Blog, Visits

Visiting Scottish Church Ruins

I’m taking advantage of a pause in the final stages of my thesis to upload a much-delayed blog post about a couple of Scottish ecclesiastical ruins which can be visited for free. As a researcher of the English and German Middle Ages, Scotland is not my area of expertise, but I tend to seek out medieval ruins wherever I go! I originally only intended to post about St Anthony’s Chapel in Edinburgh, which I visited last month. The site is freely available to anyone who is happy with walking and some scrambling, and its visitors are rewarded by a spectacular view of Edinburgh.

Through the arch at St Anthony's Chapel

What remains of it stands in the middle of Holyrood Park overlooking St Margaret’s Loch, and as you can see, there isn’t much left – part of the chapel and a small section of a possible store room:

St Anthony's Chapel and St Margaret's Loch St Anthony's Chapel Distance

Sadly there isn’t much information available about it. The information board has a visualisation of its original appearance, and suggests that the chapel was built no later than the early fifteenth century, but doesn’t hazard a guess as to how much older it could be. The certainty that it existed in the fifteenth century comes from the record of a grant from the pope for repairs to the chapel in 1426. Its last chaplain is recorded in 1581. As you can see, its location is striking, and this website expresses surprise that there should be such a lack of information about a building ‘whose construction must have been witnessed by people for miles around’, and, moreover, a building designed to be prominently visible.

Visualisation of St Anthony's from the information board at the site
Visualisation of St Anthony’s from the information board at the site

St Anthony's Chapel Close UpSt Anthony Wall

The information board also tells us that, until the sixteenth century, Holyrood Park was shared by the abbeys of Holyrood and Kelso, and that St Anthony’s Chapel is in the area which probably fell under the control of Kelso Abbey. Undiscovered Scotland (linked above) though, points out that it is linked to Holyrood Abbey by a stone track which is still in evidence.

Kelso Abbey, which I visited last year, is another ruin with free entry, and if its surroundings are less dramatic than Arthur’s Seat, its remnants themselves are quite spectacular.

Kelso Abbey Front Kelso Abbey Arch

Indeed, Historic Scotland describes the church ruins as ‘one of the most spectacular achievements of Romanesque architecture in Scotland’ – fittingly, for one of the wealthiest religious houses in the country. It was founded in the twelfth century, by Tironensians invited by David I, and disestablished in 1560, by which time it had come under periodic attack for nearly three centuries (beginning in 1296), thanks to its location in the Scottish borders. After disestablishment, the parish used what remained as a kirk until 1771. The ruins have long captured people’s imaginations – in September 1880, there was a discussion of its architectural peculiarities in Notes and Queries. It must certainly have been striking, having had two towers and four transepts. Although the site hasn’t been fully excavated, there is plenty of easily accessible information on Kelso Abbey. The main purpose of this post is to encourage passing medievalists – or anyone else who is interested – to visit, or to enjoy these photos, if you aren’t planning a trip to Scotland!

Kelso Abbey Doorway Kelso Detal Kelso Abbey Back Kelso Abbey interior Kelso Romanesque Kelso Arch Perspective


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