart, the chief executive of Mansfield Estates at Scone Palace, commented on the discovery: 'To see the plan of what was a beautiful Gothic church emerge after being lost for four hundred years is very exciting. We are talking to the archaeologists about how the project might develop'.

It was hoped that the find could eventually pave the way for excavations to begin to reveal the remains.

Robert the Bruce
This nineteenth century engraving attempts to depict how Robert the Bruce may have appeared, although it is more Victorian than medieval



Images and text copyright © The Scotsman. Reproduced with permission.