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Dunfermline Abbey

Tours Of Scotland, Dunfermline Abbey

Situated at the centre of Dunfermline in West Fife, Dunfermline Abbey stands on a ridge that falls steeply on the south and west to the course of the Tower Burn which flows through Pittencrieff Park. The original Benedictine priory was founded in the 1070s by Queen Margaret on the site of an earlier chapel of the Celtic Church and in 1128 her son David I extended the building and increased its status by making it an abbey. The western part of the present building is the nave of the Abbey church built by David I between 1128 and 1150. The eastern end, with the tower bearing the words 'King Robert the Bruce', is the new parish kirk that was built on part of the ruins of the old abbey in 1818-21. In medieval times the abbey became a major ecclesiastical centre and was the burial place of several Scottish monarchs including Malcolm Canmore, his wife Queen Margaret and Robert the Bruce whose tomb was rediscovered in 1818. Queen Margaret was canonized in 1250 and a chapel and shrine were built at the east end and centre of the abbey. Subsequently in 1303, the abbey was destroyed by Edward I of England who recognised the significance of the site as a focal point of Scottish nationalism. The adjacent royal palace of Dunfermline grew out of the guest house of the abbey after its closure during the Reformation and was given as a wedding present to Anne of Denmark by her husband James VI in 1589. Prior to the Union of the Crowns in 1603 Anne of Denmark stayed here from time to time, and in 1600 her son, later to become Charles I, was born here. Today there is a Dunfermline Abbey and Visitor Centre.

Notes On Dunfermline

(Gaelic, “the fort on the crooked linn “). It is situated on high ground 3 miles from the shore of the Firth of Forth. The town is intersected from north to south by Pittencrieff Glen, a deep, picturesque and tortuous ravine, from which the town derives its name and at the bottom of which flows Lyne Burn.

The history of Dunfermline goes back to a remote period, for the early Celtic monks known as Culdees had an establishment here; but its fame and prosperity date from the marriage of Malcolm Canmore and his queen Margaret, which was solemnized in the town in 1070. The king then lived in a tower on a mound surrounded on three sides by the glen. A fragment of this castle still exists in Pittencrieff Park, a little west of the later palace.

Under the influence of Queen Margaret in 1075 the foundations were laid of the Benedictine priory, which was raised to the rank of an abbey by David I. Robert Bruce gave the town its charter in 1322, though in his Fife: Pictorial and Historical, A. H. Millar contends that till the confirming charter of James VI. (1588) all burghal privileges were granted by the abbots.

In the 18th century Dunfermline impressed Daniel Defoe as showing the “full perfection of decay,” but it became one of the most prosperous towns in Scotland. Its staple industry was the manufacture of table linen. The weaving of damask was introduced in 1718 by James Blake, who had learned the secret of the process in the workshops at Drumsheugh near Edinburgh, to which he gained admittance by feigning idiocy; and since that date the linen trade advanced by leaps and bounds, much of the success being due to the beautiful designs produced by the manufacturers.

Among other industries that largely contributed to the welfare of the town were dyeing and bleaching, brass and iron founding, tanning, machine-making, brewing and distilling, milling, rope-making and the making of soap and candles,while the collieries in the immediate vicinity were numerous and flourishing.

The town is well supplied with public buildings. Besides the New Abbey church, the United Free church in Queen Anne Street founded by Ralph Erskine, and the Gillespie church, named after Thomas Gillespie (1708—1774), another leader of the Secession movement, possess some historical importance. Erskine is commemorated by a statue in front of his church and a sarcophagus over his grave in the abbey churchyard; Gillespie by a marble tablet on the wall above his resting-place within the abbey. The City buildings, a blend of the Scots Baronial and French Gothic styles, contain busts of several Scottish sovereigns a statue of Robert Burns, and Sir Noel Paton’s painting of the “Spirit of Religion.” Other structures are the old County buildings, the Public, St Margaret’s, Music and Carnegie halls, the last in the Tudor style, Carnegie public baths, high school (founded in 1560), school of science and art, and two hospitals.

Several distinguished men have been associated with Dunfermline. Robert Henryson (1430—1506), the poet, was long one of its schoolmasters. John Row (1568—1646), the Church historian, held the living of Carnock, 3 miles to the E., and David Ferguson (d. 1598) who made the first collection of Scottish proverbs (not published till 1641), was parish minister; Robert Gilfillan (1798—1850), the poet, and Sir Joseph Noel Paton (18211901), painter and poet, whose father was a designer of patterns for the damask trade, were all born here. Andrew Carnegie (b. 1837), however, is in a sense the most celebrated of all her sons, as he is certainly her greatest benefactor. He gave to his birthplace the free library and public baths, and, in 1903, the estate of Pittencrieff Park and Glen, rich in historical associations as well as natural charm, together with bonds yielding £25,000 a year, in trust for the maintenance of the park, the support of a theatre for the production of plays of the highest merit, the periodical exhibitions of works of art and science, the promotion of horticulture among the working classes and the encouragement of technical education in the district.

Dunfermline Abbey is one of the most important remains in Scotland. Excepting Iona it has received more of Caledonia’s royal dead than any other place in the kingdom. Within its precincts were buried Queen Margaret and Malcolm Canmore; their sons Edgar and Alexander I., with his queen; David I. and his two queens; Malcolm IV.; Alexander III., with his first wife and their sons David and Alexander; Robert Bruce, with his queen Elizabeth and their daughter Matilda; and Annabella Drummond, wife of Robert III. and mother of James I.

Bruce’s heart rests in Melrose, but his bones lie in Dunfermline Abbey, where (after the discovery of the skeleton in 1818) they were reinterred with fitting pomp below the pulpit of the New church. In 1891 the pulpit was moved back and a monumental brass inserted in the floor to indicate the royal vault. The tomb of St Margaret and Malcolm, within the ruined walls of the Lady chapel, was restored and enclosed by command of Queen Victoria.

During the winter of 1303 the court of Edward I. was held in the abbey, and on his departure next year most of the buildings were burned. When the Reformers attacked the abbey church in March 1560, they spared the nave, which served as the parish church till the 19th century, and now forms the vestibule of the New church. This edifice, in the Perpendicular style, opened for public worship in 1821, occupies the site of the ancient chancel and transepts, though differing in style and proportions from the original structure. The old building was a fine example of simple and massive Norman, as the nave testifies, and has a beautiful doorway in its west front. Another rich Norman doorway was exposed in the south wall in 1903, when masons were cutting a site for the memorial to the soldiers who had fallen in the South African War. A new site was found for this monument in order that the ancient and beautiful entrance might be preserved. The venerable structure is maintained by the commissioners of woods and forests, and private munificence has provided several stained-glass windows. Of the monastery there still remains the south wall of the refectory, with a fine window.

The palace, a favourite residence of many of the kings, occupying a picturesque position near the ravine, was of considerable size, judging from the south-west wall, which is all that is left of it. Here James IV., James V. and James VI. spent much of their time, and within its walls were born three of James VI.’s children—Charles I., Robert and Elizabeth. After Charles I. was crowned he paid a short visit to his birthplace, but the last royal tenant of the palace was Charles II., who occupied it just before the battle of Pitreavie (20th of July 165o), which took place 3 m. to the south-west, and here also he signed the National League and Covenant.